‘I lived more on trains than in homes’

Train enthusiast David Fainshtein's family traveled across the Soviet Union by train to escape the KGB.

David Fainshtein 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
David Fainshtein 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Over the past decade, the light rail has come to mean many things to many different types of people.
Almost every resident of Jerusalem is fed up with the constant construction, delays, and start date that never seemed to materialize, allowing for just a small amount of optimism mixed with the heavy skepticism about the train’s success.
But for trains enthusiast David Fainshtein, a 31-year-old resident of Neve Yaakov who has been following the plans for the train since he was a late teenager, the light rail means something completely different.
Fainshtein is perhaps the only person not employed by the Transportation Ministry or CityPass to keep such close tabs on the train’s progress, photographing and blogging about the light rail at every step of the way.
Trains for Fainshtein are more than just a mode of transport: As a child, they were his salvation. His parents, who became observant after Fainshtein was born, became the center of the small Jewish community in the Ukrainian city of Harkov.
The KGB, suspicious of their activities, began harassing them as his father and his father’s friends became active dissidents.
After his father’s arrests became more and more frequent, his father decided to take the family into hiding.
For the next five years, he and his parents crisscrossed the Soviet Union, spending no more than a few weeks or a few months in each place, slipping away before the police could locate them. The family would travel for days on trains, stopping in Uzbekistan, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Dagestan, and all around the Soviet Union, relying on Jewish communities and odd jobs to survive. The family made aliya in 1987, shortly after Fainshtein’s sister was born, after 10 years of trying to get a visa to leave.
Trains for Fainshtein became a respite, a safe haven in a tumultuous childhood. “I spent more time in trains as a kid than I did in homes,” he said.
To this day, Fainshtein says if he has a headache, he just needs to enter a train to feel better. “My parents hated them, but kids love to travel,” he said.
“I could sit and look out of the window for hours as a little kid.”
The emotional attachment as a child evolved into a deep fascination with trains as an adult, including their construction and history. The soft-spoken Fainshtein can talk about trains for hours. A few times during our conversation, he had to stop himself from delving into a detailed technical description that could leave some engineers scratching their head.
Fainshtein’s hobby led him to moderate one of the most popular threads on the online community, Tapuz, the public transportation forum. The forum is a semi-professional online community which is widely quoted in the media and has contributors from all the major public transportation companies. Though he works full-time as an IT professional, as a moderator of the forum, Fainshtein is frequently invited to see the behind-the-scenes work at various train projects, including the light rail and the Tel Aviv- Jerusalem high speed rail. He has covered at length every development at the light rail, every legal disagreement, and every change, for the forum.
“I have a lot of criticism about the construction [of the light rail],” Fainshtein allowed on Wednesday, two days before the light rail was set to start. “But it is a great project already. It’s changed the way Jerusalem looks and feels.”
His major criticism of the project is that the line runs through Arab neighborhoods, a “major security concern,” he said.
Still, he plans to take his two children on the light rail on Friday. “My oldest is two and a half years old and every time she sees it, she’s very excited,” said Fainshtein. “She takes after her dad.”
His youngest child, just a month old, can’t yet appreciate the excitement his dad has for the train. Neither can the average rider, who doesn’t have the storied history that Fainshtein has with trains.
Still, Fainshtein is optimistic, both for the residents of Jerusalem and for the city itself. “I keep my fingers crossed that it will work the way it’s supposed to,” he said. “I hope it will improve the quality of life and not make people suffer like they’ve been suffering for the past 10 years.”
But most of all, he said, “I hope the passengers will love the train as much as I do.”