2 Stories for Yom Kippur: Unexpected Bus Magic

I don’t know how it is where you are, but in Israel most buses have several places where seats face each other. I’m not sure if there is a special name for them. Quad-seats? There are usually two quad-seats in the front reserved for the elderly, and in the newer bus designs, there are several more in the back.

This past week I saw two episodes of Unexpected Magic. (To be honest, I wanted to write something optimistic. I mean, sheesh, are we going to have a government in Israel or a third election in a year? But I digress.)

On the Eve of Rosh Hashana

The #15 bus is crammed with people and their suitcases. Everyone needs to catch the last bus to wherever they’re going for the long holiday. After squeezing my way through the crowds, I find some breathing room at the back and a good place to stand. A few stops later, a seat opens up, and I’m all set.

At the next stop, a kid – 17-18 years old – gets on, and he looks rough. Not dirty exactly, but massively torn jeans, pierced nose, hair shaved on the sides of his head in a kind of messy, flat, dishwater blonde mohawk. He asks the older lady if he could sit by the window, but she points to her giant suitcase taking up two seats facing each other, plus her and another guy in the quad-seat. What could she do? He mumbles, “Why did you even put it there?” I can hear he has a slight Russian accent (maybe Ukrainian). I hope this isn’t the start of something unpleasant.

I see this kid take the suitcase – one-handed – from its perch on two seats, everyone shuffles around and the suitcase is now in the aisle. He takes his seat, pulls out the handle of the suitcase, and sticks his arm through it so it won’t roll away. Then he pulls out a pair of Chinese Medicine Balls and starts a calming clockwise rotation.

chinese medicine balls

I know what they are because I have a set too

The lady asks what they are and he answers that they are a tool to help him stop smoking.

“Oh, but you’re so young! It’s good that you’re stopping now.”

“Yeah, I have this great doctor and he recommended them. They help a lot.”

And the conversation continues from there for a good ten minutes until the end of the ride. He was quite respectful and she was genuinely curious.  It was the best way to ride into Rosh Hashana – the New Year.

And yes, he took her giant suitcase off the bus for her.

Morning Commute

The morning commute is filled with people ignoring each other by being deeply interested in their phones. This morning, there is a woman in the quad-seat at the back of the bus on her own. No one would sit next to her. She looks hostile, and at one point, she jumps out of her seat to open the window and use her newspaper to swat the seats in front of her.

At one stop, as the bus gets more crowded, a woman makes a move to sit in the nearly empty quad-seat, gives the woman sitting there one look, and moves to another seat.

Everyone gives the hostile woman and this quad-seat a wide berth. Mentally ill? Drugs? We don’t know and all we are interested in is our phones.

Then a Haredi lady gets on the bus trying to wrangle two kids (they look like twins about 3-4 years old), she has a baby in a carriage that needs to get strapped into the carriage area. And all this has to happen on a moving bus.

The only seats available are in the quad-seat.

She hasn’t seen all that happened before, so she directs her kids to the back-facing seats. And the woman everyone has avoided carefully picks up each kid and puts them into the seats. When the slightly stressed mother carrying her infant comes to join her kids, the woman moves to the window seat, shuts her eyes and leans hard into the window. But the Haredi mother thanks her, blesses her, and tells her what a big help she is. The poor woman, who is probably not well, has a hard time with this, but knows she did the right thing.

What I Learned

If you look, you’ll find beautiful things happening all around you. You just have to pay attention and celebrate the Unexpected Magic that presents itself to you.

Headlines are just click bait. What really matters is the everyday encounters that remind us the world is not all that bad.

And that is a great way to start the Jewish New Year! May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life!

Holocaust Remembrance Day (24 April 2017) – Yom HaShoah

I’m working from home today.  A few minutes before 10am, I step out onto my rooftop porch.  I pace a bit.  I look at traffic.  I look at the people walking in the street below.  It’s a sunny day with blue skies and a cold breeze.  Waiting in the sun I’m both hot and cold.

The siren begins.  Low at first and then filling the whole valley, echoing in remembrance.  Cars stop and drivers get out of their cars to stand.  Pedestrians stop as if someone pressed the pause button.  Two minutes – one hundred and twenty seconds – standing together we remember.

Holocaust Remembrance Day is a solemn day in Israel:  television stations air holocaust memorials, the radio plays quiet music, schools have special programming, workplaces gather for small memorials, people light candles.  It’s right to remember and there will never be a time when it will be correct to stop having the siren, to drive through the siren, to not stop everything we are doing for two minutes.

Defining Israel exclusively in the shadow of the Holocaust does a huge disservice to all of the positive Zionism that built, and continues to build, the State of Israel.

The Holocaust did not spark the wave of immigrants who built 28 communities in the ancestral homeland from 1882 to 1904.

The Holocaust did not inspire the building of Tel Aviv in 1909 and the establishment of Degania, a small community next to the Sea of Galilee, in 1909.

The Holocaust did not inspire Lord James Balfour in 1917 to write in the Balfour Declaration “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object.”

It was not the Holocaust that facilitated 800,000 Jews expelled from Arab countries in the 1950s to be relocated and housed in Israel and a million Russian Jews in the 1990s to find their homes in Israel.

It was not the Holocaust that inspired 12 Israelis (so far) to win the Nobel Prize.

It was not the Holocaust that turned Israel into a “Start-Up Nation” with the highest number of startups per capita and second to the US in actual number of startups.

The Holocaust annihilated half of the Jewish population of the planet, but it does not have to be the defining moment of Israel’s history.  We are not victims with no other place to go.  Israel doesn’t exist only so that there will be a sanctuary in case another Holocaust comes. We want to live in our ancestral homeland – to be a free people in our land.  We want to be a nation like other nations.  And if we do it right, perhaps we can even be a light unto the nations.

The image of a phoenix rising from the ashes is beautiful and poetic, but next week when we’ll celebrate the State of Israel’s 69th birthday, we will know that we are so much more.