By Sam GREEN.
You can learn a lot by hitchhiking to work in Israel. I hitchhiked the daily commute for nearly four years, from my home town in Modi’in to my hi-tech job in Yehud and then, when I changed jobs, to Rechovot.
But first off, let’s face it. Where else in the world would it even be remotely conceivable to hitchhike to work without being considered an escaped convict or some sort of aberrant, let alone a hi-tech professional? And then, even more improbably, where else would you be able to leave the house at eight-thirty and still be confident of grabbing a lift from a complete stranger in time to be at your desk every day by nine? Exactly. In fact, I don’t think I ever waited more than fifteen minutes to hitch a lift in the morning and usually it was more like five.
Every morning, commuters elbowing their way through the hectic morning slog would never fail to turn into the layby to offer me a ride, even though they clearly realized that getting back into the stream again would be like trying to get Obama to take out Iran’s nuclear sites. (Believe me, stiff necked doesn’t do justice to it – sometimes I think these people would prefer to have a collision rather than suffer the humiliation of having to put shoe leather to brake).
However, despite their utter contempt for breaking distances and total ignorance of the laws of momentum, once in their cars, I found Israelis to be polite, considerate and friendly. And they would often travel out of their way to take me where I needed, even if it meant upsetting their own plans.
That is my people.
But there’s more. Towards the end of my stint as a hitchhiker, I began to develop a rule of thumb about the sort of people that would stop for me: People in nice cars don’t stop. It’s only average to poor income Israelis that give people lifts. I have no idea why. Maybe middle class Israelis empathize more with hitchhikers or actually were hitchhikers themselves at some point. Or maybe it could be that simple Israelis are more down to earth and altruistic than their wealthy compatriots, or maybe less ‘tainted’ by the money somehow? But then, just as I was getting comfortable with my cozy social assumptions, the rule was rudely broken one morning, when a property developer in a VERY posh SUV stopped and drove quite out of his way to get me to work. That’s another lesson learned here in Israel – don’t underestimate the ability of the locals to surprise you.
And now, thanks to the incompetence of the bus companies to get a basic service up and running to go the easy 36 kilometers from Modi’in to Rechovot, and at considerable personal expense, I’ve finally got myself a car. And yet somehow I can’t help but reminisce on my experiences as a fleeting guest of the many good people that let me in for a short time. The car ride was always just long enough for a cautious exchange of ideas, some searching for common ground and then the verdict on life and the future, followed by a hurried ‘Todah’ and ‘Shalom’. And then we were gone, probably never to meet again, but somehow both of us changed. Dare I say, for the better?
But I miss those rides most of all because, morning after morning, they never failed to put my bigger journey into perspective for me. Why I came to Israel and why I made Aliyah. Hitchhiking allowed me to see the goodness of the Israeli people in action and to try to get some of their incredible generosity, can-do spirit and open-heartedness to rub off on me. Maybe it’s working, slowly. But what really puts my mind to rest is that no matter how tarnished my own born-in-exile soul may be, the cure will ultimately be complete. Maybe not in my lifetime. But certainly in my children’s.