All change

'"Excuse me, but can you move to the front of the bus?" asked a young haredi woman from beneath a lackadaisical toupee'

A recent bus ride from Rechov Strauss in the center of town to Har Hotzvim industrial park offered an opportunity to see how much had changed over the past ten years. A decade ago I frequented the route due to a morning tardiness that made missing the company transportion and catching the bus a daily occurrence. Boarding a number 40 bus, I settled in a seat near the back and watched Geula slide past as we trundled through some of the capital's venerable haredi neighborhoods. A group of ultra-orthodox schoolgirls filled the seats around me and one of them motioned to her friend to take the place adjacent to mine. Realizing her mistake she gave an embarrassed giggle and turned away. The incident reminded me of the occasional run-in of yore when a total stranger would ask me to move seats in order to satisfy the religious convictions of those pious travelers who abhor sitting next to a member of the opposite gender. The requests always irritated me. Not from religious animosity but rather because of the intrusion. When I sit on a bus I prefer to while away the journey contemplating life, the universe, or anything from baked fish to Britney Spears. Interruption is an affront. Furthermore, the exact prohibition against adjacent seating is a matter of opinion, and why should I accept that of another without question? On the other hand, I mused, it is a matter of good will. If all that stands in the way of a contented bus is the want of a little good will, then far be it from me to become a stumbling block. After all, where would society be without the good will for considerate driving, patience, and compliance with no-smoking signs? Nonetheless, I assured myself that now older and wiser I would have something to say if accosted about my seat. But a persistent nagging prevented further speculation. "Excuse me," she said again. I looked up. "Excuse me, but could you move to the front of the bus?" asked a young haredi woman from beneath a lackadaisical toupee. Just a few weeks ago, in Bangkok, another woman of a different faith moved me to the back of a bus in deference to a Buddhist monk, but such is the irony of religious diversity. Yet how fortuitous! Drawing a breath I prepared to challenge the challenge, and gazing into the middle distance I gathered my thoughts only to have them dashed at the sight of a bisected bus. A man occupied every seat in the front half whereas on every seat in the rear perched an austere member of the fairer sex. That is, except for me. Given the overwhelming support of the prevailing opinion, I acquiesced without protest and adopted a moderate stance in the middle of the vehicle. It was then that I noticed that men boarded or alighted only through the front doors and women the rear, the trustworthy latter punching their own bus tickets with a clipper hanging from a hand-rail. Changes indeed on the Har Hotzvim route. Mind you, I had the last word. Reaching my destination I dived out through the ladies' exit.