November 29, 2017

Hanukkah in Israel

Outside of Israel, especially in Christian societies of the West, Hanukkah is perceived as the most important Jewish holiday.  In fact, many Jews in Diaspora also relate to Hanukkah as a major Jewish holiday.  As Christian societies prepare for their “Holiday Season” several weeks in advance of their most important holiday, Hanukkah almost becomes a “Jewish Christmas”.  For example, throughout the Diaspora, Hanukkah menorahs often appear next to Christmas trees.   

Ironically, Israel is the one place in the world where Hanukkah stands on it own and is therefore in many ways more “low key” than in the Diaspora.  For example, while exchanging “Hanukkah gifts” is common among Jews in the Diaspora, it’s not the accepted practice among Israelis.  Although schools are on vacation for most of the 8-day festival, it is not nearly as major an observance as the fall holidays or Passover in the spring.  Many Jewish holidays can be summarized by the following cliche: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” Here in Israel, high-calorie Jelly-filled donuts known as “sufgoniyot” are sold throughout the country as the traditional Hanukkah food starting a few weeks before the holiday.  But in most Jewish communities of the Diaspora, potato pancakes knows as “latkes” is the choice Hanukkah delicacy.    

    

The reason for eating oily foods this time of year relates to the “miracle of oil”.  As every Jewish child learns, the Syrian Greeks defiled our Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  When the Maccabees managed to liberate the Temple, they found only enough pure olive oil to light the Menorah to last for one day.  Nonetheless, a miracle occurred and it lasted for eight days.  This explains why Hanukkah is celebrated for eights days, and why we light candles in increasing order each night of the festival.   

Although this spiritual description of Hanukkah has been the focus of Jews over the past 2,000 years, the historical significance of this holiday has almost been completely forgotten.  The Book of Maccabees is the only source that tells the true Hanukkah story.  Since it has only survived in the Greek translation of the Hebrew bible, known as the Septuagint, the Book of Maccabees was largely unknown to the Jewish world until recently.  Interestingly enough, the Book of Maccabees doesn’t make any mention of the miracle of the oil, nor does the famous Jewish historian Josephus Flavius who lived a couple hundred years later.  Instead, the true Hanukkah story is that of a small group of Jews who decided to take history into their hands instead of waiting around for God to perform a miracle.  Outnumbered, they took the courageous decision to launch a rebellion against the oppressive anti-Jewish decrees of Antiochus the 4th.  As a result of the rebellion, not only was the Temple recaptured, but an autonomous Jewish State in the Land of Israel was reestablished for the first time in some 400 years.  Known as the Hasmonean State, it lasted for some 100 years until the invasion of the Romans in 63 B.C.E. 

Why do rabbinic sources down play such a heroic story? Perhaps the answer relates to the pains of exile in which the Jewish people were so often persecuted and scattered to the furthest parts of the world. The Jewish rebellion against the Romans in 66 C.E led to the destruction of Jerusalem four years later.  The Bar-Kochba revolt against the Romans 60 years later was also a failure and led to the deaths and enslavement of hundreds of thousands of Jews.  Given the poor track record of Jewish rebellions, the predominant attitude became one of accepting the exile as a necessary evil. 

When David Ben Gurion announced the creation of the State of Israel just under 70 years ago, this was the first time since the Hasmoneans more than 2,000 years ago that the Jewish people merited our own state.  In many ways, the Zionist pioneers were the modern Macabees who took history into their own hands.  Instead of only praying to return to Israel and rebuild Jerusalem as traditional Jews had done for two millennia, they decided to make it happen.  They succeeded.  Happy Hanukkah! 

September 28, 2017

Israeli Holiday Season

The Israeli “Holiday Season” lasts for just over three weeks and comes out in the early fall. Since the dates are based on the Hebrew calendar, the corresponding Civil Gregorian calendar dates vary. Rosh Ha’shana which literally means “Head of the Year” is observed for 2 days. However, the holiday ambiance starts one month earlier, as the “Shofar” or “ram’s horn” is sounded every morning in synagogues.

Israeli holidays

 

Jews of eastern origin known as “Sephardic” Jews start to recite special late night or early morning prayers called “Slichot”. Although Ashkenazik Jews of European ancestry only start to recite “Slichot” on the week preceding Rosh Ha’shana, tourists won’t want to miss the heart-wrenching melodies of the High Holidays! Tours that leave before the crack of dawn to Jerusalem’s eclectic Nahlaot neighborhood are especially popular. While visiting the “Kotel” or “Western Wall” is on every tourist’s itinerary, the unique ambiance of the recitation of the Slichot prayers at the Kotel is not to be missed.

