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Conversations In A Jeruselum Cab #786

07/14/2023 04:49:38 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

    Conversations in a Jerusalem Cab

On the last day of our recent trip to Israel, as we walked towards an Ethiopian restaurant, one of our participants shared perhaps one of the wisest assessments I’ve ever heard about Israel. 

“Whatever you thought about Israel before you got here—you would be wrong.”

Sharon’s comments came after two weeks of touring, as. along with 30 others, we visited, experienced, witnessed, cried and celebrated at more than 40 sites.

And she was so right.

If I were to ask you right now, the first thing which comes to mind when you think of Israel, if you are like many, you will say the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And you would be wrong.

Everywhere we went, we witnessed Jews and Arabs living side by side.  Jews, Christians, Muslims, those of the Baha’i faith.

When you visit the Israeli equivalent of a CVS in Jerusalem, chances are you will be served by a Muslim pharmacist.

As you walk through the Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem, you will hear both Hebrew and Arabic spoken in the stores. The relationship may not be warm—but there is a peace.

If you think that Israel is about black hatted Jews controlling Israeli society, you would be wrong.

Tel Aviv is recognized as the world’s vegan capital—a place where members of the LGBTQ community walk hand in hand, and no one bats an eye.

If you think that the Israeli landscape is dominated by sand and stone, you again would be wrong.

In recent years, Israel’s national bird has become the crane. In Tel Aviv, high rise construction is everywhere.

One of Israel’s true miracles is that the sand and swamp, which once dominated the landscape, has been replaced by flourishing cities, dynamic communities, and farms growing everything from kiwis to kohlrabi.

Israel is innovation. It is fresh food and surprising restaurants. Israel is about Bible and archeology, but it is also about technology and conservation. And yes, Israel is about various religions and shades of humanity living side by side.

And so it seemed odd as we ultimately arrived in Jerusalem, for many of our participants to receive urgent texts from friends and relatives in the United States.

“Are you okay?” or “Stay safe.”

The previous evening, a lone wolf, angry over Israel’s mission to rid the Jenin refugee camp of terrorist cells, rammed a crowd in near a Tel Aviv shopping center, subsequently stabbing eight people.

I logged into the internet to see how the incident was being covered in the United States, and I was immediately met with a huge headline:

“Deadliest two days in US history,” it read. ”Between July 4 and 5, there were nine mass shootings in the United States.”

So, if you think Israel is unsafe, compare it to what has become a daily occurrence in the United States. Compare it to New York subways.

No country is perfect, but as I asked many members of our group, “Where do you feel safer,” the unanimous answer was “here.”

Yes, there are profound issues regarding the Israelis and Palestinians—between Orthodox and secular Jews—issues and behaviors which deeply concern me -- but if you think Israel is more complex or troubled than the United States—then you would be wrong.

And so it was last Sunday morning as Patte and I climbed into a cab to take us from Jerusalem to our flight home. I was a little on edge as we began our 40 minute trip as I noticed across the driver’s dashboard the flashing digital words Quran Radio.

“You are listening to the Koran on the radio?” I asked, making conversation. ”Are you praying to get through traffic?”

Raed, our mid-30’s driver, explained. “I listen to this station when I get up because it calms me before Jerusalem rush hour.”

It was 4:30 am as we continued chatting. But somewhere about a half hour out of Jerusalem, Patte realized she had left her cell phone in our hotel room.

What to do? Do we turn around, do we cancel service, do we arrange to have the phone shipped to New York?

But before we could decide, Raed had matters in hand.

“I have called Amir, my friend who works at the hotel. He has your phone. He is in his car now and he will be here in 20 minutes.” Patte and I shook our heads.

And so, as we sat waiting in an isolated gas station parking area near Beit Shemesh, our driver and I changed gears as we began what seemed like an “off the record” conversation.

I got right to the point. ”How are things really between Jews and Muslims? Do you get along? What if one day, Muslims took control, would there be violence against the Jews? 

For some reason, these were the first questions which came to mind. And Raed replied 

Al Tipha’ched,” he said. ”Don’t worry.”

“We don’t have to love each other, but we can live in peace.

“There are some crazy people here,” he continued. “But we know we would not make such a good living if we did not live in Israel. My wife could not drive our children to the school.

“We have good health care and education. It is clean.” Raed then scrolled down his IPhone, and proudly showed us photos of his children.

Raed added that during his lifetime living and working in the Jerusalem area, he has made many friends including Jews and Christians. His favorite time of the week is when he chauffeurs an aging rabbi to and from a doctor’s appointment.

After another 20 minutes, as the dawn’s light peeked over the Jerusalem hills behind us, a car pulled up. Amir handed Patte’s phone to Raed, and 200 shekels later we were on our way.

Life’s journey sometimes takes on unlikely passengers. As Raed noted, there are many hateful people living in Jerusalem, and throughout Israel.

But after 18 trips to Israel, having endured my share of troubling incidents—I return home as always with countless more stories of everyday people who just want to live together in peace.

Ironically, it is those who claim to speak for God who pose the greatest threat to Israel’s existence and security.

As we pulled up to the airport terminal, we settled the tab. We parted not as best friends, but as respectful human beings within a country where some degree of conflict and tension has consistently existed for more than 3,000 years.

Whatever your impression is of Israel, if you base it on headlines, and news clips—you will be wrong. Indeed, there exist complex issues and relationships for Israel to navigate.  Israel, like our own democracy, is a work in progress.

But imagine a country where Jews are the majority—where debate, discussion and discourse flow as freely as the Jordan River.

Within a world which reduces every idea, philosophy or country to a tweet or soundbite, Israel demands deeper consideration and understanding.

It is David’s secret chord. It is a coat of many colors. It may not be perfect, but it is ours. Indeed, once you visit Israel and experience it with your own heart, like Sharon, you will understand that Israel is a country which defies definition.

And you would be right.

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem. Kol tuv.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784