It’s the best way to truly appreciate the heart of the Israeli people.How would I sum up a year’s experience in Israel? The answer is in a bus ride. In a country riddled with conflicting politics, religions and cultures, it’s not uncommon to see thousands of protestors crowded outside the Knesset, street signs and buildings plastered with political slogans and graffiti and even heated arguments between a cab driver and his customer over the controversial politics of the current administration.
So, while the beauty of the Israeli people may at times seem hidden to the unsuspecting tourist, I have discovered it in one of the most unusual places. I can imagine the horror stricken faces of the mothers who send their children to Israel and forbid them to ride the public buses as I make the following recommendation: in order to truly appreciate the heart of the Israeli people, one must ride the bus.
Security personnel peruse the crowd gathered for the approaching bus. At first flattered by their small talk and friendly questions, I soon identify their presence as an extra security feature, a reminder of the danger concealed in everyday life. I wait at the end of the ‘line’ to board, avoiding the elbows and shopping carts and not feeling enough at home to push my way to the front.
Despite their rough exterior, Israelis exhibit true compassion and kindness towards their neighbors. As if it were an unspoken rule, people willingly give up their seat to an elderly passenger or to a pregnant woman. Others help mothers load strollers onto the bus and then coo at their newborn babies.
A close look at a passenger’s reading material exposes a true composite of Israeli society. A religious woman stands to the side silently reciting psalms while a student studies from her physics book. A young woman reads a novel written in Russian while a man in a business suit folds a newspaper to the classifieds.
In a single bus ride, men and women, young and old, religious and secular, Muslim, Jewish and otherwise, soldiers and students, foreign-born and Sabra (native) share a few moments, differences withstanding. Conversation fills the bus in more languages than I can identify. I recognize the latest music from the US from the continuous hum of cell phone rings.
At the end of the ride, I wake to the yells of the bus driver and find myself alone at the back of the bus. My fears quickly subside as the driver asks my address and personally drives me to my apartment. He leaves me with his best wishes and the number of his son studying in Haifa
In the only country where a request for the time can lead to an invitation to Shabbat dinner and where the man who sells me pita bread in the shuk (market) knows me by name, I have made my home.
(Originally appeared in Washington University in St. Louis’s Student Life)