Israeli holidays

The 10 day period starting with the two days of Rosh Ha’shana and ending with Yom Kippur or “the Day of Atonement” is known as the “10 Days of Repentance” or the “Days of Awe”. The focus of this time of year is “Tshuva” which literally means “returning”. People ask forgiveness from one another. The traditional greeting of “Gamar Hatima Tova” literally means “a complete good inscription” and is based on the idea that God judges everyone on Rosh Ha’shana as either completely righteous or completely wicked. But since most people are somewhere in the middle, we have until Yom Kippur to tip the scales and be inscribed with the righteous in the “Book of Life”.

On Yom Kippur in Israel, LITERALLY the entire country shuts down for the holiest day of the year with the 25-hour fast. Starting from a few hours before sunset on the eve of Yom Kippur, Israel is the only country in the world where all TV and radio stations and public transportation including the airport come to a halt. All roads are closed to non-emergency vehicles and this is the only day when it’s safe to ride bicycles in the middle of the roads and highways. Although synagogues across the country fill to maximum capacity for all-day prayers, some secular Israelis observe Yom Kippur as “Bike Day”.

Israeli holidays

 

Many Ashkenazik Jewish males wear a white robe over their clothes known as a “Kittel” on Yom Kippur. The Kittel reminds us of the shroud in which we will be buried when we leave this world, which leads people to think of the important questions of life. As Yom Kippur goes out at nightfall, the blast of the “Shofar” is once again sounded followed by the joyous singing of “Next Year in Jerusalem”!

Israeli holidays

With the “High Holidays” behind us, Israelis have just 4 days to prepare for the next 7-Day Holiday of Sukkot. On the most joyous festival of the year, we leave the material comforts of our permanent homes and enter the “Sukkah” or “booth” where our forefathers lived in the desert following the Exodus from Egypt.

Israeli holidays

Every day of Sukkot, the “4 species” including the myrtle branch, citron, willow branch and palm branch are held together and shaken based on Leviticus 23:40. In the evenings, joyous festivities are held throughout the country.  Since all children are off school and most adults are off work, Sukkot is a popular time for Israelis to travel around the country. National parks and attractions quickly fill to full capacity during Sukkot as they do in the Spring during the 7-day holiday of Passover.

Israeli holidays

At the very end of Sukkot comes the holiday of “Simhat Torah” or “Rejoicing with the Torah”. In synagogues, people dance in circles with Torah scrolls and children are given flags and candy. On Simhat Torah, we read the last verses of the Torah and immediately go back to the beginning.  A wedding canopy is held over all of the children who recite the blessings before and after the reading of the Torah known as the “Aliyah of the youth”. Later, the eldest member of the community is also given a special honor of being called to the Torah as the first verses of Genesis are read. In many synagogues, festive meals are served for the entire community.

Israeli holidays

With the incredible ambiance and roller-coaster of emotions created by 3-week string of holidays, it’s no wonder that the Israeli term for “procrastination” is “after the holidays”.

Want to visit Israel during the Holiday Season? Let Holy Land Escape make your Israel adventure unforgettable.  Book soon, as space fills up quickly!

June 16, 2017

See Israel on a budget – Israeli public transportation

Almost everywhere in Israel is accessible by public transportation! In fact, it’s often more convenient to reach your destination by leaving your car behind. In most Israeli cities, parking is a challenge. Using public transportation will also allow you to step out of your tourist bubble and experience the Holy Land as Israelis. Whether you’re traveling independently or taking advantage of free time as part of your organized tour, riding on a public bus is an excellent way to take in the sites that you would otherwise not see.

(more…)

July 22, 2016

Israel’s best beaches – surfers, children and the modest

With 116 miles of Mediterranean coast, no trip to Israel is complete without a visit to the beach. In this “land that’s drenched with sunshine”, Israeli beaches are a great place to take in the sun and cool off in the refreshing and tranquil waters of the Mediterranean Sea.  Where are the best Israeli beaches to visit on your Holy Land vacation? Take your pick!

(more…)

Enjoy this collection of articles about daily life in the Land of Israel!

