During my recent trip to London, I decided to rely on Uber to go from place to place. Even after driving in places like New York, and Tel-Aviv, driving in the UK still scares me. Because the steering wheel is on the opposite side, I never know which way to go, or which lane to be in. Rather than risk my life and my sanity, as well as the well being of others, I figured that Uber was the best way to go for my 2 days in London.
Not only did Uber drivers safely take me from meeting to meeting, but it turned out that I was able to learn a lot from each of my Uber drivers. Sometimes, we never know where we are going to learn the most important life lessons.
For my first trip from Luton Airport to Golders Green, I had the pleasure of meeting Amirul. It is not every day that I have had the opportunity to speak to a person with such an amazing life story. Amirul came to England from Bangladesh about 20 years ago. He has been working as an Uber driver for the past 7 years. Amirul told me about how his family came to England when his brother who was 6 at the time, was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. The medical care in Bangladesh was considered to be sub-par, and a family friend suggested they visit England to try and take advantage of the superior services. So, after coming as “tourists” they decided to remain and make lives for themselves. Unfortunately, Amiral’s brother did not survive, but he and his 4 other siblings were determined to become productive members of society. Amiral and his siblings all completed advanced college degrees and have their own families. I asked Amiral why he decided to become an Uber driver. He said that besides getting to meet new people, the flexible hours fit in nicely with his wife’s schedule. Amiral’s wife is an ER doctor, and her hours always change. So, as an Uber driver, Amiral can work when it is convenient and can be home with his kids when needed. Upon entering Golders Green, Amiral told me that he really loves working with the Jewish community in London. He said that he has learned that a lot of the stories told about Jewish people over the years are not at all accurate. He said that he still has a lot of friends that hate Jewish people because of what they have been taught. After meeting so many nice Jewish people, Amiral has made sure to teach his children that it is important to accept everyone. A very inspiring story to start off my trip!
The next morning, I had the opportunity to ride with Mohammed. Upon entering his car, Mohammed saw that I was wearing a kippah and immediately began to tell me about all of his Jewish friends. As we were having a pleasant conversation, the news came on the radio and there was a report about the shooting at the Quebec Mosque. Mohammed used this as an opportunity to share his opinions with me about Israel and about the world in general. First, he asked me if I had voted for Trump. He was very critical about Trump’s policies towards immigrants. As an immigrant himself, he felt that people should be judged on their actions, and not by their nationality. When he said this, I seized the opportunity to open that “can of worms” and I asked him how he felt about Israel. His answer showed that he had really thought about the situation. Mohamed explained that most of his Palestinian friends have nothing against Jews or Israelis. He blamed politicians on both sides for a lack of peace. He went on to tell me that people who resort to violence on both sides should be locked up forever, as the world has no place for these actions. I invited Muhammad to come and visit Israel, and we both agreed that the world could use a lot of improving. I started to think to myself about the media and about what both sides believe and do. I started to wonder how many Jews and Palestinians feel the same way as Muhamed.
Later in the day, I met Razven, who immigrated from Romania about five years ago. Ravzen was your typical “single guy” with no real responsibilities or attachments. This was a different type of person than I had met up to this point. The first two drivers were family men with a lot of life experience. This guy at first, seemed much more care free. As soon as he saw my kippah, he said, “hey, you’re Jewish. I know a lot of Jewish people!” Before I could respond, Ravzen decided to take me on a tour of the local Jewish community. He showed me the schools, Shuls, restaurants, and other important buildings in the community of Borehamwood. I finally had a chance to ask him how we knew so much about the Jewish community. He responded by saying, “I like the Jews. You are a good people.” I thanked him for his tour and got out of the car. Then, I started to think to myself how special it was to hear Ravzen’s words. Ravzen represented the “typical” person on the street. He was a person with little formal education, but clearly a lot of “street smarts.” The Jews don’t exactly have a great reputation in the general world. Ravzen could have easily labeled us all as bad people, but he took the time to get to know the Jews in his home town. How often do we wish others would take this time in other parts of the world?
My next Uber drive of the day was with Vladimir. The first thing he said to me when I entered the car was that he was not Russian. Truthfully, I had not yet taken the time to speak to him, so I nodded and said “ok.” He then proceeded to share his story with me. When he saw my kippah, Vladimir explained to me that he was from Hungary and was in fact as he described himself, “half-Jewish.” He explained that his father was Jewish. Vladimir then asked me about Israel and if I had ever been. When I told him that I lived in Israel, he became very excited. He immediately began telling me about his many trips to Israel and about all of his Israeli friends. Vladimir told me how special I was for living in Israel and how he wished he could live there too. It turned out that Vladimir provided the most entertaining Uber ride, as he had very colorful descriptive words about Trump, UK politics, and other topics. I was ready to thank Vladimir and continue with my day, when he asked me if he could be in touch the next time he visits Israel. Apparently, our conversation meant a lot to him as he did not usually get to speak to Israeli residents. I actually gave him my business card, so we will see if he is ever in touch. I was impressed with Vladimir’s connection to Israel, and his determination to strengthen this connection through further visits.
The final London Uber trip was with Haroon who was from Pakistan. It was this conversation that surprised me the most. As we made our way from Golders Green to Heathrow Airport, Harron and I made small talk about traffic, different London neighborhoods, and about other unimportant subjects. Out of nowhere, Haroon said, “I see your Jewish. I wish I were Jewish.” My jaw almost dropped to the floor! Here was this stranger from Pakistan who I had just met, telling me he wanted to be Jewish. I turned and I asked him why he wanted to be Jewish. He told me that while driving in London, he has met a lot of Jewish people. Haroon told me that what has impressed him the most about Jews is the sense of community. He said that “you all take care of each other. My religion does not have that.” He went on to tell me how lucky I was to have such a strong support system. He told me that he knew that I could be a total stranger and show up at a synagogue, and instantly have a place to stay, a warm meal, and anything else I needed. I told him that this was indeed most likely true. Haroon went on to tell me about a Jewish passenger he picked up. This man was bringing boxes of food to total strangers. “Who does that?” Haroon was so impressed with this man’s act of kindness that he refused to charge him for his trip. As I was listening to Haroon’s story, I felt very proud to be Jewish. These are the stories that sadly, do not make the front page. When we arrived at Heathrow, I thanked Haroon for the ride and he told me to think of him the next time I am at a holy site in Israel.
These fascinating and powerful conversations, remind us that learning does not always take place in the classroom. In many ways, we are all students and we never know from where the next lesson will come. These interactions with my Uber drivers gave me first hand insights into the backgrounds and experiences of others. Many of us live what can be described as sheltered lives and are not often exposed to other communities and viewpoints. There are many reason why we choose to live this way. Sometimes though, it is also important to see the world through different eyes, and to appreciate the way others see view the world.