Not being accustomed to riding in taxis in the United States, I don’t really know if the experience of driving with an Israeli taxi driver is so unique, but it certainly seems so to me. When one is in Israel, you become part of the greater community; the expression “kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh” (all Jews are responsible one to the other) is perceived literally. Store keepers have no compunction about giving you unsolicited advice, and taxi drivers consider it their faithful duty to become involved in your life.
This was not our first trip to Israel, nor the first time we went from place to place by cab. Perhaps it was that I was more open to listening beyond the superficial, but somehow I seemed to learn a lot from the taxi drivers this time.
With 4 of us in the cab, my husband would sit up front with the driver. After negotiating our fare and destination, the driver would ask (in Hebrew of course) where we were from. “United States – Chicago – have you heard of it?” Most often, New York was the only city that they could name, so they went on to the next question. “Are you chasidish? Chabad? Tzioni?” My husband’s standard answer was, “Ani Yehudi Ragil – just a regular Jew.” It was when the cab driver, Gabi, turned to him and answered with vehemence that I started to pay close attention. “There is no such thing as a regular Jew,” he said. “All Jews are special – we are the children of Hashem.” He went on to elaborate about the importance of family (telling us he is one of nine, has 4 children, and asking how many we have), the beauty of children around the Shabbat table, and the legacy we Jews leave to our children through our rituals and observances. He admonished us for not seeming to realize the seriousness of our tasks as parents and the important role we play in the future of the Jewish people.
My husband and I chuckled afterwards about the friendliness of the driver (in fact we hired him subsequently for a longer trip and spent a great deal of time discussing the holiness of Eretz Yisroel with him), but were quickly absorbed in our Yerushalayim experience and didn’t give it much further thought.
While we were sitting with our children in a Yerushalayim restaurant, I asked my husband where he wanted to be buried when the time came, Israel or America. After almost choking on his food (my children found the whole conversation hysterical and were busy trying to figure out what ‘yerusha’ (inheritance) we would leave them!), he said he really couldn’t say. Wouldn’t it depend on where the children lived? I told him I thought if we couldn’t get to Israel while we were still alive and able to enjoy it; shouldn’t we at the very least be buried there? This prompted a long discussion, with no real solution, since thinking in the abstract is so difficult, and neither of us was ready to buy cemetery plots on that trip. (Although by my estimation, it has to be a whole lot cheaper than putting a deposit down on an apartment there!)
And then along came the next loquacious cab driver. This time, after asking where we were from, and exchanging history (he came from Iran), he turned to my husband and said, “Why are you not living here in Israel?” We gave the usual answers – we would love to of course, but practically speaking there are so many factors in the equation. He would not give up. “Don’t you know that your parnasa is from Hashem? Whatever you will have is decided on Rosh Hashana – your job is to come here – Hashem will provide.” I was somewhat taken aback – the driver had no kippa on his head, and yet spoke with such authority and vehemence about the role of God in our lives.
When we got out of the cab, I turned to my husband and said, “Maybe we have been missing the point. Hashem sends messengers to us in all kinds of ways – perhaps all these cab drivers have been sent to tell us something. Maybe we need to really ‘hear’ what they are saying – not just chuckle at the experience. Gabi is right. There is no such thing as a “regular” Jew. We each are created “B’tzelem Elokim,” in the image of God, and have been put here to complete a task. We don’t always know what our task is, but it is our responsibility to not give up the quest, no matter how bumpy the ride may be along the way.
It is almost a year since that trip. We have not yet bought cemetery plots (although I did enter a raffle for 2 plots in Israel, figuring it was not the kind of prize too many people would jump for), but it is my hope that we will make it to Israel standing upright, ready to tell the next cab driver that we have come home.
Susan Schwartz is a wife, mother and grandmother. She is the president of Davka Corporation.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.