(The contents of this post were taken from an email sent home on July 3rd, 2014)
I left the hotel in Ramat Gan and walked about a mile or so to the bus stop. I boarded a bus headed to Jerusalem and sat down next to an older Jewish man who was reading the Torah to himself in a quiet, but firm tone.
I have to mention at this point the style of driving that is prevalent in Ramat Gan and Jerusalem. It consists of acceleration and brakes, there is no in between.
In the states people tend to accelerate until they reach a comfortable speed and then they pretty much cruise from that point on. In Israel this does not seem to be the case.
Invariably the vehicle one finds themselves in will be thundering along the highway, accelerating rapidly until the license plate of the car between them and the rest of the road gets so large that everyone in the back can read it. And then the driver makes sure to accelerate, but hesitates to pass the car in front just in case there are any shortsighted passengers on board who may not have seen every speck of rust on the plate. He may even honk for good measure in order to let the blind know that if they want to reach out and read the license plate using braile, that this is their last chance.
The other car's liscense plate sometimes gets so large and so close that it makes one wonder if the two metal objects currwntly roaring down the highway will potentially become united as one object getting dragged off the shoulder by a rusty old tow truck.
Okay, it's not really quite as bad as all that... I haven't actually seen any accidents yet, so I'm sure there is an element of skill involved in the driving around here... an element of skill which we in the states have somehow not picked up even with all of the driving courses and seasoned drivers that inhabit our roads.
At one point (not while on the bus) I saw a bus stopped at a yeild sign, yeilding to quite a lot of oncoming traffic. Behind it a little car pulled up and I think it started honking... The reason I say "I think it started honking" is because it's horn was so dull and faint that it was barely audible... It sounded a bit like a dog who has tired of chasing cars and now when a vehicle passes by, simply groans rather lethargically (more out of annoyance than anger or excitement).
About 15 minutes into the bus ride we hit quite a lot of traffic, and this rendered the Israeli style of driving useless.
When the bus arrived in Jerusalem I got off and was met by crowds of people bustling about, tons of buses, and a little train station. All within about 100 yards of each other. Although I had done a fair amount of research on which bus I would need to take to my hotel (The YMCA in Jerusalem), I will say that I became briefly disoriented when I realized that all the signs, listed destinations, and maps were in Hebrew... no English, no Arabic.
There were eight or nine different bus stops crowded close together and buses were coming and going every couple of minutes. I decided to consult my phone's map to figure out what direction to go, and then settled on a bus stop.
An elderly man sat in the shade of the stop I chose, and I asked him if he spoke any English.
"A little bit" he said in a very thick Israeli accent.
"Do you know what bus goes toward King David Street? Or near the YMCA?"
"King David Street. Yes. Bus 74 or 75."
"Thank you very much!"
I sat down.
"YMCA... That is the... Young.. Young Men Christian Association? " He asked.
"Yes, that's right."
"The bus driver will know the King David Hotel... It is right across the street from the YMCA... but he might not know the YMCA..."
He paused briefly.
"Where are you from?" He asked. "Are you from Canada?" (I was wearing a Pittsburgh Penguins Hockey shirt at the time, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was the hockey aspect of my garb that led him to think I was Canadian).
"No." I replied, "I'm from the United States."
"Where in the United States?"
"Where they make the chocolate."
"Hershey, it is in Pennsylvania?"
"Oh Hershey, yes that's in Pennsylvania... it's kind of close to where I live... I've been there before."
"So why are you in Jerusalem?" he asked.
"Well, I'm only here for a couple of days... and then I'll be going to the University of Haifa."
"Are you worried?... Being in Israel?" He asked.
"I was a little bit nervous at first, but I wouldn't say I'm worried."
"I'm scared shoot." He replied.
"How long have you lived here?" I asked him.
"All my life, and I'm scared shoot. Any time things could blow up."
The bus we were waiting for arrived.
The elderly man got up and said: "Here I'll tell him where you need to go and I'll have him tell you when to get off."
"Oh, well thank you very much."
He got on the bus before I did, spoke some Hebrew to the bus driver and actually paid for my ride using his bus pass.
We sat down on the bus.
"So are you a Christian?" He asked.
I was rather surprised at this question, but I answered honestly: "Yes, I am."
"I don't care what you are as long as you behave well. Even some Jewish don't do this... and some Arabs do."
I dwelt on that point for a moment before I turned to him and said: "I didn't get your name earlier."
"Israel" he said, "Now you can say you met Israel in Israel. And what is your name?"
"Ah! Like saint Thomas!"
"I guess so!"
"Is he a relative?"
"I don't know... I guess it's possible."
Some time passed and he asked: "Did you hear the news this morning?"
"No." I replied.
"Well, they said an Arab was killed by an Israeli, but I think it was an Arab killed by an Arab and then blamed on the Israeli... In a few weeks you will probably see it on CNN."
There was a brief moment of silence, and then he asked:
"So is your family christian?"
"I do come from a christian family. Yes."
"Catholic or protestant?"
"I would say mostly Anglican."
"I've been to Anglican churches... They are beautiful. That is why I go, because it is beautiful." He said.
"Like I say, I don't care what someone's religion is, people have to behave. He is an Arab (he pointed to the bus driver) and I am Jewish, but he knows me and we get along." He added: "Who knows, yours could be the Messiah."
He then repeated a phrase in broken English a couple times. It was something about 'a tree having deep roots,' (and/or) 'history being sweet.'
Unfortunately a lot of what he said at that point was lost in his accent and the rumble of the bus, but he told me to tell it to people when I got back to the US, so I thought I ought to do my best to document it.
"How many people have you spoken to since you got here?" He asked.
"You mean people I don't know?"
"Oh, probably 7 or 8..."
"I don't know how you've got me talking this much... I never talk to anyone." he said. "At work, I don't talk at all. I am quiet. I actually was trying to ignore you when you asked me if I spoke English, but I believe God sent you to me, and if I am going to answer I must answer all the way... there is no half way. If you are going to do something, you have to do it well."
"That's true." I said
"I want you to remember me." He said.
"I will." I said.
"My stop is next... You probably will be glad to be rid of me", he laughed. "Do I talk too much?"
"Oh no, not at all." I assured him.
"Well anyhow, you started it by asking if I spoke English."
I laughed, "I guess that's true..."
The bus stopped, I thanked him again, and he stepped out into the hot Jerusalem sun.
I don't know whether or not I will ever be called on to give an account of him, but I am sure of one thing: I will remember Israel the man.