Is there anything like summertime in Israel? The sky is always clear, and here in Jerusalem a soft wind begins to blow at about 5 p.m., announcing that the sun is going down, that night is preparing to descend, and the outdoor temperature is about to drop by anywhere from twenty to thirty degrees.
The streets are filled with students, most likely on some kind of organized tour that introduces young Jews not just to Israel but, in many cases, to their Judaism.
Upon arrival there are two things that have become vital and increasingly meaningful. One is a stop at the cemetery in Beit Shemesh where my mom, dad, and father-in-law are interred. It is precisely at this location where our lives were turned in new directions.
The next thing is a stop at the Kotel for Ma’ariv or Shacharis, depending on what time of day we arrive. Israel is exciting and teeming with life. On Tuesday night, as we rode back to our hotel, I was commenting to the taxi driver how full the streets were at 11 p.m., with people and cars. I asked him if it is always like this, and he said that it gets quieter after midnight.
This is indeed the land of milk and honey, but that has to be an extreme understatement. The cuisine, dining opportunities, creative food design, as well as the tastefulness has developed over the years to world-class levels. Food purveyors here in Israel take deep pride in whatever they are preparing for you. It can be something as uncomplicated as falafel in a pita drenched with techinah, in jeopardy of having its full contents come crashing through the tasty but soaked bottom of the carefully baked bread, only saved by the fact that its entire interior is insulated with chumus.
I have not had one of those yet, but by the time you get to read this I may have. If I do indulge in one of those classic Israeli falafels and all the delicious mess it creates, it will be on Thursday night, most likely in Geula. Some people say that is where you can find the finest, juiciest, and tastiest falafel in the country. Truth be told, I don’t know if it’s the ambience or the falafel itself. On second thought, it must be the falafel because, frankly, none of those places feature anything resembling ambience.
Most of the shops hawking falafel and sometimes pizza are hot and grimy in this neck of the woods, but in a good way. On Thursday nights over there, the streets are alive with the scent of challah and rugelach as folks gear up for Shabbos. It’s a thrill just to be found in the heart of the erev Shabbos frenzy, with people rushing around with overstuffed shopping bags and some pushing overflowing wagons. It is just one small aspect of what it means to be here.
On Tuesday, we took a taxi to Bnei Brak to sit with Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, for a few minutes. This is not a story about that; I’ll tell you about that next time. This is about two men, Avidan and Shmulik.
It was a hot day and we were going to the Carmel Shuk after Bnei Brak so I took along a bag with my sunglasses and a baseball cap to shield me from the sun. The only thing is that I forgot the bag in the cab, did not have a receipt for the ride, and was feeling kind of helpless about how to go about tracking down my stuff.
I did notice on the ride from Jerusalem to Bnei Brak that the driver’s ID on the side of the car said his name was Avidan Rahamim. While chatting with him, I also learned that he resides in Gilo and that his family is from Cairo. So I figured it was a Jewish family with roots generations ago in Egypt.
After our sit-down with Rav Chaim and a cool drink next door at the home of our dear friend Rav Matisyahu Lessman, we were ready for another taxi ride, this one to the crowded and busy shuk. Our new driver was Shmulik, who told us that he lives in Bnei Brak and used to drive a minivan until everyone in Bnei Brak started driving passenger vans, which pushed him in the direction of driving a taxi.
I asked Shmulik how I might be able to track down a cab driver in this country. I told him about my cap and prescription sunglasses, and he started to search online for Avidan. I gave him all the clues I had—his name and where he lives.
Shmulik dropped us at the Carmel Shuk and we arranged to meet two hours later for the drive back to Jerusalem. In the interim, he went to work. About an hour later he called me with an update. He had tracked down Avidan. It was his taxi I had been in, but he was not the driver. It turns out that he leases the car to a company that leases the cars to drivers, so the hunt continued.
Avidan told Shmulik that he would get the driver’s number from the company and give it to him so that he can call. He later told us that the driver was Asawa, an Arab who I really thought all along was Jewish. Now it began to make sense. The whole time he was talking about whether Jews are welcome in Egypt or not. He said that he liked President Mubarak but not El-Sisi that much, and that he liked vacationing in Istanbul and that it was safer for Jews there, at least safer than Cairo these days.
Anyway, Shmulik got a hold of Asawa who said that yes, he had my bag and would return it to the hotel the next day. And to think I had already given up on my sunglasses and new cap that I bought the night before in Castro.
I have to say that I was impressed and even overwhelmed by Shmulik’s unrelenting determination to track down the other driver and get my things returned. There are thousands of taxi drivers in this country, and the ability to find the guy in less than a few hours is testament to the smallness and even coziness of the country.
I have to admit that, yes, I gave up on the glasses and hat, but I should not have been so quick to do that. After all, you’ve got to believe in the small and easy things, if nothing else, as an opening to the greater and more meaningful. I received my temporarily lost items rather quickly, not due to any kind of miracle but rather because all the way down the line we were simply dealing with good people. Only here in Israel.