Shira Pasternak Be'eri
Living and loving in Jerusalem

Texting across the Arab-Jewish divide

She canceled a ride with an Arab taxi driver and then apologized to him: His answer made her cry
Illustrative. A GetTaxi vehicle in Tel Aviv. (Courtesy, Gett)
Illustrative. A GetTaxi vehicle in Tel Aviv. (Courtesy, Gett)

As my city of Jerusalem is consumed by the fire of hatred, it is time for a tale with a glimmer of hope for redemption.

In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, I published a blog post on this site in which I described my feelings of guilt for canceling a taxi at the last minute during the Gaza War, after GetTaxi, the app I had used to order it, let me know that the driver was an Arab. Through a series of text messages, my unsettling account, which could be read on many levels, gave a glimpse into how trauma affects decision-making and culminated with a confessional that included my contrition for the new sin of “race-based fear.”

When I published my post, I thought I was presenting food for thought about power and powerlessness, aggressors and victims, and the tension between morality and self-preservation, whether on the level of individuals or nations. And some of my readers understood. I was particularly touched when a friend whose husband died while preventing a suicide bomber from entering his kibbutz shared my post; it was moving that she, of all people, understood my ambivalence and identified with what I was trying to say.

The discussion in social media, however, largely focused on whether I was right or wrong to cancel the ride and whether there was any cause for penitence. What surprised me most was how many people thought that I had not done anything wrong. Some saw the question purely as an issue of consumerism; I was entitled to cancel my order, and I did. Others pointed out that I had only wasted a few minutes of the driver’s time and he probably picked up another fare soon after. But the most common response was that I was right to cancel because I was protecting myself and there was no reason to feel bad. Indeed, an ominous text message that I received after cancelling the ride seemed to indicate that the taxi driver was not a nice person.

My conscience, however, was still not clear. During the days that followed, I found myself engaged in on-line discussions with people I didn’t know – complete strangers on the Times of Israel website and friends of my family and friends on Facebook – who encouraged me to apologize and perhaps find a way to compensate the driver for his lost fare. Eventually, they convinced me that the road to peace is paved by individuals, and that an apology could be a bridge to repair, even if only for one person and his family.

And so it came to pass that just before lighting candles on the concluding holiday of Sukkot, at the time that Jewish tradition sees as the last opportunity to repent before fates are sealed for the coming year, I mustered up my courage, dug into my phone records, and reached across the Arab-Jewish divide, sending the following Hebrew text message:

Hello. I owe you an apology. During the summer, I ordered a taxi using Get Taxi and when I saw your name, I cancelled the order because I was scared. At the time there were rumors of attempted kidnappings of Jewish women by Arab taxi drivers in Jerusalem. I was on my way to the hospital for treatment and was afraid to travel with you by myself. I hope you picked up another fare quickly and I am sorry that I wasted your time. I pray that the relations between our two peoples in Jerusalem and in all of Israel will improve such that we don’t judge each other and are able to live together without fear and with respect on both sides.

When the holiday was over, I turned on my telephone and found the following reply from the person my fears made me see as a potential terrorist, the driver who had sent a nasty text message to the person who had cancelled his fare:

GetTaxi3“Wow. Your message was very moving. First of all, I accept your apology. And I understand you. Secondly, I have no words to respond to your moving message except to say Amen to your wish that peace and respect between our two people will come already. I do not know you, but I like you and respect you already. Happy holiday.”

As I reached the end of the text, the world around me melted away, dissolved by tears of disbelief and relief and hope. Because I need to believe that there is the possibility of coexistence and reconciliation. I need to believe that we can see past our individual and collective traumas. I need to believe that there is the possibility of repair.

Today, as extra layers of trauma are added on all sides and the possibility of coexistence seems to be an ever more distant dream, as Arab taxi drivers are increasingly being rejected by Jewish passengers and Jews live in fear of vehicular terror of all kinds, I take solace in the knowledge that somewhere there’s an Arab taxi driver who knows that a Jewish woman reached out and wrote what I wrote, and find comfort in my record of what he wrote in turn.

Would that we could all find ways to enable the voices of humanity and compassion to be heard above the clatter of hatred and conflict, in order to build bridges – however small they may be – across the Arab-Jewish divide.


With special thanks to Ari Epstein, Melissa Bartick, Sam Bridgham, Billy Mallard, and Greg Smith, whom I have never met, for the role they played in making the world a slightly better place.

About the Author
Shira Pasternak Be'eri is a Jerusalem-based editor and translator who works as the coordinator of the Mandel Foundation–Israel's websites. She is married to Leonard (aka Eliezer) and is the proud mom of three fine young men and two daughters-in-law, and is the happy grandma of one. Born and raised in New York, she has been living in Israel since 1982. And yes, she is Velvel Pasternak's daughter.
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