My friend Janet is a treasure. We’ve long since passed the half century mark on a friendship that endures, even though she and her family moved to Tel Aviv in 1970. I’m not living very close to her these days but I assure you I cannot live without her. With all of the newish technologies we’ve both become comfortable with, we are able and fortunate to continue to share each other’s lives. Today was another chapter. And it was harrowing!
Let me tell you a bit about Janet. When she and Ben first moved to Israel many of her many friends thought they’d be doomed to a speedy return to all things American. She was an only child living always in the lap of luxury. Her piano was not just a piano. It was a Steinway grand. Her diamond was a tad too heavy for her finger. Her crocodile purse was just another in a string of baubles that she took for granted as she flitted around our town, Clark, New Jersey, in her brilliant red Firebird convertible. If she doesn’t sound like she would have been clearing malarial swamps in Israel, you’ve got the picture!
She and her family, however, are still there even though there are no longer any malarial swamps. She’s grown old with the country and a prouder citizen would be hard to find.
To give you a taste of her dry sense of humor I share with you a tiny anecdote. After being in Israel about two years, Janet and her two younger kids, boys a year apart, were on vacation, sitting on a NYC bus. The boys were already chatting with each other in fluent Hebrew when an elderly woman asked where they were born. Completely non-plussed Janet replied, “Clark, New Jersey.” This was, of course, the truth. Janet was always able to make me laugh, and I thank her for that wonderful gift!
She also was never known for overstatement or exaggeration. Or needless worrying. And so, one wintry day in Clark, we were experiencing a bonafide blizzard. Long before cell phones made our lives easier, I was glued to the living room window awaiting my family. Breathing a huge sigh of relief when the last straggler pulled up I reached out to Janet to get a report from her. She told me that all the kids had been dropped off but Ben was not yet home. Then she said that memorable line, “I’m not worried. What could happen?” I hung up, envious of her talent. Why worry until you have to? I’ve still not learned that. Often I wish I had.
Both boys went on to become heroic chayalim (soldiers) in the Israel Defense Forces and Janet continued to worry only when necessary.
Thus, when we spoke today and she regaled me with an “only in Israel” tale, I was moved to share it with you.
Janet and Ben are a handsome elderly couple, dashing around less than before but still driving locally. They were on one of Israel’s newer roads, Route 531, which goes from the coast in Herzliya to Tel Aviv via Hod Hasharon. It’s a super highway and a circuitous route, bypassing Raanana and Kfar Saba, making a long loop into a faster one. There are no services along the road and no trees provide shade. There are also few exits. Police patrol the highway when you don’t want them to. You can easily get a ticket but rarely assistance.
That day the afternoon temperature exceeded 90 degrees F. Very very very hot! And then their tire blew.
Helplessly they stood in the blazing sun. Too late to have thought about bringing water. It was just a quick trip, nothing that required sunscreen, water, or hats for shade. They had a spare tire but their road service company did not seem optimistic that they would be there anytime soon. Their kids were out of the area. Waiting for them could be deadly.
And Ben, at age 83, would have if he could have, changed the tire. The blowout was as much to Ben’s ego as to the tire. He could not repair it.
So they stood, suppressing tears and trying not to panic, envisioning the headline in the next day’s paper, “elderly couple perish on Route 531.” .
They will never know if it was Divine inspiration but suddenly they caught sight of a motorcycle on the opposite side of the highway. The bike slowed down and made an illegal U turn, pulling up to the hapless couple.
The biker seemed to exemplify the theme that we all know so well, “Kol Yisrael chaverim.” All Israel are friends. “I will change your tire,” he said. And, efficiently and kindly he did.
They thanked him profusely and insisted on paying him for saving their lives. He refused and then his cellphone rang. He answered in the typical Israeli fashion, “Hallo.”
The remaining conversation was not in Hebrew. It was in Arabic.
Blessed are the strangers.