The “train-crisis” continues

102404  473052198509356402536

Over the past week, the so-called "train crisis" has been the topic of heated debate in the Holy Land. The drama started when the Ultra-Orthodox parties threatened to destabilize Netenyahu's narrow coalition over non-essential repairs performed on Israel's railroad on Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath. Ironically, the focus of the crisis has absolutely nothing to do with the "Israel Train", and it could have just as easily developed from hundreds of other random examples.

Up until a couple hundred years ago, if asked to describe in a few words who the Jewish people were, the answer was very simple: "The people who sanctified the 7th day", or the "keepers of Shabbat" (the Sabbath).From 18 minutes before sunset Friday night until nightfall Saturday night, with almost no exception, the Jewish people observed the Shabbat. This meant eating 3 meals, reciting special blessings over wine and "challa" (braided bread), attending synagogue and refraining from 39 specific categories of work. But in the wake of the enlightenment in Europe and the mass immigration of Jews to North America, those who continued to observe Shabbat slowly became a minority. In my own family, only my paternal grandmother, herself a Russian immigrant to America, claimed that her father was a "shomer Shabbos" (keeper of Shabbat). Jews outside of Israel who observe Shabbat tend to live in closely-knit communities, so as to be within walking distance of synagogues. Although over the past few decades, such communities of Shabbat-observant Jews in North America have grown exponentially, they are still essentially living in a kind of "bubble".

Although here in Israel those who keep Shabbat in the religious sense make up only about 35% of the population, it is still in many ways deeply rooted in the culture. For example, Friday is generally either a day off work or a half day to allow for Shabbat preparations ahead of sunset. The newspapers and public radios and TV stations announce "candle lighting" times when Shabbat begins, and when Shabbat goes out. On Shabbat, there's no newspaper or public transportation, and statistically, most businesses are closed.
But unfortunately, although Israelis of all religious levels of observance use the traditional "Shabbat Shalom" greeting meaning "a Shabbat of peace", the issue of Shabbat in Israel has proven to be the topic of great strife and division. In the hustle and bustle of life which is a struggle to survive in the capitalistic sense, everyone needs a "day of rest" to recharge their batteries. Those who observe Shabbat in the religious sense have specific rules about what is permitted and what is forbidden.

In my home-town of Rehovot, which is representative of the larger Israeli population, I'm always amazed how a couple hours before sunset on Fridays, almost all businesses in the center of the city close their doors. Once again, the majority of the store-owners probably do not completely observe Shabbat in the religious sense, but the culture of Shabbat is so deeply rooted here, that they are willing to forgo profits in order to close their business on time. On numerous occasions, I have even entered stores Friday afternoon, only to be told to come back Saturday night. I am always forgiving of the inconvenience, because I am proud of how seriously these people take Shabbat.
But the reality of Shabbat in Israel is much more complicated. While I am proud of the fact that there's no public transportation on the "day of rest" because it sets a special atmosphere that is unique to Israel, many Israelis who do not observe Shabbat in the religious sense and don't have cars feel strangled. For them, Shabbat is their only day to go to the beach, or to an attraction in another city. They have a few options. In many places, 12-seater "shared-taxis" (pictured above) run regularly along routes that are similar to buses, and the fares are only slightly higher on Shabbat. Often times, these "shared taxis" park along the side of bus stations, which are closed during Shabbat. This leaves the passengers no place to go to the bathroom! Although I had never thought about this practical problem, an angry news-commentator labeled this uniquely Israeli reality "9th world", and continued to vent "When did the Pope cancel the Sunday transportation in Rome?"
In Tel-Aviv, which has a high percentage of self-identified "secular Israelis", the problem is especially complicated. On one hand, there are laws that forbid businesses from being open on Shabbat to make sure that everyone is entitled to a day of rest. But on the other hand, most of the secular Tel-Aviv residents want to be able to go out to a restaurant, or at least to be able to buy ice cream or a bottle of water on the way to the beach. Often times, businesses decide to violate the Shabbat laws and pay the fine because they make so much money being open on Shabbat. But smaller businesses who don't want to have to be open on Shabbat and can't afford to pay the fine are resentful of businesses that violate the Shabbat laws. Add to this the complexities of Israeli politics, and the result is a very unpleasant politicization of Shabbat in the Jewish State. During this "train crisis", Prime Minister Netenyahu canceled scheduled repairs to the train right before Shabbat to keep the ultra-Orthodox parties from threatening to leave his coalition. But yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that this was outside of the Prime Minister's jurisdiction. No one knows what will happen with scheduled repairs this Shabbat, or if the absence of the train will make for another nightmarish Sunday morning commute.

