Israeli Society 101

People love to hate the public transportation in Jerusalem. But at least it can serve as a great introduction to Israeli society.

The other day I got on the bus just as an older lady in the front row exclaimed: “Would you look at him! No manners! No consideration! Talking on the phone like the rules are beneath him!” Sure enough, her hand was pointing imperiously at a young Ultra-Orthodox man mumbling into his smartphone right next to the “no phones in the first row” sign.

While I paid, the self-appointed “manners police” shook her silvery curls and went on with her lecture: “These kipot (yarmulkes)! So typical! No manners whatsoever. Complete boors!”

I froze in indignation, standing right there beside her in my mitpachat (head covering) and long sleeves. Should I point out her own lack of manners or keep mine intact? Before I had a chance to decide, an older Sephardi man caught my eye and boomed at the top of his voice: “These heretics! They hate everything Jewish! She doesn’t tell the Russian woman off for talking on the phone in the front. She only tells us religious people off! She is a self-hating Jew! A Jewish Nazi! Yimach sh’ma!”

The man’s pain was palpable, and so was his expectation of a reply. I wished the ground could swallow me up, and hurried to the back of the bus.

My hopes for a refuge from awkwardness proved futile. The guy sitting behind me was describing, in detail, what sounded like a rather active night with his girlfriend. Loudly, at that.

In a desperate attempt to block out his voice I decided to eavesdrop on the woman in front of me, who was lecturing her neighbor. “I don’t know what will become of us all,” she sighed. “These Arabs…they’re all just evil. You can’t trust any of them. When will the government finally get it?? You religious people have it right: ‘Esau hates Jacob.’ It says so in the Torah after all. I wish Bibi would realize that. How many Jews have to die before the army goes in and kicks them all out of our city?”

I glanced at the other woman. Young, pretty, very modest. But religious? Not quite the right style…

She shuffled uncomfortably and was visibly relieved when her phone rang, sparing her from having to respond.

And then she answered her phone.

In Arabic.

In the brief silence after she hung up, the guy behind me saved us from our akwardness by barking into his phone: “It’s not about the sex!”

I blushed. The young Arab woman blushed. Her Arab-hating neighbor blushed.

At the front of the bus, the manners cop snorted, “Young men today! No discretion! No manners!”

One obnoxious man is all it took to throw me, the religion-bashing lady, the Arab woman, and the Arab-hater into the same indignant camp. Which, come to think of it, isn’t so different from how political alliances are rapidly formed and unformed in Israel. No wonder that the coalition couldn’t keep up with the constant rearranging of dislikes.

When I got off the bus the young man from behind me got off as well. “Would you believe the chutzpa of that old man in the front,” he asked me in a friendly sort of way, “calling us Nazis and heretics? These religious people are so full of themselves!” I half nodded and ran for it, successfully disappearing before he noticed the mitpachat on my head.

About the Author
Rachel is a Jerusalem-born writer and speaker who's in love with her city's vibrant human scene. She writes about Judaism, parenting and life in Israel for the Times of Israel and Kveller, and explores storytelling in the bible as a teacher and on 929.
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