Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Holy Drivers in the Holy Land

Sadly, the news lately has focused so much on the deep divisions in Israeli society. I recently had the zechus to visit Eretz Yisroel, and in the course of my short stay, I rode in many taxis and attempted to make conversation with the drivers (sometimes in broken Hebrew, and other times the driver spoke English). I found that our Holy Land is filled with delightful taxi drivers, some with kippot serugot, some with no head covering, who are sincere, friendly Yidden who love Hashem, their fellow Jew, and their precious Land.

These are just some of my experiences:

The young, kippah-wearing driver who took me from the airport to Yerushalayim was a fine, soft-spoken fellow. The plane landed mid-afternoon, and passengers had planned to make a minyan for Mincha at the luggage carousel, but it did not happen. As we headed down the highway, traffic continued to build up and Waze kept showing a later time of arrival.

When arrival time was only 15 minutes before shkiah, I realized that I might not make it to Yerushalayim in time. When I mentioned this to the driver, he said, “No problem. We’ll make a stop in Telshe Stone and you’ll catch Mincha there.” And that’s what we did. Later, when I asked him what I owed him for the stop (which took half an hour), he said, “Whatever you want to give me.” (I asked him what he charged by the hour and paid him for the time.)

One day, I found myself in a taxi driven by a middle-aged man wearing a kippah. As we headed down Rechov Bar Ilan, there was a long line of cars ahead of us at a traffic light. We needed to turn right, and there was just enough room for the taxi to squeeze between the line of traffic and the parked cars. I was amazed when the driver rolled down his window and said to each driver as he passed, “I’m not trying to cut ahead of you. I just want to make a right turn.”

I said to him, “When I go back to America, I’m going to tell my talmidim that I met a taxi driver who is an exceptional baal middos.”

It seems that this comment touched him, because he then opened up to me about what a hard life he has. He is divorced and wants to remarry, but is burdened by financial debt. “If I did not have emunah,” he said, “I’m afraid to think where I’d be today.”

I offered him some shliach mitzvah money that I had brought with me. He told me, “I will not accept it for myself. But I know a poor family that needs money for Shabbos and I’ll give it to them.”

On the way back from the Kosel one day, the bareheaded driver said to me, “When I get to this intersection, I have a pain in my heart.” He went on to tell me how a woman had once flagged him down at this intersection and asked for a round trip long-distance ride to a wedding. He dropped her off at the wedding hall, but she never returned to his taxi! He waited and waited until he finally gave up and went home without getting paid. To this day, he does not know why the woman did not return to his taxi. When he considers the possibility that she got herself a ride home for free with another wedding guest, in effect robbing him of his fare, he feels great pain.

“But I pray that if she did that,” he said, “the money she didn’t pay me should go for a child’s pair of shoes.”

Early one morning, I called a taxi company to send a car. A minute later, I received a call from the driver, who wanted to know my destination. To my recollection, this was the first time I ever received a call asking me this question.

“HaKotel,” I told him. He pulled up two minutes later.

The driver was young and bareheaded. I did not have to wait long to find out why he had called me. “I do the night shift,” he explained. “And now it’s the end of my shift. I’m tired, so if your destination had been anywhere else, I would not have taken you. But to take someone to the Kotel is a mitzvah. That’s why I came.”

One driver was listening to a Daf Yomi shiur the entire ride.

Another became animated as he voiced his outrage over the inroads that progressives were making in Israeli society.

One day, I entered a taxi whose young, bareheaded driver was playing rock music. I debated whether to ask him to lower it and decided that since it was not that loud, I wouldn’t say anything. But a few minutes into the ride, the driver lowered the music of his own accord, until I could barely hear it. Apparently, he realized that it might be bothering me.

This reminded me of something that happened on my last trip to Eretz Yisroel a number of years ago. I entered a taxi and heard rock music blaring. I thought, “I didn’t come to Eretz Yisroel to hear this.” The driver was a young, bareheaded, rugged-looking Sabra, and I was concerned that he might become angry if I asked him to lower the volume, but decided to take a chance. In my broken Ivrit, I said, “Bevakasha…” and proceeded to politely ask that he make it softer.

He turned off the radio, and the rest of the trip was quiet.

When we reached my destination, I thanked him for turning off the music. He responded, “If people are nice to me, I am nice to them.”

That comment reminded me of another incident that shows how easy it is to bridge the divide between different types of Jews. A number of years ago, when I boarded a flight to Eretz Yisroel, I found that my aisle seat was next to an elderly, secular Israeli couple. The wife was sitting in the seat next to mine. I politely nodded to them and took my seat. The husband then turned to me and said coldly, “You probably want me to switch seats with my wife so that you won’t have to sit next to a woman?” I replied that I would certainly appreciate if they made the switch, which they did. For the next few hours, we did not exchange a word; they did not seem very happy to have a chareidi as their neighbor.

Midway through the flight, I was hungry, so I asked a flight attendant if she had any extra Badatz snacks, which had been distributed soon after take-off. She gave me two snacks and I headed back to my seat. The husband was sound asleep, but I noticed the wife eyeing me and my snacks. I offered her one of them, which she gratefully accepted. After finishing my snack, I went to get myself a cup of water and brought her a cup as well. She must have told her husband what happened, because for the rest of the flight he was very friendly, asking me about myself and about life in America. (He was shocked to hear that in a place called “Lakewood,” thousands of American young men learn Torah all day. He had thought that only Israeli chareidim did that sort of thing.) When we landed in Tel Aviv, they wished me well, and the husband added, “I hope you will visit Israel again.”

No, it does not take much to bridge the divide among our fellow Jews.



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