There's a major dichotomy: If for some, Shabbat is the day to go to the zoo (all 7 Israeli zoos are open on Shabbat), or the mall (some of which are open), or to an attraction in another city, one person's day of rest is another person's day of work. Israel's challenge is to make Shabbat the "Day of rest" for all, while at the same time, keeping everyone as happy as possible. This is no small challenge!

(By Eric Grosser, founder and CEO of Holy Land Escape www.holylandescape.com)

 

Israel’s train crisis

2219664-18        h05_rakevet-800

 

The Sunday morning commute in Israel is always a nightmare, as hundreds of thousands of Israeli corporate executives, office workers, students, and most importantly, soldiers, make their way from their homes back to their offices and military bases after Shabbat. But this morning's rush-hour is part of a much larger issue, the complexities of which have left even professional journalists baffled.

As I wrote on Friday, a crisis broke out a few weeks ago as the ultra-Orthodox parties threatened to topple the government over repair work that is regularly carried out on the "Israel Train" infrastructure on Shabbat. In order to understand the role that Shabbat, the 25-hour day of rest from sunset Friday to nightfall Saturday, plays within in Israeli society, I attempted to give an overall objective description. My tour-guide classmate, friend and taxi driver (one of the best in Israel!), Lior Zinraech, objected to my description, and thanks to his comments, I need to make a clarification.

While it's true that all Israeli government institutions, including those that are semi-private or government-subsidized such as health clinics, hospitals, and public transportation companies do not operate on Shabbat, this does not reflect the degree to which the majority of Israelis observe Shabbat. Although in my home town of Rehovot, 95% of businesses close a few hours ahead of sunset Friday night only to reopen Saturday night after nightfall, in other places throughout Israel, there are plenty of malls, movie theaters, restaurants, discos, and other entertainment venues, packed to full capacity. It's true that almost all grocery stores close on Shabbat, however, there are two chains that operate throughout greater Tel-Aviv, AM-PM & Tiv-Tam, that advertise as being opened on Shabbat & Jewish holidays. For tourists to Israel, the degree to which the unique "Shabbat atmosphere" is felt largely depends on where they happen to be during the "day of rest".

The balance between Jewish law, Jewish tradition, and modern Israel is extremely delicate and complex. Since what is known as the "Likud revolution" with Menahem Begin's 1977 election victory, the traditional/religious segment of Israeli society has gained power and grown in number. For example, Israel's national airline, El-Al, stopped flying on Shabbat since then, and laws encouraging businesses to close on Shabbat became much more common.

Israel is defined as a "Jewish & Democratic State", and this cliche is constantly tossed around in heated debates. The question is, what does it mean to be "Jewish & Democratic"? In terms of the "Democratic" element, seemingly, it means that Israeli citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity, have full democratic rights as individuals. The "Jewish" part is much harder to define, because there is no consensus among the diverse ideologies that make up the Jewish people to the question "What does it mean to be Jewish?"

Perhaps there are 2 important distinctions that make sense of this complex issue. On one hand, there is a large consensus among the Jewish population of Israel that in some way, the State of Israel should have "Jewish characteristics". The least common denomintaor is that Hebrew, the historical revitalized language of the Jewish people, is Israel's official language. The traditional Jewish holidays are observed as national holidays. Much of the way in which these "Jewish characteristics" play themselves out in daily life here are not even noticed by native-Israels, but are very obvious for tourists. For example, Sunday is a regular work-day, just like any other day. On the other hand, Friday is generally a half day, as schools and most (but not all) businesses close a few hours ahead of sunset Friday night. All public or public-subsidized institutions observe the Jewish dietary laws of "kashruth".

For the past couple decades, the status-quo has been that although work is generally not done by the public sector or government subsidized organizations (such as the "Israel Train") on Shabbat, the Minister of Labor regularly issued "Shabbat work permits" in areas that were deemed essential for the economy or national well-being. But the religious concept of permitting work on Shabbat to save human lives was never a consideration in issuing such work permits. For years, repairs were regulary carried out on the train infrastructure on Shabbat, since it's the only time when public transportation comes to a halt. This is a perfect example of the distinction between the State of Israel operating based on "Jewish characteristics", for which there is large consensus among the Jewish population, versus a kind of religious theocracy that much of the secular population fears.

