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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Light at the end of the tunnel

A couple of weeks ago we got what is likely to be one of the last big downpours of the brief Israeli rainy season. As luck would have it, I was riding my scooter towards Jerusalem, within sight of a long tunnel, when the skies opened up. But by the time I'd traveled the few hundred meters to actually enter the tunnel, I was completely soaked.

As I approached the other end of the tunnel (that I would momentarily have to pass through), I could see a a curtain of water falling into the roadway.

Due to the bright overhead lights and the heat generated by the passing cars, it was much warmer inside the tunnel than outside. And as got almost to the end of the tunnel, I started thinking about how the last thing I wanted to do was ride back out the other end, and into the cold downpour.

Just before the end of the tunnel there is a fairly large break-down bay, large enough for perhaps 5 or 6 cars to allow anyone with a flat tire or other mechanical trouble to safely pull over without blocking traffic. I'd noticed the break-down bay on many occasions as I passed through this tunnel, but thankfully had never had to avail myself of it.

But looking ahead to the torrential downpour, I made a snap decision and did a safe (but illegal) U-turn back towards the warm, dry break-down bay.

I hadn't even had time to get my scooter up on the center stand when a motorcyclist on an expensive BMW touring bike splashed through the nearby curtain of rain and entered the tunnel from the opposite direction from what I had been traveling.

Spotting me standing next to my scooter, the motorcyclist did a quick check of his mirrors and pulled over near me in the break-down bay to wait out the rain. Like me, his jacket and clothes were soaked through... and as he parked his bike and took off his helmet, I saw that we were fairly close in age.

The two of us took off our riding jackets and made small talk while we watched the cars zip through the tunnel in both directions... all streaming with rainwater. After a few minutes, a noisy, battered two-stroke scooter passed us... got almost to the exit of the tunnel... and made the same U-turn I had in order to join us in waiting out the storm.

The rain-soaked rider of the small scoot was a soldier in a wet uniform that stuck to his body like a second skin. He pulled off his helmet, hung his gun over the mirror of his scooter and started unbuttoning his wet shirt which looked more black than green. It was only the officer's bars on the shirt's shoulders that made it obvious it was part of a uniform and not a wet pair of pajamas.

While the three of us stood around checking out each other's modes of transportation and saying witty things about the weather (i.e. "I know we need the rain... but does it have to rain when I'm out riding?"), a fourth two wheeler - this one on a battered off-road bicycle - rode into the tunnel and skidded to a grateful stop in the break-down bay to make our little trio into a quartet.

The cyclist was wearing blue jeans, a fleece jacket and sneakers... and his head sported long curly hair pulled back into a pony tail... but no helmet.

Looking at our little group, I thought I had pigeon-holed everyone fairly well. But as the four of us chatted and passed around water bottles, granola bars and assorted snacks we had with us, it became clear that appearances aren't always what they seem.

To begin with, the soldier and the motorcyclist spoke Hebrew to me and to the bicyclist... but chatted easily in Arabic to each other.

It turns out the soldier was a Druse Arab stationed not far from my town. He'd borrowed the scooter from someone on his base so he could do a quick shopping run into Jerusalem without having to wait for the bus. The motorcyclist was also an Israeli Arab and was on his way to visit relatives south of where I live. And just when I figured that I had at least pegged the bicyclist correctly, he pulled a big knitted kippah (yarmulke) out of his pocket and pinned it onto his curly hair before accepting a handful of cashews from the older Arab gentleman.

The cloudburst didn't last long enough for any of us to really get to know each other beyond first names. But the short time we spent together made me chuckle at the absurdity of Israel being called an 'Apartheid State'.

Racial tensions exist in every society, and people often marvel (as I did there in the tunnel) at how normal and nice 'the others' are when the opportunity for a casual meeting presents itself. I suppose those who casually toss around terrible words like 'Apartheid' and 'Nazi' have no idea what those words really mean.

