One of the most fascinating books a Jew can read is “Souls on Fire” by Elie Wiesel. If you have not read it, you should seriously consider doing so. Once you pick up this book, I doubt you will be able to put it down until the last rebbe’s story is told.
“Souls on Fire” is a series of profiles of Chassidic rebbes from 200 years ago. More often than not, these rebbes were saintly sufferers who took upon themselves the burdens of their poor and downtrodden followers. One rebbe, the seer of Lublin, who fell from a window and died one year later, is even rumored to have jumped from the window on purpose, so distraught had he become as a result of taking the suffering of his fellow Jews upon himself.
Riding an Egged bus, you feel the burden of the nation of Israel on your shoulders. Actually, it is much more than a shoulder burden: it is a penetration of every person’s troubles into your heart. Example: a lady is getting on the bus and wants to put two rides on her bus card. By buying rides on your magnetic bus card, you save about 1 shekel per ride. Most people buy rides 10 or 20 at a time, more convenient that way. But looking at this lady, with her shabby dress and uneven, closely-cropped hair, you had the feeling that she barely had the 10 shekels needed for two bus rides. I would have offered her a few shekels right then an there but I have learned not to do such things. There are no prouder people on earth than Israelis. It is true that there are plenty of beggars on the streets and many times they will approach you and you put a shekel in their outstretched hand. Yet when you just want to give something to someone because they clearly could use your help, although they would never ask for it, you will never be allowed to do so.
Even if you just want to give something as a gesture of neighborliness or as an expression of gratitude, you are likely to be rebuffed. There is a kindergarden opposite my apartment with empty flower boxes. I offered several times to plant flowers in them at no charge and the administrator loudly, almost angrily refused. And when you try to give chocolate to a soldier, you will be waved off in a manner that leaves no doubt that the soldier is not going to take anything from you, it’s just not proper. The only way to give to soldiers is to bring a bag of many chocolate bars to a group of them. Eventually, you prevail upon one of them to distribute the chocolate to one and all.
Riding on buses in Israel is a delight because you are surrounded by holy Jews. The downside is that you cannot ride with this unique entourage without feeling their sorrows more deeply than you even recognize until, upon reaching home, you collapse in a heap.