The Day After … A Tale from an Israeli Bus

Sep 28th, 2010 | By | Category: Columns, Gross Understanding

GROSS UNDERSTANDING

Eric Grosser

For twenty-five intense hours of Yom Kippur, Jews from around the world pour out their hearts to Ha’shem, asking for forgiveness for a long list of common sins, including speaking badly of others, desecration of G-d’s name, and more. This, combined with the custom of wearing white, men going to the mikveh (ritual bath) before the fast, and the intense prayers leading up to the holiest day of the year, are designed to give us a sense of “purity”, a “clean slate”, a “new beginning”.

On the Israeli street the day before Yom Kippur, it was noticeable that everyone was on their best behavior: Horn honking, dirty looks and road rage were non-existent, and people called their friends and family to ask for forgiveness. Then the holiday began, and when the sun finally set the next night, marking the end of Yom Kippur, we screamed “ha’shem hu ha’elokim” (G-d is the Lord) seven times, heard the loud blast of the shofar and joyously broke into song and dance, all of which created an intense spiritual “high”. Now, as we spend the four days after Yom Kippur in preparation for the joyous seven-day festival of Sukkot, I wonder — will Israeli society remain on its “best behavior”, or revert back to “life as normal”?

 

Papercut art by Deborah Tepper, http://deborahtepperpapercuts.blogspot.com

This year on Yom Kippur, Israel was blessed with a break from the intense summer heat, and that made the fast much easier. However, the next day, the usual sun and heat combination returned to the Holy Land. As I waited in front of Bank Discount for my bus to Tel Aviv, buckets of sweat poured off my forehead. Finally I saw it — the number 274 bus, coming down the street — now I’ll stop sweating!  But shortly after boarding the bus, I realized that something didn’t feel quite right: the air conditioning was not working.

Deja vu! A similar thing had happened a couple months earlier. Then, there was yelling, screaming, complaining, blaming, and dirty looks. It all reached its pinnacle as a disgruntled passenger ran off the bus screaming, “This driver turned off the air conditioning!” The poor bus driver’s explanation that “the air conditioning broke just now,” fell on deaf ears. At the time, the incident lead me to write an article which pointed this out as a prime example of our our being a stiff-necked people, just as it says in the Torah.

But yesterday, on the 11th of Tishrei, the day after Yom Kippur, I was in for a pleasant surprise. As some forty passengers made their way towards Tel Aviv in an intense sweat, not a single one lashed out at the driver! Sitting in the front seat, I overheard the bus driver plead with his supervisor on the phone, “Please do something, the air conditioning isn’t working and the passengers are going to kill me.” A passenger approached the driver and calmly asked, “Is the air conditioning working?”  “Something isn’t right but I can’t fix it; I’m trying,” responded the driver calmly. I had to pinch myself — was I in the Middle East or the Midwest? As an elderly man boarded the bus, I read the quote from the Torah that is posted in the front row, “Rise before an elderly person,” and I got up and gave him my seat. Moving towards the back of the bus, my sweat intensified. Still, everyone was on their best behavior.

“Yesterday was the fast, which brought out that Jewish spark in all of us. Even if you don’t regularly go to synagogue, something in the air felt different yesterday.”

“Yossi, I’m pulling over. I can’t go on like this, send me another bus,” bawled the driver, as he stopped the bus on the side of the road and opened the doors. As the passengers stepped off the bus onto the sidewalk, they were surprised by the pleasant breeze from the shade created by the bus itself. “Wow, a mechaye,” said a sixty-something passenger using a common Yiddish expression. “Driver, why didn’t you check the air conditioning before you took the bus?” asked another passenger innocently, in a kind of “I’m not mad at you, I’m just curious” tone. “It just broke,” responded the driver with a pleasant smile. Fifteen minutes later, our replacement bus finally arrived. “You see what I do for my passengers,” said the driver jokingly. Now that my sweat had ended, I tuned into the three o’clock Reshet Bet radio program just as the host began saying, “Yesterday was the fast, which brought out that Jewish spark in all of us. Even if you don’t regularly go to synagogue, something in the air felt different yesterday.”

Yes, we may be a stiff-necked people, but the air-condition-less number 274 bus never got heated up! The Jewish spark is alive and well, even on the day after.

Eric Grosser lives with his wife and four children in Rehovoth. They recently returned to Israel after six years in Dallas, Texas when, to quote Eric, “we just knew it was time to come home.” You may reach Eric at ericgrosser@email.com.

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