Before making aliyah, we owned a car. I mention this only to point out it was seldom that I rode the city buses. In fact, I can only recall one time, and I would prefer to forget that instance.
With three kids under the age of four, I got on the bus. I can still remember the hostile stares each time one of my kids made any normal types of kid noises. The unsympathetic looks as we struggled to get off. No one, of course, offered to help. Those looks did not need words; they said: “Why on earth are you on this bus with so many children?” “If you find it hard to get on and off with them, what business do you have being here?”
When did it really hit me that I was living in Israel? The first time we took a long bus ride. My husband and I were traveling with our four children; the oldest age five and a half. As we left the winding slopes of Tsfat, my two year old started to vomit. Mother-mortification immediately set in; why on earth are you on this bus?
The bus driver started yelling something to me. I assumed he was worried that we would get the bus messy. Turns out he was asking if we needed him to pull over to the side of the road. Someone two rows away passed me an empty bag. Another person handed me some tissues. The woman across the aisle took my three-month-old baby out of my arms so I could hold my toddler. The person behind me opened the window. Advice began flying. “Give him some water to drink.” “Open the window, he needs air.” “Don’t give him anything to drink.” “Close the window, it’s too cold for him.” Needless to say, when we arrived in Netanya, we were helped off the bus.
They say that a lot of people are glassy eyed and idealistic when they first make aliyah. Then after reality sets in, it’s those who were the most idealistic that have the greatest difficulty adjusting to real Israeli life.
Act One: The bus stop on Rehov Hapalmach in Tsfat one year after we made aliyah
As I was walking toward the bus stop I saw a woman backing her car up, preparing to parallel park. An elderly man was standing in the street next to the curb. I watched as she continued to reverse, sure she would stop long before she reached the old man.
Well she didn’t.
She hit him and he toppled over. The six or seven people waiting for the bus immediately rushed over. They started to sit him up.
“Are you ok?” “Should we call an ambulance?” “Do you want to go to the hospital?”
He sat on the curb looking rather stunned.
Meanwhile the driver got out of the car. She appeared to be in her early 20s, with bleached blonde hair that was the style then, unlike today when bright orange or burgundy are the colors of choice.
“Why were you standing in the street?” she screamed at the old man. “Why? You’re not supposed to stand there! You should have stood here!” She pointed to the sidewalk.
I couldn’t believe it. A reckless driver almost kills an old man and she has the chutzpah to scream at him? I’m in Israel, I reminded myself. This is one of those “cultural differences” the people back home tried to warn me about.
By this time the bystanders were helping the man up. As he stood, perfectly fine on his own two feet, there was applause from the bystanders; who diligently fulfilled their role as the Greek chorus of this drama. He assured them that he didn’t need to go to the hospital.
I waited for the next inevitable step. Where the two parties would exchange their insurance information. Maybe if she got higher premium payments now, this woman would learn her lesson.
When the woman saw that the old man could stand, she rushed over to him, threw her arms around him and kissed him on his forehead. He looked a bit stunned again, but then suddenly he exited the stage, off to wherever it was he was going.
He never even asked for the number of her insurance agent.
I expected now that the woman would get in her car and drive off, as abruptly as the man had left. This urban drama seemed to have come to an end.
But she didn’t get into her car. She just stood there.
Her hands began shaking and she started to cry. The Greek chorus left the bus shelter and came over to the curb again- this time to help her. “He’s okay,” “You’ll be more careful from now on,” “It’s all over,” they advised.
I’m in Israel, I reminded myself.
Last week, some sixteen years later, I was riding the bus from Netanya to Tsfat. I noticed a mother sitting with two toddlers on the seat next to her and an infant in her arms. The man across the aisle from her seemed disturbed by the noise, but he sighed and didn’t say anything about it. Two hours passed uneventfully.
Then as we reached Meron, her baby vomited right into the aisle. I handed her a bag. Someone else passed the tissues. The man across the aisle got splashed and the mother started apologizing profusely. She handed him the tissues.
“I’m going to be away from home for two days and these are my only pair of pants,” he said with another sigh. She continued apologizing.
I wondered what he would do next. “Magiah li,” (I deserve it) he said.
We reached the Meron bus stop and the woman handed me her baby. Someone helped her with the stroller, her bags, and the two other kids. The driver waited without comment till the stroller was open and the bags were organized. Then I handed over her baby and we drove on.
Even after seventeen years in Israel, these bus dramas still move me. Sometimes, in a reflective moment, I think back to the old man and the young woman driver. I always have the same question: What if I had been in a hurry and had left after Act I, where the woman was still screaming at the old man? What if I hadn’t been there for Act II? If that had been the case, what would I think about life in Israel?
Esther Heller is author of the e-book www.greatcreativewriting.com and Director of The Jewish Writing Institute www.jewishwriting.com She writes for Mishpacha Magazine and other Jewish publications.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.