Not all of Israel is bombast and threat. There are also conversations at bus stops.


This one began after a good meal at an Italian restaurant on Emek Refaim. There were two seats vacant at the stop. Varda was tired from her glass of wine and lasagna. I was tired of sitting and knew there would be another hour of sitting on the bus. So there remained one seat when a middle aged, overweight woman with a crossed eye and wearing a fancy kipa (yarmulke) and other odd clothes, asked if I wanted the seat. When I said no, she said, "But you are an old man" (זקן), so maybe you should sit. This brought an explosion from a older woman sitting next to Varda. "How can you be so crude to use such an insulting word?"


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This began a discussion in which we learned that the newcomer was a recent immigrant from Nice by way of Montreal , who did not know enough Hebrew to use the more appropriate description for me of "mature" (מבוגר). By the time it was over, we learned that the woman who challenged her was from Kiev, came to Israel 20 years ago, was proud of her son associated with the Weizman Institute and occasional research in the United States. Varda shared her own stories as the child of immigrants, whose parents had their own problems with language and custom even though they had been in the country for more than a decade when she came into their world.


On the ride home we recalled one of my bus stop stories, from more than 30 years ago. I was unattached at the time, and before the bus arrived I had given my telephone number to a woman who was sure she had someone for me. The telephone rang a month later, when Varda and I were already established and hosting our first dinner party with her friends from the Medical School, one of them a future dean. I recalled my companion from the bus stop, expressed my thanks for her consideration, but responded that I had solved my problem. She didn''t accept my answer, and asked how could I be sure that she would not supply someone even better. All this with a room alongside the telephone full of guest, and what Varda later described as me with a red face. I did what I could to end that telephone call, and my best with clumsy Hebrew to explain what it was all about.


The bus we take to town passes by Mea Sha''arim. Within a span of a few blocks, is goes from an upper-middle class, orderly neighborhood with greenery and space between the buildings to something out of Bashevis Singer''s Warsaw prior to World War II. No greenery, or vacant space, small shops, apartments upstairs with makeshift partitions for extra rooms on what had been designed as balconies. Stores are open and the sidewalks crowded with shoppers, children, and baby carriages well into the evening. Prices for things we would buy a bit lower than elsewhere in the city. Most of what is on display we would not buy: black suits, shoes, hats, and belts for men, and long dresses, long-sleeve blouses, wigs, and other head coverings for women.


Each time the bus stops in this neighborhood there is a prolonged wait for the entrance of baby carriages through the broad back doors, then the passing of the ticket from passenger to passenger until it reaches the driver, is punched, and then gets back to the mother standing over the carriage in the cleared area near the back door meant for such things. There are also likely to be ancients (זקנים ממש) climbing on to the bus with difficulty, then causing a movement of others from the seats reserved for them near the driver. All this takes time, for it is inevitable that the bus will be crowded. Mea Sha''arim is among the poorest neighborhoods of the city, with few if any private cars and no place to park them even if resources permit their ownership.


Not all the passengers from Mea Sha''arim are its ancients or mothers with babies. Some of single women who chat with friends or, if they are alone, spend their time on the bus reading psalms or the prayer for the traveller.


Last evening there was a temporary pen on part of the sidewalk with live chickens. Animal lovers cringe. They are meant for the ceremony (Kapara) prior to Yom Kippur, when the man of a family (not ours) will swing the bird around his head while praying that the family''s sins will be attached to the bird about to be slaughtered and turned into a meal. Think of these chickens are lower income versions of scapegoats.


Television news at home brought us back to 21st century Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu (about whom Angela Merkel recently said she could not believe a word he says) was having trouble with his coalition. Eli Yishai (Interior Minister and leader of SHAS) and Avigdor Lieberman (Foreign Minister and leader of Israel our Home) would not agree to approve the report of the committee recommending responses to the social protest. The subtexts in their claims that they needed more time to consider the details: Yishai--what''s in it for the ultra-Orthodox? Lieberman-- what''s in it for the Russians?


With or without the ceremony involving live chickens, may you all pass through whatever you do on Yom Kippur, and be inscribed by the Almighty for a good year.



 

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