It has been many moons since I embraced The Dark Side. My Jo’burg accent was thicker, and my wallet still had money, that fateful first Friday in Israel. I was innocently waiting for a bus to Ramat Beit Shemesh. For the uninitiated, every Friday in Israel is Black Friday. Except the prize is not a discounted laptop, it is a seat on the bus. Like a macabre version of musical chairs, the same amount of daily commuters gather at each bus stop, but on Friday they send out fewer buses. That Friday, being new and naive, I was “it.”
Not that I knew any of this, of course. I just stood there, resolutely cheered on by the fact that Moovit said the bus would come in five minutes. Little did any of us know (Moovit included), that this bus would never come because buses to Ramat Beit Shemesh had secretly stopped running the previous Thursday night. Every time a bus drove past, everyone would press forward hopefully. Each one, of course, did not stop and instead zoomed past. Israeli bus drivers know that stopping for passengers is an acknowledgement that there are empty seats on the bus and is thus a sign of weakness. They drive on, cackling at the howls of despair from the crowd.
Eventually, the very last bus pulled up with a shriek of tires. With the clock ominously ticking towards Shabbat, everyone wanted to be on that bus to Beit Shemesh, including the people who had once upon a time wanted to go to Alon Shvut. As I stood in this line, which snaked from the bus into the next city, I faced a moral dilemma which I now present to you. Would you, in this situation…
- Wait your turn. Sure, you might be impatient, but a line is a line right?
- Urge everyone to go ahead of you. Manners maketh the woman!
- Shove ahead, using your head as a battering ram. Lines are for weaklings.
For those who answered C, you’ve passed the official litmus test of being a true Israeli. Congratulations! If you went with Option A, you are either fresh off the boat or don’t live here. If you answered B, you are scrupulously polite and a fool. You’re also probably South African. It should come as no surprise that I chose option B.
When the crowd surged forward, abandoning any semblance of order, pushing and shoving like maniacs, I hung back demurely. After you, I insisted to the mob who barreled past me, shaking their heads at my naivete. The great thing about a line, I reasoned to myself, is that it keeps moving and eventually it will be your turn and- WAIT, WHY IS HE CLOSING THE DOORS? I did not make a single bus that day. I had to call my aunt and uncle and ask them to pick me up. Oh, the shame!
I became a hardened woman after that Friday afternoon, with a renewed understanding of my new country. Israel does not view waiting in line like the rest of the world does. The reason why it took three days of preparation before the giving of the Torah, is because that is how long it took for Moses to assemble the people in a neat and orderly line around Mount Sinai. This stiff-necked nation does not like lines. This enlightenment has transformed my entire experience and has forced me to adapt to survive. After all, when in Rome, do as the Romans do, even if it means abandoning an entire lifetime’s worth of careful coaching from my mother.
I now have a whole procedure when I wait in lines. First I do this weird war dance where I psyche myself up like I am Usain Bolt about to run a marathon. This is partly to make myself seem fierce, but also to seem deranged enough to create a wide space around me. I then size up my opponents in the line. The seminary girls are always an easy target. They are new, inspired and on a spiritual high. I use my crusty, cynical advantage to elbow my way past them. Sometimes, I resort to poking them with the flower bouquets that they’ve thoughtfully purchased for their hosts.
After much practice, I have also perfected the skillful art of using my backpack to push my way through the throngs like a linebacker. Soldiers have a deeply unfair advantage in this manoeuvre because their backpacks are roughly the size of a small car. I’ve also given up on trying to assert my dominance with Israeli children in the line. Obviously, this is because it is morally wrong to push past children and has nothing to do with the fact that these innocent babes would merrily kick me in the shins if I tried.
I knew I had become a monster when a girl tried to board in front of me, blocking the door. As I considered how best to trip her, this small nagging voice at the back of my mind warned me that I knew her from somewhere. Deep from my dormant conscience came the realization- that yes, she was the friend that I had just spent Shabbat with.
Now you may think that I’m the Grinch of Israeli transport and that all I do is whine about people pushing on the light rail and buses. I’ll have you know that is not true. I also complain bitterly about lines at Misrad Haklita, the bank and heck, the falafel stand. Israelis know the truth-fast food just does not taste as good unless you have shoved your elbow into someone’s face when trying to buy it.
Even being near the front of the line is no guarantee of success. Much like Simba coming back to reclaim Pride Rock, people behind you will be constantly fighting to wrest the power from your hands. Some people will even casually, with all the subtlety of a steamroller, break away to form a new line coming from another direction. Eventually, there will be an entire grid of interlocking lines with five people in the front, all yelling at the falafel man, insisting that they were there first. Incidentally, this is the reason Israelis are not impressed by the Super Bowl. “A national sport of people pushing and shoving?” one might say. “We could push faster in line to the buffet at a wedding.”
Israelis are wonderful people. Even amid this harangue, I want to stress that. Sure they may be pushy and have forced me to become this crazed hoodlum, but I’d like to think that when push comes to shove (haha), they would tactfully step around my body the day that I will be inevitably crushed by the line. Perhaps their shoving habit is a testimony to Israel’s grit and refusal to accept the status quo. This could all be true. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to body-tackle someone out the line. I need a falafel.