Betsalel Steinhart

From Jewish educator to car mechanic

He's debating giving up the classroom for the instant gratification of helping people

I am considering a career change.

I am the Director of Education for Ramah Israel, and a licensed tour guide; I love my work and the fact that I am privileged to be able to have an effect on the Jewish leaders of the next generation, yet in the past few days I’ve suddenly felt that my true calling is a…car mechanic.


Allow me to explain.

My walk to work last Thursday was a bizarre journey through the Israel I know and love. I enjoy my daily walk through Jerusalem’s streets, with the noises, colors and diversity of people — it starts my day off on such a high note.

Last Thursday, as I breathed in the clean fresh air on Derech Chevron, I saw a car stopped on the side of the road. I approached and saw that it had a flat tire, and that the driver — a middle-aged Arab woman, hijab and all — was examining it with the kind of look normally reserved for Americans attempting to comprehend the cricket scores. Her car had seen much better days, and her tires had not seen the inside of a car mechanics’ shop in many a moon. So, I offered to help.

She was quite surprised, but relieved, her Hebrew was passable, and in the 10 minutes or so that it took me to change the tire, we exchanged stories, realized we lived just a few minutes drive from each other — not that our neighborhoods had anything to do with each other, in typical Jerusalem style — and that we had kids the same age. When I finished, she thanked me profusely, and in an inspired moment I said to her to please tell her friends in her neighborhood that a Jewish man had helped her change her tire and that our peoples can live side by side in peace and harmony.

Feeling that I’d just done my tiny bit to promote peace in the Middle East and bring about a better world, I continued my walk.

Lo and behold, 20 minutes later, walking through the poor Katamonim neighborhood, I spied another car, also with a flat tire! This car made the first one look like it was in mint condition. There was a short, elderly man standing next to it, also with the American-bemused-cricket-look on his face. When I offered to help, his face lit up, and another 10 minutes of conversation ensued — albeit interspersed with a dozen forms of blessings towards me, as old Israeli men are wont to convey.

This man was a Holocaust survivor, had come here in 1949 as a child, and had recently buried his wife of 55 years. It also turned out that his grandchildren go to the Ramah summer camp I am involved with, and that, before the war, his parents had lived in the village of Tarnow in Poland — a place I take all my groups, when guiding in Poland
(honestly, what would a conversation between two Jews be without a bit of Jewish geography?).

As I was finishing up with the tire, he told me that he’d been really down lately because of the passing of his wife, and that my helping him had cheered him up.

I left there feeling like a million dollars (fine; a million shekels).

So, to my dilemma: All these years as a Jewish educator and tour guide, and in one short walk across town, I had a greater effect on two people than anything else I can remember.

So, do I switch?

About the Author
Betsalel Steinhart is a Licensed Tour Guide, and the Director of the Ramah Israel Institute for Ramah Israel. He lives in Bet Shemesh with his wife and five children.
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