Start-Up Nation

Back in the States we have two cars.  The last time I took a bus in the US was…never.  But here in Israel, I am renting an apartment for five months that is located three blocks from every conceivable bus line.  And who wants to contend with parking, so I got myself a RavKav bus card – with my photo on it, thank you very much.  I load it up with a monthly pass, and I’m off to the races.

I love the bus.  I love watching the diversity of Israel’s population play out in front of my eyes.  I love eavesdropping.  And I really like it when people start up a conversation with me.  My Hebrew is passable and when I can’t think of a word I need, I dance around it.  Last Thursday, I picked up a big bag of popcorn for Shabbat.  Whenever I go to my daughter’s house in Ramat Beit Shemesh, she has a huge bowl of popcorn that we munch all Friday night, so I decided to emulate her.  I had the popcorn bag on my lap when an older Israeli lady sat down next to me.  Jumping right in, she asked, “How much did you pay for that popcorn?”  “Five shek.”  “You know you can make it cheaper yourself on the stove, right?”  “I hadn’t thought about that.  Thank you.” 

Some months back, when I didn’t know my way around so well, I asked the lady next to me to please let me know when we get close to Achad Ha’am so I could get off.  “That’s where you live?”  “That’s where I’m renting this winter.”  “Nice neighborhood.  I know a cheaper place you can rent next year.  It’s also a good neighborhood but not too fancy.  It will be fine.  Here’s the phone number.  Tell them Yaffa recommended you.”  You gotta love it.  I know I do.

One of my favorite encounters happened on Tu B’Shvat.  Allen and I were coming back from the Central Bus Station, and two stops later, at Machane Yehuda, a large, bearded, slightly disheveled older fellow got on the bus and sat himself across the aisle from us.  He was wearing a tattered black suit, tie-less white shirt with shredded cuffs, and along the entire length of both arms hung plastic bags overflowing with produce from the shuk.  He plunked himself down, rummaged in one of the bags, removed an etrog the size of a football and shoved it under my husband’s nose.  “Barekh! Barekh! Make the blessing!”  “What blessing? What do you mean?”  “Hanoten re’ach tov laperot,”  “Blessed be the One Who gives a pleasant fragrance to fruits.” So Allen pronounced the blessing and the man moved on to the next row.  The man there made the blessing and said to his benefactor, “You must be Moroccan, yes?”  Ya learn something new every day.

Yesterday I thought I walked onto a “Waiting for Godot” set.  I sat down in one of those sets of facing seats. Next to me was a middle-aged woman and across from her (and diagonally across from me) was a man who may or may not have been her husband.  I arrived in the middle of their conversation.

“Nu, so what can you do?  That’s just how it is.”

Bidyuk, Exactly.  That’s how it is.”

“ We did our part; now it’s the next generation’s turn.  We have to step aside.”

“What? No!  We can’t just lie down and wait to die.  We still have plenty of life left inside of us.”

“You’re right.  Aht tzodeket.  We have plenty of life left.”

“Anyway, what can you do?  That’s just how it is.”

“Right.  Nu, that’s just how it is.  Might as well accept it.”

They went on like that for several stops.  I’ve omitted the sighs and the hand gestures, of which there were plenty.  It was like wandering into an existentialists’ convention, only there were only the two of them.  

My friend offered me a ride to the Purim seudah we plan to attend, but I’m tempted to decline.  I kind of hate to miss the street show that is bound to be playing on the bus to Maale Adumim.