A few years ago when we were in California for one of David’s seminars, many of my local friends were shocked when I told them I’d ridden the RTD (Rapid Transit District) into Los Angeles. They considered it dangerous to ride the RTD. I hadn’t been at all worried because I take Egged buses all the time in Israel. In fact, with traffic jams and road congestion increasing daily, it simply is no longer worth the stress of driving one’s car into Jerusalem. And if you SHOULD find a parking place in the center of Jerusalem on the first try, you immediately declare it a miracle and are ready to testify about the miracle the following Saturday at church!
The truth is, the half-hour bus ride into Jerusalem is an enjoyable adventure. Most of the people who live in our village of Maoz Zion are Jewish immigrants from Kurdistan. The other residents hail from Morocco, Persia, Russia, or are “Westerners” like us. The older Kurdish residents immigrated to Israel between 1948 and 1952, raised their children here, and today watch their grandchildren growing up in this same area.
Now, just pretend that you and your children are taking a bus from where you live to one of your local shopping malls. You get on the bus and see your mother sitting with your aunt in one of the seats. Your children run over excitedly to your mother and she gives each of them a big hug and a kiss, and your aunt makes over them, pulling sweets for them from her purse. As you begin the ride, you notice one of your childhood friends further back, and you go and sit with her and her little girl. The two of you talk about the price of pampers and where to buy the best tomatoes in the market.
This is what happens nearly every time I take the bus into Jerusalem. It’s not unusual for passengers to meet relatives and lifelong friends on the bus. For those of us who grew up in a disconnected society, it’s hard to imagine boarding a bus and recognizing many of the passengers, or sitting down next to an old friend.
The bus drivers are something else! A few days ago I watched in amazement as a young bus driver stopped his bus in front of one of the original, small stone houses in the village, opened the bus door and shouted at a little boy playing in the yard: “Is grandmother at home?” The boy nodded yes, and presently, here came grandmother shuffling along in her long, loose dress, a scarf tied around her head. The bus driver hollered, “Grandmother, I’ll be back in a few minutes.” She waved her hand in acknowledgment and shuffled back into the house. During all this time the bus’ fifteen passengers sat patiently, watching this homey drama. Nothing unusual, it seems, for a bus driver to stop and talk to his grandmother.
Then there’s Yosi, an Egged bus driver who in appearance resembles Bluto. Not quite clean shaven, he drives with elbows high in the air, both hands clutching the steering wheel, and chewing gum with a big grin. He’s famous for making controversial statements about politicians that have recently been in the news. He does so intentionally, to provoke a response from the passengers. A few always react by declaring their own opinions, and soon others join in. At that point, Yosi makes another statement to put down all those who have expressed an opinion. This causes half the passengers to burst into laughter, and those not laughing shake their heads in mock disgust, but smile nevertheless.
So that everyone will be able to hear, Egged drivers turn up the bus radio whenever the news comes on over Kol Yisrael (the Voice of Israel), which is at the top of every hour. When a news broadcast is over, lively discussions break out among the passengers. As Oriental (Middle Eastern) music blares from the bus radio, we enter the city and ride past tall modern buildings in downtown Jerusalem.
Not every bus ride is entertaining. Some are just ordinary trips with everybody staring out the windows and enjoying the view. However, very rarely will you see a young mother trying to get a stroller on or off the bus by herself. Passengers jump up to help. They also will come to the aid of someone carrying heavy bags of groceries.
I love it. I love the interaction between the passengers and bus drivers. You see, by taking the bus, not only do I avoid the stress of driving in traffic, I also get to experience the deep, primal foundation of human existence—community. Village life, though rife with family feuds, provides a society with roots. The security of knowing your grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins is something tragically missing in our modern, high-tech, disconnected society.
On your next trip to Israel, come, ride the Egged bus from Maoz Zion to Jerusalem and experience this special way of life.
-  Egged (pronounced EH·ged) is a public bus company in Israel. ↩
-  Many Protestant congregations, including the Narkis Street Congregation that we attend, meet on Saturday. Israel still has a six-day workweek, and Sunday, the first day of the week, is a workday. ↩
-  An abbreviation of the Hebrew Yo·SEF (Joseph). ↩