Reaching out my hand, I signal the direction I plan to go in for the cars passing by. A car stops, the driver rolls down the window- “Alon Shvut” she calls out. I smile, open the door, buckle up, and we’re on our way. When we reach the intersection, I ask “ani yechola laredet po?” (“can I get off here”?) and I can’t hide my Canadian accent as the R comes out of my mouth. Before I know it, I have the driver’s cell number saved in my phone as ‘Sarah Tremp’, along with an invitation to come for dinner.
I did this every day for a whole year, climbing into strangers’ cars for the trip to and from the school I volunteered in for sheirut leumi. I wondered long and hard about what made each tremp so special to me. Was it the ride from my neighbor who then began lending me her laundry machine (since the one in our sheirut apartment was broken) or the family that had me over for dinner; was it the woman who picked me and my friend up, while she was sitting in traffic jam because of a terrorist attack, or the older couple who stopped mid- ride to give a chocolate to the soldier on guard; whether it led to a long conversation or even those rides when we sat silently, not sharing a word other than a “thank you” at the end.
Tremping was an experience, so far from anything I had known in Toronto. Each tremp was fascinating to me, emotional and meaningful. Just the fact that I stood on the side of the road, every single day, reaching out my hand, asking for a favor from people who were virtual strangers and people were ready to pull over, open their car doors and let me in. That was incredible to me! A beautiful example of modern day hachnasat orchim. That is the culture here in the gush; a culture built on trust. A trust that is so strong that people are willing to open their doors and actually let a stranger in. A trust that is so deep that even after terrible terror incidents that have had the whole world in mourning, the culture here has hardly changed. People trust and it’s a beautiful thing. Its not that people in North America don’t have as much trust. But there, people don’t live in the same type of closely-knit communities where we feel everyone is our neighbor, our brother. Would you not offer a guest visiting your shul for Shabbos to join you for dinner? Of course you would, because a fellow Jew is someone you know and trust, someone just like you.
But what about everyone else?
What makes me different then the man walking up and down in the intersection with a sign that says ‘help- homeless and hungry’?! What makes me different then the woman who sits on the street with her hand held out asking for spare change?
Why can’t we view these small gestures of aid in the same way as my community viewed my request for a tremp? A simple favor for a friend (a friend you’ve just never met). We live in a culture that teaches us to distance ourselves from others. To think we are above those that we don’t understand.
In Ontario, where I grew up, policies such as the “safe streets act” criminalize poverty by not allowing “aggressive” panhandling (although the vague nature of this statement can lead to enforcing this law against any soliciting by the poor). People caught begging for money are ironically fined, pushing them further away from any chance of escaping their state of poverty.
Policies like these enforce in their essence a lack of trust and comradery. They reinforce biases which create a distance between ourselves and anyone who might be different from us. We feel justified in making ourselves exempt from our responsibility to help others. We need to stop putting down, or looking away. We need to push ourselves to practice trust, to pause on our way to work and help someone out, open the door, maybe even start a conversation. I think we need to work to broaden our definition of community; remind ourselves often of the community that we all belong to, the community of human -kind. Lets all open our doors, and give someone a ride.