At the Front of the (Israeli) Bus

Alice Walker recently refused to have her seminal work, The Color Purple, translated into Hebrew, calling Israel an “Apartheid state.”  Articles trashing the writer’s behavior have been coming fast and furious, on Facebook and on Twitter. Some of the articles are fascinating, others just a grouch fest. People need to vent.

Fact: anyone who calls Israel an “Apartheid state” cannot possibly have spent time in Israel among mainstream Israelis. As Kafka put it, “He who seeks does not find, but he who does not seek will be found.” Clearly, Ms. Walker has been found.

Yesterday, I had an appointment in town that necessitated my making use of public transportation. I boarded the bus, paid and got a ticket from the bus driver, and found a seat a few rows in.

Involuntary Bus Voyeurism

I don’t like to read or work on a bus. I much prefer to look out the windows and dream. But sometimes people chat and it’s impossible for me not to listen in. I admit to engaging in involuntary bus voyeurism.

So here’s the scenario. The bus driver is black. He’s Ethiopian. In the front right hand seat is a convert to Jerusalem who is originally from Tennessee and married to the son of Holocaust Survivors. In the seat just behind her is a woman who immigrated to Israel from Holland, many years ago.

The two women begin to chat, the one in front leaning over the seat to speak to the woman behind her. They speak in English, since this is the language that is easiest between them. I try not to listen, but it’s just not possible.

Not Moving

As they are chatting, I realize that the bus just isn’t moving.

The woman from Tennessee remarks to the Dutch woman on what is impossible not to notice: the wall-to-wall traffic that has the bus in a gridlock holding pattern on a major thoroughfare. She says (in English), “Oh my. Look at all this traffic!”

In a loud voice, the bus driver interjects something with great excitement that sounds something like, “Putt in, putt in, putt in!!”

Sudden Understanding

The light bulb goes on for all of us at the same time. PUTIN! Putin is visiting Israel. (Whenever a foreign dignitary visits Israel, all Jerusalem traffic must be diverted and stalled for security reasons.) All of us (me the secret voyeur outing herself, the woman from Tennessee, and the Dutch woman) at the same time heave a collective expression of sudden understanding, “Ahhhhhhhh!”

Eventually, I reach my destination (I wouldn’t be writing this if I hadn’t, now would I?) and as I walk the streets of Jerusalem I begin to replay this little scene in my head which goes as follows: The passengers on a bus leading from Judea to Jerusalem include a convert to Judaism who hails from of all places, Tennessee, chatting in intimate friendship with a woman from Holland.

Now get this:

A black guy is sitting at the FRONT of the bus.

He understands English well enough to add his friendly voice to a conversation between his passengers and everyone is happy to have him chime in.

Fie On You

I chuckle out loud as I walk the streets of Jerusalem thinking, “Apartheid state? Ha! Fie on you, Alice Walker. Your ignorance is showing. You might want to do something about that.”

About the Author
Varda Epstein is a blogger and Communications Writer for