Nine minutes was the length of the taxi ride I shared with Avshalom, a white-haired-Yemeni, kippah wearing taxi driver.
Nine minutes is all it took for me to get my dose of an only-in-Israel experience before arriving to another day at the office.
Taxi drivers are often the most fascinating people, spending their days and nights encountering people from all over the world making them some of the ultimate storytellers — and I do regularly find myself captivated, falling down the rabbit hole into profound conversation with them.
Anyone who has been in a taxi in Israel knows that it can be one of the following:
1. A time of silence. (rare)
2. A time to hear your driver’s political views or opinion about something you definitely didn’t ask about. (often)
3. An enlightening experience where he delivers just the right words at oddly the right time about Jews and Israel and what it means for us to be here. (often)
4. Or lastly, a time for the driver to guess where your accent is from. (every. single. time.)
The ride, no matter how long or short, can be any combination of the above, and is entirely what you make it.
One minute in.
One minute into the ride, Avshalom guessed that I was French. I’m not. I’m American with Latin roots, and a confusing accent when I speak Hebrew.
Three minutes in.
Three minutes into the ride and three days before Pesach, Avshalom asked me where I would be for the seder.
This year, I had no real plans, not that I didn’t want them, but with no plans comes a schpiel to anyone who asks, including my taxi driver.
How have I been in Israel this long but still don’t have steady plans for the chagim? I’m an olah. Hadasha is questionable though. How long am I technically new for? Is it until I have steady plans for the holidays? Before aliyah, living near family, and amongst gentiles, I always had a place to be and we always invited guests.
In Israel, inviting guests and your friends is not something many Israelis consider doing, because they automatically think everyone has somewhere to go to, understandably so, but have we forgotten about the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim (hospitality)?
Straight from the Torah, and non-coincidentally one of my favorite parshot since my aliyah, Vayeira* (And He Arrived, Genesis 18:1–22:24), is the quintessential story of Jewish hospitality.
And yes, there are wonderful programs and organizations for olim that don’t have somewhere to go for seder or kiddush, so it’s not to say I didn’t have any options. I’ve also been invited in the past by friends and even hosted my own dinners.
But takshivu, listen, I didn’t want to sign up for dinner or ask anyone if I could join them. On this night, I wanted to be and feel invited.
I happen to be human and I admit that my pride had gotten the best of me this time.
Seven minutes in.
“Eize hoferet,” I was sure he was thinking, and rightfully so, but this was my time to get it all out with a total stranger. Besides, I was probably never going to see him again. But he responded:
Would you like to come to my seder with my family? I can give your phone number to my wife and she will call you so that you feel comfortable to plan everything with her.
My jaw dropped.
The ride was coming to an end as he handed me a notepad asking me to write down my details for his wife to contact me. Still in delighted shock, I complied, but explained that he really didn’t have to invite me since I was completely self-absorbedly kvetching. We said our goodbyes and our yom tovs, and realistically, I did not expect any sort of follow up, but was pleased nonetheless.
Later that day, and to my surprise, Avshalom’s wife actually wrote to me:
And she called immediately after to make sure I received her message. She gave me all the details, with an explanation of how spicy her Yemenite food can be, since she heard that I was an Ashkenazi girl. She gave me her address, and even the option to not come if at any point I decided I didn’t want to.
How could I not want to go to the most Israeli thing to have ever happened to me?
Friday came and I walked in from the windy evening holding the flowers I’d brought that had almost blown away before I even arrived.
“Is this Avshalom’s home?” I asked the 20 people spread over four generations sitting at a single, stretched table in a warm, cozy apartment. Of course there was no one for me to recognize, but with the warmest welcome, they received me with love and laughter and questions of how this all came to be. And following in, a few steps behind me, was Avshalom, who had just finished dropping off his last customer for the evening before the start of the holiday. With a smile bigger than I can ever explain, he said “I am so happy you came.”
The night went on, with a reading of the haggadah, the most delicious foods in reds, yellows, and greens that only a seasoned Jewish grandmother could dream of making, stories and pictures of simpler times directly from the great-grandfather himself sitting at the head of the table, of before he arrived to Israel, and of finding love almost 90 years ago with his late wife by making her the best marak temani (Yemen soup) in all of Yemen, a powerful singing of “Echad Mi Yodea,” all together, laughter, wine, and most of all brotherhood.
I admit, I teared up sitting at this table, partially, from missing my own family, but also from pure happiness thinking about this night. The way it all happened could not have happened like this anywhere else. Sitting at this seder and not feeling like a guest was one of the most beautiful, most “Israel” moments I could have ever been blessed with.
In this world of strangers, the Jewish people are not strangers in Israel, and most of all, we are never strangers to each other.
Hine ma tov u’ma naim shevet achim gam yachad!
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to sit together in unity!
Talk about a five-star ride and a taxi driver going the extra mile.