As the light at the end of the tunnel grew brighter, signaling that the clouds were passing, we all mounted up and left the warm shelter of the tunnel... each to his own direction, and each to his own way.

Posted by David Bogner on March 29, 2011 | Permalink

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This post is possibly the most elegant and matter-of-fact rejoinder I've seen to those who would have us believe the lie that Israel practices institutional racism. Israel is one of the most free, tolerant, successful and vibrant societies on the planet. It's a shame that some people hate Jews more than they love their own children, and refuse to participate in that society out of spite, or refuse to peacefully establish a similar society of their own.

Posted by: Ari | Mar 29, 2011 6:14:15 PM

Great post!

Posted by: Michael | Mar 29, 2011 6:19:38 PM

As a fellow motorcyclist, thanks for the nice post!

Posted by: Yaron | Mar 29, 2011 6:25:24 PM

Nice. On so many levels.

Posted by: Alissa | Mar 29, 2011 6:34:50 PM

This should be in J Post, so that it gets a wider readership. Great post, and welcome back, we've missed you:-)

Posted by: Kiwi Noa | Mar 29, 2011 7:58:45 PM

This should be in J Post, so that it gets a wider readership. Great post, and welcome back, we've missed you:-)

Posted by: Kiwi Noa | Mar 29, 2011 7:58:45 PM

I spent the night last night in Shaarei Tzedek with Noam. In the morning I saw two Arab women with a 3 yo boy get surrounded, just while walking down the hall, by a shrieking group of nurses who it sounded like had spent months taking care of the boy when he was a baby and were thrilled to see him doing so well. Hugs, kisses, snuggling the kid, asking how they'd gotten there and how they were getting home, updates from the mom in halting Hebrew and more hugs all around. Wish that could make the papers.

Posted by: uberimma | Mar 29, 2011 8:16:39 PM

Lovely...just lovely.

Posted by: iSquirrel | Mar 29, 2011 9:19:04 PM

Welcome back! Great post.

Posted by: LRINTOR | Mar 30, 2011 12:34:18 AM

very "only in Israel" post
one problem- those kippot are crocheted, not knitted

Posted by: Batya | Mar 30, 2011 5:26:52 AM

And for those of us on the Jewish and political Right, it is a critical reminder that at least a few Arabs might be out there who just want to get a little shopping done or visit family, without the intention to whack a Jew on the way.

Posted by: rutimizrachi | Mar 30, 2011 8:34:02 AM

I live in the Galilee, and I have the same kind of everyday experiences with Arabs, too. Yes, Israel is an environment where people with different ethnic and religious identities can live side by side in relaxed, friendly mutual recognition. It would be a pity to concentrate only on the difficulties and problems.

Posted by: Lila | Mar 30, 2011 9:10:33 AM

Fantastic story! I agree, you should submit this to JPost - meanwhile, thanks for sharing it with us!

Posted by: toby | Mar 30, 2011 9:54:21 AM

I'd like to see this on the Huffington Post -- that readership needs to read this even more than the Jerusalem Post readers do.

Posted by: lynne | Mar 30, 2011 1:49:43 PM

This is a fabulous post, brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

Posted by: SaraK | Mar 30, 2011 8:05:00 PM

Great post, it gives me hope for the future.

Posted by: Lynn | Apr 1, 2011 7:56:59 AM

What a remarkable story.

Hate to be "that guy," but don't the Druze dislike being called "Arabs?" They speak Arabic, but so did many Jews until recently.

Posted by: Nachum | Apr 1, 2011 8:20:16 AM

I really liked this story. thanks for posting it.

Posted by: KaysMom | Apr 4, 2011 7:03:09 AM

The heavy rain just gave you a very worthwhile conversation and experience with different people in the tunnel. Amazing day it was for you. Life is indeed full of surprises.

Posted by: Jesse E. | Oct 4, 2011 3:49:07 AM

Very inspiring story. Love hearing this.

Posted by: carton freezer | Nov 17, 2011 7:29:45 PM

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