Excerpts from "On Cab Drivers, Shopkeepers and Strangers," Feldheim Publication.
After 25 years of living in Israel, the unbelievable stories that are constantly taking place here still never cease to amaze me. It's all a matter of keeping your eyes open. I guess that's part of the miracle of the Jews' return to our Land … the unreal becoming natural.
NOW, THAT'S SERVICE
My friend Faigy E. travels to work each day by bus: it's about a forty-five minute ride from her home. During rush hour the bus is always stuffed with people in a hurry - and the traffic on the streets is awesome.
Yesterday morning, a very, very old man wobbled up to the bus. The harried bus driver waited patiently for him to climb up the steps one by one, and the first seat was quickly vacated so that the old man could sit down. When he was settled, the bus driver quickly closed the doors, and zoomed away.
Faigy was sitting close by, and overheard the very old man explain to the bus driver that he had to go to the local clinic for some tests. He asked the bus driver to tell him where to get off in order to get to the clinic.
Now, the clinic is not located on the main street where the bus line runs. In fact, it is two blocks off to the right of the main street. Faigy was wondering how long it would take that poor old man to walk those two long blocks, when the bus driver stopped at a red light.
Turning around in his seat to face all the passengers on his crowded bus, he called out, "Does anyone have any objection if I drive this man to the clinic?"
No one objected.
And so the entire Egged bus, stuffed full of passengers all rushing to get to their jobs on time, left the regular bus route. And, two blocks later, the doors opened to out the little old man - at the clinic entrance.
I'M NOT TAKING ANY MONEY FROM THAT LADY!
My friend Arlene H. is the real, 100 percent tzadekes [righteous] type who does chessed [acts of kindness] 18 hours per day.
One of the many types of kind deeds that Arlene does is helping poor families who need food: she collects money for them and pre-pays the butcher so that they can walk in with dignity and just pick up "their" chickens; she leaves sums of money at the greengrocer so that other families can get especially nice fruits for Shabbat for their children; she periodically pays off a food bill in the makolet (a small neighborhood grocery story) for a family that is having a particularly hard time that month.
Arlene has a lot of contact with an organization called Yad Eliezer, which distributes food baskets to thousands of needy families each month. These are boxes filled with canned goods, bottles of oil, and other staples. All of these Yad Elieer families are fine Jewish families which have been "checked out" extensively by Yad Eliezer before being added to their list of monthly recipients.
Since I know that Arlene often helps families to get on the Yad Eliezer list, I was only mildly surprised when she told me that she was picking up the cartons of food, as she does every month, for two families who she knows cannot get the food boxes by themselves: Family X. has many, many small children and a "difficult husband" with emotional problems who will not and/or cannot get the food boxes, and Family Y. consists of a divorcee with serious health problems and her several small children, with no other family to help her carry the heavy boxes of food.
Since both families live very far from the Yad Eliezer food-distribution point, Arlene's son, who has a car, picks up the cartons of food with Arlene each month, and then delivers them to the homes of these two families, on the other side of town.
Last month Arlene's son had an important meeting and thus could only come hours after the food-distribution point closed. So Arlene decided she would go by herself to pick up the food, and her son would come to her home later that afternoon to pick up and then deliver the food packages.
But the cartons, filled with a month's supply of bottles of oil, packages of sugar and flour, and large-sized cans of olives, pickles, and various other food items, were too heavy for Arlene to carry. So she called a cab, and a nice man, a stranger walking past the food-distribution point, helped her shlep the heavy cartons to the curb.
Soon the cab arrived, complete with an undershirt-and-earring-wearing driver. Instead of kvetching about the large number of boxes, and/or demanding additional fare money for them which is the cab driver's legitimate right according to the law, the cab driver merely lugged the many, heavy cartons into his cab.
As they were speeding along, the cab driver asked Arlene why and where she was taking all of this food.
Arlene explained that the food was for two large families who didn't have husbands in the home who could pick up the food for them, and she told him a little about Yad Eliezer and the two families.
Upon arrival at her apartment complex, Arlene realized that she didn't have enough money to pay the cab driver, so she ran upstairs to her apartment to get more money. In the meantime, the cab driver expended quite a bit of effort unpacking the heavy food cartons from his cab.
To Arlene's surprise and delight, as she descended the steps in her apartment building, she saw that the cab driver had even lugged all of the heavy boxes into the entranceway of her apartment house, which is quite a distance from the curb.
However, when she returned to the street where the cab had been parked so that she could pay and thank the driver, neither the cab nor the cab driver were anywhere to be seen.
Arlene returned to her home and immediately called the cab company. (No, there was no fear in leaving the food cartons downstairs in the building's lobby until her son would arrive.) Arlene gave the taxi-cab dispenser her address and explained that the cab she had taken had left without her having paid the driver.
