My feel-good stories might have started as bus stories but, as I’ve written previously, later spread far and wide beyond the confines of public transportation.
It certainly became the case when I stopped taking the buses altogether with the spread of COVID-19 and the imposition of restrictions on the very essence of our lives in Israel in mid-March of last year. I did not take a bus from March 17 until December 8.
I resumed taking buses when I did, only because I started working at The Jerusalem Post – after a period of predominant unemployment – and frankly, I preferred to avoid the stress of grappling with other drivers on the highways on my way to work and then back home after a long day on the job.
But even if I was leaving the driving to the Superbus company, it was a bit nerve-racking just being a passenger. Measuring two meters between where I sat and the person closest to me, wondering whether to move to another seat when another passenger boarded the bus and moved closer, and making sure that a window was open nearby.
But I digress. I’d like to address the questions which I’ve been asked many times about my anecdotes on day-to-day life: Is this story really true, how come these stories happen only to you, do you have a sign on your forehead which asks people to do something nice?
Let me first address another question which I am asked: Don’t bad things happen to you?
The answer to that question is simple: Yes.
There have been many days when something has frustrated me, perhaps even angered me. I apologize to my wife that she’s been there to hear my wrath from those experiences. On the other hand, my social media audience has been lucky enough to get the good that has come out of my day.
Case in point: I never posted this story. This is officially a Jerusalem Report exclusive.
I was walking down the street, not taking the bus but passing near the stop where I usually board to travel to work. I wanted to glance at the electronic schedule board to see how frequent the service was amid the COVID clampdown.
I noticed a man wandering and pondering near the stop. I was nervous. During these difficult times, I’ve much preferred it when people just stand in one place: at the bus stop, the street prayer service, wherever.
And then, as I walked by the man and toward the electronic board, it happened.
Your brain tells you to just continue walking forward. Your emotion, however, makes you look at the perpetrator. My fears were realized; he was not wearing a mask. Well, he was, but since we don’t sneeze from our chin, I think we can say he wasn’t wearing a mask.
I stared at him, trying to keep a distance, with a look of horror on my mouth-and-nose-covered face: “You sneezed... and without a mask!” I shouted at him.
I can laugh now because I have finished counting the days since that incident happened. As I write these words, a week has passed. I am also starting to feel more confident about taking walks and getting on buses because I have taken both Pfizer anti-COVID injections, though I realize that we are still far from being out of the woods.
However, on that Monday evening, January 18, I was shaking. Yes, I know that it’s coughing, not sneezing, that’s a symptom of the virus, but he had just spewed his germs into the air.
Then, I stopped, and I told myself that my Facebook audience would not hear about this story. I reminded myself of what I had seen a few moments before the scary incident.
Upon arriving home from that walk, I sat down at the desk in my office, and typed the following story for my followers to enjoy:
Nice scene this evening: a van pulls up.
A few young men and women are unloading cardboard boxes of ready-made food and various groceries from the vehicle.
Nearby, I suddenly hear applause. It’s a few elderly couples clapping and shouting their gratitude.
“Our angels,” shouts one of the men from a terrace.
“I want the phone numbers of all your parents; I want to tell them how wonderful their children are,” shouts a woman from an adjacent apartment.
One of the young women delivering the goods calls back: “We want your phone numbers; we want to hear later if you enjoyed the food. God should protect you!”
When I witnessed that story, I was uplifted. And I decided that it would be the story that would stay with me that night and that the world would hear about on social media.
The stories are out there and we live at a time when the sadness must be confronted by the goodness that gives us hope. On Saturday night, January 23, I was driving in Jerusalem. There was a very quick roadblock that was actually planted there probably not as part of the corona crackdown but due to the nearby weekly protests against the prime minister.
At the roadblock, a policewoman asks me: “How are you?”
Actually, I say, I’ve just heard that a good friend’s mother has passed away from COVID and she’s asking people to do a good deed in her mother’s memory.
“Pull over,” says the policewoman. She gets on her phone. She puts on the speaker.
“Ima (mother),” she says.
“Yes, Reut, aren’t you working?” asks her mother.
“Yes,” the policewoman replies. “But let me do something nice for you. Can I order you some dinner?”
“Why are you asking?” asks the mom.
Says Reut: “Because someone I just stopped here on the road told me that his friend’s mother has passed away from COVID, and that the friend is asking for good deeds to be done in her mom’s memory. I want to do something nice for my own mother. So what do you say? It’s small, but it’s a good deed, right?”
“Wow!” I exclaim with tears in my eyes. “Until 120!”
And I drive off as Reut and her mom work on the menu.
This story is so heart-warming and yet another indication of how so many people in Israel feel like family. It’s a story of a cop at a roadblock but it turns into a sign of solidarity, a gesture to perpetuate the memory of yet another person who has died from the virus.
We live in a country that is filled with people who can be tough but also loving, who constantly reveal the true inner concern that each shares for the other.
And the bus drivers are continuing to call me to make sure that I have bus stories even if I’m still not using public transportation as much as in the past.
Late one night in January, a driver wanted to tell me about something that happened on his bus that day.
A passenger received an emergency phone call. She was told that her brother was in the hospital. But then she realized that her phone battery was very low.
Another passenger says to her: “Take my phone and go right to the hospital. I’ll take yours; I’ll get it charged. And later, I’ll call you to coordinate getting our phones back to one another.”
They exchanged numbers.
This was the 417 from Beit Shemesh to Jerusalem. The driver says he asked which hospital the woman’s brother was in. She replied: Hadassah-Ein Kerem.
The woman noted that there are strict restrictions on visitors to the hospitals due to COVID-19. Driver said: “Tell your family I’ll get you there at about six this evening. Coordinate with them.”
Woman: “But Ein Kerem is far away from your route.”
Driver: “Don’t you worry. You just tell them: Roee says he’s getting you there at about six.”
And then the passenger who’s taken the nearly-dead phone says to the woman: “And don’t you worry: I won’t forget about you either. You’ll get the phone back tomorrow morning.”
Finally, to answer that often-asked question: How come these stories happen only to me? Actually, I don’t know the answer, but on January 26, Facebook sent me a memory from last year. This is what I had posted:
I really must have a look on my face that says: Pick me.
Guy gets off a bus. I was minding my own business, really, just passing by the stop.
Guy says to me: “Here, just take this for a minute.”
It was a large flower arrangement for his wife for their wedding anniversary.
The problem was that his wife happened to be walking down the block, coming in our direction. I guess it wouldn’t have been so romantic to present the flowers at the bus stop.
“Let me just distract her and get her out of here,” he begs me.
So, I have to admit that it was a bit awkward. There I was standing at a bus stop with a large bouquet of flowers for someone else’s anniversary.
I was standing there for seven minutes until he accomplished his mission. Yes, I was counting. I didn’t just stand there, though. I walked around in circles and down the block a bit, all just to make it look more natural.
Some people stared. It must have looked as though I had bought these flowers and now was looking for the right recipient.
Finally, the man comes running back. “I have no words to express how grateful I am,” he says. “That’s OK,” I reply. “It was an unforgettable experience.”
That, my friends, was the kind of story that was far more likely to happen before COVID-19 struck. It was just before the pandemic struck. May those better times return speedily. ■
The writer is an editor and proofreader at ‘The Jerusalem Post’ and previously broadcast on Kol Yisrael and KAN public radio under the name of David Ze’ev.