If you Google the word “Rav” in Hebrew, you will be offered 7,780,000 results, the most common being a reference to rav meaning rabbi, the Rav-Kav which is literally translated to ‘multi-line’, and to a cinema chain named Rav Chen, or ‘multi-charm’. Living in a settlement, I remember the caravan which was called the rav tachliti or ‘multi-purpose’. It was our synagogue, youth club, social scene, kindergarten and council room. Today, many years later, it is our senior citizens’ club room. They have seen it all.
The word rav can also be translated to ‘argue’. Lovers of etymology will find the obvious connection between rabbis, multi-use and squabble. But that was not what I was looking for.
The plan was to meet my husband in Tel Aviv for dinner. He was already there, and it seemed pointless to drive another car in, especially at rush hour. So I would take the bus from Modiin and he could collect me from where I alighted. Last time I attempted that seemingly straightforward procedure, I boarded the bus and prepared to pay. I had no idea of the price so offered a 50₪ note. “Tel Aviv please. Senior citizen.” We oldies travel at half price. Whole price is 11₪. The bus driver had to provide change for 5½₪. I spent the rest of the journey protecting the heavy sack of coins that the driver had laboriously counted out for me, causing a delay in leaving, disrupting the entire schedule of the metropolitan transport service and a near lynch by the wrathful passengers.
I was not going to face that again. And I noticed that everyone else had presented the driver with a green card on which a cheerful “Rav Kav” written in purple was displayed. “I want one too,” I thought to myself, and then promptly forgot to do anything about it. I did read vaguely that soon no public transport would accept cash payments and wondered how tourists would manage, but other countries have adopted similar systems and somehow survived.
Until husband proposed another romantic evening by the sea.
So I googled “Rav Kav”, and then, after having read about the wonders of this magic card, proceeded to search for where I can procure one. The nearest site was in Modiin Elite, the ultra-Orthodox city where every road begins with “Rav” and every family boasts of one. How could I go wrong? I drove the five minutes distance, parked my car on the pavement and marched confidently to the office. Which was locked. I pressed the handle, stood back to read the notice “open 08.00-19.00” (the time was 9.47), and jangled the handle again.
Another citizen passed by and tried to open the door, with the addition of a firm knock and bang. The next person actually mishandled the handle. But all to no avail. I asked the gathering crowd if this was normal but they just shrugged their shoulders. Modiin Elite is not a very affluent town and the dependence on public transport is almost absolute. There is exactly one office where the Rav Kav can be bought and it opens or closes at the whim of some clerk. The local population are used to being treated with contempt, and they bow to Higher Authority.
I decided to abandon my fellow sufferers and stomped back to my car, grateful for the lack of traffic wardens in the area. Modiin itself is 10 minutes’ drive away, easy for someone who owns a private car, but an insurmountable hurdle for anyone who does not have a Rav Kav in his hand.
I parked (legally, this is Modiin proper) near the train station where, according to google, I could purchase a Rav Kav. The guard checking my bag looked puzzled when I asked him where I could buy the card. “You mean charge the card,” he said.
“NO, buy it,” I explained, “I don’t have one.”
There was a shocked silence in the line behind me. Everyone was clutching a Rav Kav — pensioners, schoolkids, yuppies, charedim, Arabs — they all had their Rav Kav. Only I didn’t. The last person in Israel to wander the streets kavless and clueless. I shouted out at the throng, “Where can I buy one?” One kind gentleman suggested “in Tel Aviv”.
“But I can’t get to Tel Aviv because I don’t have a Rav Kav”.
No one dared react. They shuffled forward, put their bags on the belt for inspection and averted their eyes. I was a discrepancy, a freak. Some grasped their cards closely to their chests, others blatantly displayed theirs before me. I wondered if they had been born with a silver Rav Kav in their mouths, while I had just been dealt a silver spoon.
Then I felt a tug on my sleeve. I turned to face a person of unidentifiable sex wearing a motorbike helmet and dark glasses. “Go up that road and you will see some steps going down. Under the bridge you will see a building and if you can find the way in, they will sell you a card. And tell them I sent you,” she hissed at me. Then she was gone.
Excited but fearful, I followed her instructions and found myself in a long underground hall. At the end there was a barred counter with “Rav Kav” written above it. I felt an adrenaline rush as I marched towards it, my head high and eyes wide in anticipation. And that is exactly how I look on the card. Proud and ridiculous. Yet I now possess an arguing rabbi pass — I am one of the people.