KOLOT — Boarding the Bus in Israel

By Mattathias Pinchover

Many Westerners are hesitant to visit Israel nowadays when it is rumored to be surrounded by such turbulence and hated by – well, let’s be honest – mostly everyone. As an American serving in the Israeli army, I would like to offer a wisp of reassurance to any potential tourist.

When you first arrive in this beautiful, bustling country of ours, one of the first things you may notice is a screaming, angry mob of people, each one clawing at the other, and half of whom are carrying weapons in their hands.

While your first thoughts immediately fly to the third intifada, Arab riots, or another such travesty, let me reassure you. Do not be worried. This is our line to the bus.

As most tourists, and even some of us who have been here for quite some time and simply melt into the back of the line(s) while shaking our heads in disbelief, are taken by a sudden shock, I would like introduce my own manual for boarding the bus and commencing travel.

First off, after you have realized that these are simply normal Israelis trying to enter the bus, and there is no need to call the Israeli police, make your way to the back of the line. Pick any one of them.

Step two is to begin pushing and shoving. Now, it is quite obvious, even to Israelis, that this might not be “polite” and “civilized,” although I am not entirely sure if these words exist in Hebrew, so be prepared for blank looks when uttering them.

As I said, even we know that shoving and pushing is not age appropriate for adults. Nor is it for anyone over six years old. That’s why when you see us all pushing one another to squeeze whoever is first into the bus, we have the decency to avoid each others’ eyes and stare at the ground, as though our arms and shoulders are acting of their own accord and we cannot possibly be held accountable.

The best tactic I have found for navigating the throng is to find the biggest, ugliest, and fattest man. Step right behind him, grab on to his belt and allow him to cruise you through the horde. They should part before you like water cut by a kayak.

Once you make it to the promised bus, ask no questions of the bus driver. Any questions such as “How long until Jerusalem?” or “Is there a stop in Netivot?” will be most likely be answered by a grunt. If you are lucky and it’s a good day, there is a possibility you will be answered by two or three grunts and a nod or shake. But you can also win the lottery.

After paying your fare and taking your seat, I feel obligated to warn you that you have only just begun the most dangerous part of your journey. Weary and hungry you may be from your vicious battle to board the bus, do not take out snacks. I repeat. Do not, under any circumstances, remove snacks such as chips from within your pocket.  If you do, you will find yourself surrounded by a fresh crowd at your seat with outstretched hands, each assuring you he personally is your very best and most loyal friend. If you are fortunate, they might deign to ask permission before taking a handful of chips and disappearing, much like a squirrel grabs a few nuts before scuttling off.

Snacks that are safe to eat on the bus include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and perhaps celery if you can make sure it doesn’t look too much like a sour stick.

Once you have reached your destination, exit through the front or back doors, and stride out onto the paved road. You are now armed with the deadly knowledge of how to navigate the cities of Israel. Good luck.

Mattathias Pinchover says of his current life: Two months after graduating Hall High School in West Hartford, at the age of 17, I left all forms of civilization to join the Israeli army.  After learning in an Ulpan for five months, vital for the tedious amount of shouting matches over the phone with government offices, none of which seem to have moved past the Renaissance in terms of communication, I joined Garin Tzabar to enlist in the army.  I currently live in the north of Israel. The IDF has kindly arranged for me to serve as far south as they can manage it, so that I might enjoy seven hours of scenery on my ride to base. 


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