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Unraveling the dual nature of Israel’s identity

The bus pulled up next to me, the driver opened his window and I got ready for the expletives he would surely rain down on me
Traffic in Jerusalem. (courtesy)
Traffic in Jerusalem. (courtesy)

When my wife and I paid a short visit to Israel last week for the wedding of one of our students, I was positively surprised by the smooth running of our trip. At Schiphol, both the Israeli security and the EL-AL staff were polite, we received a free upgrade to priority seats and they were also very friendly on the plane.

On arrival at Ben Gurion, the often rude customs officers had largely been replaced by more efficient machines, reducing the expected long queue to a few minutes. The rental car turned out to actually be ready and the ride to our residence went perfectly. When we visited the Kotel the next day, the navigation did not lead us through a dangerous area (Ramallah) this time as it did on the previous trip. After the visit to the Kotel and our walk through the Arab Shuk had gone smoothly and unscathed, I concluded that the country had come of age – perhaps as a result of the Corona period. Modern Israel was all tranquility and civilization.

But then things went wrong… As we drove out of the underground parking lot of the Mamilla shopping center, I was blinded by the bright sun. I couldn’t find my sunglasses and suspected they had fallen somewhere in the trunk. I slowed down with the intention of stopping on the side of the road to get my sunglasses out of the back. In my rear-view mirror, however, I saw the bright headlights of an Egged bus. So from the front the blinding aggressive sun and now through the rear window the even more aggressive headlights of the city bus.

I expected and hoped that the driver would overtake me on the left, because “that traffic rule also applies here”. But he kept driving behind me, flashing and honking furiously all the time. Despite my previous positive thoughts, I had to conclude that the established civilization was very disappointing and that the country will probably never become as neat and friendly as our Netherlands.

At the traffic light, the bus unexpectedly pulled up next to me, the driver opened his window and I mentally prepared my reply to the avalanche of expletives he would undoubtedly rain down on me. “Slicha,” the driver shouted, “yesh lecha mishkafayim al hagag!” which means, “Excuse me, there are sunglasses on the roof of your car!”

This column was previously published in the Dutch Jewish Weekly Nieuw israelitisch Weekblad (NIW). 

About the Author
Yanki Jacobs is an Amsterdam-based rabbi and the 15th generation of Dutch Jews. He offers spiritual guidance to individuals in the Netherlands University Campuses and 'Zuidas,' the financial district of Amsterdam South. In addition to his rabbinical duties, he conducts research and publishes works exploring a range of topics such as ethics, education, leadership, identity, and communal values. Alongside his wife, Esty, he leads the Dutch chapter of Chabad on Campus and as well as the Chabad Community of Amsterdam South.
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