The Mitzva Bus

It was one of those cold, horrid Jerusalem nights when a few raindrops send Israeli drivers into panic mode. Rain-slicked streets are jammed. Horns blast, tempers are short. Even inside our No. 4 bus, trouble flared when a woman brought in a baby carriage through the rear door, somehow offending our driver's sense of the order of things. As they went at it, back and forth, a small mitzvah was performed when the girl sitting next to me gave up her seat to a fragile, white-haired, woman in her 80s who was having difficulty holding on whenever the driver would stop suddenly - which happened every few minutes. This sweet, somewhat confused, grandmotherly type, who was clearly in, for her, uncharted parts of Jerusalem, asked me in the most excruciatingly American-accented Hebrew if I would tell her when we reached Paran Street in the Ramat Eshkol neighborhood, a half-dozen stops before my own. Responding in English, I tried to allay her fear of getting lost. We started exchanging life stories, getting rather chummy until I playfully pooh-poohed her "mere" seven years in the country, explaining that "we Israelis" don't take anyone seriously who hasn't been here for at least 10 years (which "we" refer to as "double-digit dwellers"). Puffed up by my elitism, I was unprepared when she shot back, in her best stinging New York sarcasm, that in her seven years here, she had been robbed twice and mugged once. She wanted to know if "we Israelis" might make an exception in her case and take her seriously. Chastened, I tried to redeem myself by making sure she reached her destination. She was on her way to visit her daughter and son-in-law for a sheva brachot (blessings on the occasion of a marriage) gathering. She pulled out a crumpled slip of paper, took off her outsized thick glasses and read out the word "Migla." Oh dear, I thought, that's one I'd never heard of in my 29 years here. Perhaps it is one of those small dead-end alleyways, found all over Ramat Eshkol. I couldn't let her go alone into the blustery weather looking for an unknown alley, so I got off with her. She took my arm, gave me a smile that lit up the night and called me her "guardian angel." I told her I was helping her in memory of my mother and did my best to help her get to the safety of the sidewalk, hampered by the tears in my eyes and the lump in my throat. As soon as we started to look around for "Migla" (which turned out to be Mitla Pass Street), she spotted her son-in-law waiting restlessly at the bus stop. His lack of a coat bespoke his urgent concern for her safety. He kissed her, shook my hand and as they walked off, I saw her frailty and befuddlement give way to a jauntiness and excitement. I may have been her guardian angel, but she made that bus ride one of the happiest I've ever taken.