The Jerusalem light rail is a blessing for me.
When I turned 90, my children took away my car (they said for the safety of the Israeli population). I was sad at first, but had to admit that finding a parking space had become a nightmare. I couldn’t manage the buses, because the step was usually too high; sometimes the bus would start before I was in properly and I was afraid of falling. But the light rail is level with the platform and very comfortable.
One of the benefits of being elderly (apart from no longer having a curfew, and happily discovering that wrinkles don’t hurt) is that someone usually offers you a seat. Courtesy is not something one usually associates with Israelis, so it always gives me a warm feeling when – no matter how crowded – I always get a seat.
Above me, a panel tells me where the next stop will be, so I don’t have to crane my neck to see out the window. It’s good to feel so safe and secure.
I enter the light rail at the Hechalutz stop in Beit Hakerem – five minutes from where I live. To get there, I have to walk up a big hill, which is no longer easy (why can’t someone invent hills and staircases that only go down?).
I usually have one of two destinations. The first one is Mahaneh Yehuda (four stops away). It is quite emotional for me, as my late husband and I used to go there often, and finished our shopping at a wonderful little fish and chips restaurant. Now, the stalls are piled high with luscious fruits – apricots, plums, nectarines, watermelon, peaches and cherries (his favorites), which I find myself still buying for him, no matter what the price. Aching memories!
The other destination takes me a further two stops down Jaffa Road, near the corner of King George Street. The train lets me off just outside my favorite store, Tamnoon, where I always find wonderful bargains: clothes that fit me without the need to try them on; gifts of every kind, all at fantastic prices. I love loitering there, among all the stalls, until I find something that I didn’t know I wanted, but suddenly urgently need to possess. Shopping is still fun.
Then back on the light rail for the trip home. Once again, I am fascinated by the motley crowd of passengers. Israelis take a lot of understanding. They may not be as “refined” as, say, the British. But if you look closely at your fellow passengers, you’ll discover something. Not only do the elderly, like me, always get a seat, but I have yet to see a pregnant woman or anyone with any physical disability having to stand. It is done without any fanfare and you can be sure that someone will unhesitatingly offer their seat.
AS A WRITER (and I believe this applies to all writers) I tend to eavesdrop. You never know when an overheard conversation might just be what you need to inspire a story, or even the plot for a novel. Of course, it is disappointing when the couple in front of you is having an argument and you missed the beginning, so you don’t know whose side you are on!
Starting conversations on the Jerusalem light rail
Occasionally, someone will sit next to you and start a conversation. This has happened to me many times as I try to travel when it’s not peak period, so the train is much less crowded.
Once, a young soldier sat next to me. “You look exhausted,” I couldn’t help remarking. “It’s been a hard week,” he admitted. “Are you going home now?” I asked him. “No, I’m a lone soldier. My home is in San Francisco.” “What can I do for you?” I found myself asking. All my children had served in the IDF and I understood the pressures and – in his case – probably the loneliness.
Then he told me a story, so touching that tears slid down my cheeks. He related that a few weeks ago he took a taxi when he had weekend leave, to an army hostel. The cab driver asked him if he had a family to go to for Shabbat meals. He said he was a lone soldier. The driver said to him: “Not any longer,” as he pulled a key out from his pocket.
He stopped the cab and wrote down his name and address on a scrap of paper. “Use this key any time you want a meal, a place to sleep or a shower. My family will welcome you. You’re a lone soldier no longer.”
AT MY ADVANCED age, traveling the light rail adds a dimension to my life. I am not sitting isolated at home. In some ways, it makes me still feel relevant – part of the population, contributing something indefinable. There is always someone to share a smile with; the possibility of encountering a friend with whom you may have lost contact. For me, it is exhilarating – comfortable, safe, and teeming with life and energy.
And every passenger is a story. Of course, they may ask you where you bought your shoes and how much you paid for them, or similar rather intrusive questions.
This is Israel – Sabras with thorny exteriors, but the softest hearts. Ride the light rail, maybe eavesdrop a little, examine your fellow travelers and know that when you really need them, they will be there for you. ❖
The writer is the author of 14 books. Her personal favorite, Esther – a Jerusalem Love Story, has just been republished after many years of being out of print, by email@example.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org