On the phone Arlene overheard the dispatcher contact the cab driver and say to him, "Yaakov, the lady says that you forgot to get your cab-fare money from her."
Still on the open line, Arlene also overheard what the cab driver's response to the dispatcher was; the cab driver, who had never seen Arlene before in his life, and who had never previously heard of Yad Eliezer nor of all the chessed that they do.
Over the phone, Arlene heard the cab driver say to the dispatcher: "I'm not taking any money from that lady! Tell her to give it to tzedaka [charity].
A REGULAR BUS TRIP
This story took place on the #11 bus from Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of Jerusalem.
A friend, Miriam L., was one of the first passengers on the bus that day since she lives near the first bus stop of the #11 route. She thus was able to get the seat right behind the bus driver - the perfect seat for seeing and hearing much of what goes on in a bus…
After traveling past only a few bus stops, a little boy climbed onto the bus and sat down across the aisle from Miriam - i.e. in easy view of both my friend and the bus driver.
Two or three bus stops later, this little boy suddenly burst into tears. And, as the bus was slowly meandering through the residential streets, he continued to cry and cry and cry.
By the next bus stop, the driver turned around in his seat, and asked the little boy, "Why are you crying so hard? What is wrong?"
The sobbing little boy answered that he had been given very specific directions by his mother regarding when he should get off the bus, which way he should walk, and how to get to where he was supposed to go. But he no longer remembered anymore what his mother had said to do or where he was supposed to get off the bus.
Without a word to anyone, or a comment of any kind, the bus driver turned the entire bus around and returned to the child's home. He then opened the bus's doors and told the little boy to hurry and ask his mother for directions again, and then to hurry back.
Meanwhile the bus driver again turned his (big city) bus around in order to be heading in the right direction when the child returned. He then proceeded to explain the whole story to his perplexed passengers.
Of course, being Israel, no one complained or protested this disruption in the regular scheduling of public transportation. Everyone just waited for the little boy to come back to the bus and climb aboard.
Which he soon did.
And then the bus just drove off again, continuing on its regular route.
NINE SHEKEL'S WORTH
Some daily-life experiences are big and momentous. Others are seemingly small and inconsequential. But somehow, in Israel, no daily-life experience is insignificant.
My son-in-law's brother-in-law, Pinchas, told us about this "little thing" a few weeks ago….
Several years ago a small, fresh squeezed juice stand opened in the Geula neighborhood of Jerusalem. By small, I mean that there is a counter, a carrot juicer, a squeezer that makes fresh orange or grapefruit juice, a blender, a napkin holder, and a cash register - and space for one person to squeeze by.
Pinchas, who teaches nearby, goes there every day for a glass of freshly squeezed juice. Every Sunday through Friday, he buys the medium-sized glass, which currently costs nine shekels (approx. $2). The smaller-sized glass of freshly squeezed juice costs eight shekels, and the largest-sized glass costs ten shekels.
But there is one small complication. Pinchas likes his juice very, very cold.
When he first started going to this small fresh-juice stand, he used to always ask the man behind the counter to put a lot of ice into his glass. Each of the two men working there had a different system for doing this. (Pinchas has since realized that one of the men is the owner of the juice stand, and the other man is his employee.)
Without ever a word or a sign of any type from Pinchas that he expects anything other than some ice added into his nine-shekel glass of juice, the employee, when he is there, invariably gives Pinchas a nine-shekel glass of juice, tells him to drink a little bit of it, and then asks for the glass back. The employee then adds ice to Pinchas' nine-shekel glass of juice.
When the owner of the juice stand is working, on the other hand, he has a different system to ensure that Pinchas is getting his full nine-shekels' worth of juice. The owner fills up a nine-shekel-sized glass with the fresh juice, then pours the whole thing into a ten-shekel-sized glass. Only then does the owner add the ice to the larger glass.
With the passage of time, Pinchas has become a steady customer. Which means that, by now, he doesn't even have to ask for ice. Both the owner of the juice stand as well as his employee recognize and remember that Pinchas likes his juice very cold.
So now, when Pinchas comes into the store, both owner and employee automatically give him his juice with a lot of ice, though each worker uses his own system to ensure that Pinchas is getting his money's worth of juice. Pinchas is always amazed how both put kindness and honesty (beyond the letter of the law) before profit, for neither is obligated to subsidize his desire for ice.
At a superficial glance these are just average people, doing small things in their everyday life. But, even if these acts appear to be small, they most certainly are not inconsequential. I pray that I will always be as careful with money matters and all questions of honesty as those two men are.
What a People, and what a country!
In celebration on Yom HaAtzmaut, share with readers in the comment section below a special "Only in Israel" story that happened to you.