Even from the halachic (Jewish law) perspective, this seems to be a case where preventing Shabbat violation in one area causes much more in another. Since Netenyahu intervened to cancel scheduled train maintenance on Shabbat, hundreds of thousands of Israelis, including soldiers, were delayed from returning to their Sunday morning routines since the train is out of operation all day. In the absence of the train, the complicated logistic arrangments were made on Shabbat, in addition to thousands of protestors who took to the streets voicing their opposition to changing the status quo by canceling train repairs on Shabbat.

Although I wrote that the train repairs on Shabbat were a technicality that didn't take away from Israel's unique Jewish characteristic, the emotions generated from the latest train crisis and this morning's nightmarish commute has already refueled the debate "What does it mean to be Jewish & Democratic". Today is the 1st of Elul, exactly 1 month before Rosh Ha'shana (the Jewish New Year). In synagogues across the country, the blast of the shofar (ram's horn) is sounded every morning, in preparation for the High Holidays. In addition to thinking about how I can become a better person, I will also be thinking about how I can become a better Israeli citizen in this complex society in which I am privileged to live. There's never a dull moment here. Welcome to Israel!

The forgotten pita drama – nothing is as it appears!

320px-Nablus_souq_pita_118_-_Aug_2011

Everyday life often reveals much more about the culture of a given society than anything else. This is especially true in Israel. Although I have had the misfortune of forgetting my valuables on a public bus several times, I always got them back in the end. The only time that my wallet and cell phone got permanently lost was when I had no clue where to even begin my search.

Today at work, I decided to combine my lunch break with some grocery shopping, and bought a package of 10 pitas (typical Middle-Eastern bread) and 300 grams of turkey. While these lunch-break grocery shopping sprees are efficient in terms of saving time, I have a tendency to forget my groceries somewhere along the way and they don't always make it to the final destination. As I stepped off the air-conditioned bus into the oppressive mid-afternoon Israeli sun, I realized immediately that I had forgotten the package of 9 pitas. "At least I already ate one for lunch", I thought to myself.

Exhausted, all I wanted to do was to rest. Initially, I thought about not telling my wife that I had forgotten the bag of pitas since I was not bothered by the small monetary damage. But a few minutes after arriving home, I couldn't keep the secret. "I forgot a package of pita on the bus, should I go to the bus stop and try to catch the '16' on the way back", I asked my wife rhetorically. Less than 40 minutes later, I found myself back under the all-blue cloudless Israeli sky. The electronic board indicated that the #16 bus would arrive in 9 minutes. Sitting on the bench next to the bus stop sweating buckets, I asked myself "is this really worth it?" Just at that moment, my wife's friend passed by with her 3 children and asked if she could use my cell phone. "I'm having phone problems, so I left it at home to charge", I responded. I proceeded to tell her about the forgotten-pita drama. Several buses later, I boarded the 16 and anxiously asked the driver if he had found a package of pitas. He responded that he had not. Although I was on the 16 as indicated by the numbers on the side and front of the bus, the number "27" appeared on the top screen of the bus.

As a frequent bus traveler who does not always remember his belongings, I have been privileged to learn the "ins and outs" of the Israeli bus system over the years. Although I thought that I had just boarded the same bus on which I had left my pita 50 minutes earlier, it turns out that he had actually changed numbers. Presumably, my pita was aboard the '16' that was scheduled to arrive in another 20 minutes. I rode 2 stops to the Rehovot central bus station, and patiently waited on a bench.

Among the typical rush-hour chaos, one angry passenger vented about how a driver had just left her behind. "The 13 was parked. I banged on the door. The driver looked at me, shook his head, then pulled away! What 'hutzpah' (nerves). I'm calling 'Egged' (Israel's largest bus company) to complain!". While I have met my fair share of "bad apples", my experience has been that the majority of bus drivers are friendly and helpful. Although I wasn't completely convinced by her side of the story, I didn't want to argue with her. The longer she waited on hold, the more frustrated she became.

As soon as the next '16' pulled into the station, I asked the driver from outside if he had found a package of pita. As I was asking, I saw my pitas next to the driver. He didn't have to save them for me, as it would have been much easier for him just to throw them away, or give them to another passenger. While a wallet contains credit cards, money and important documents, a package of pita is like small pocket change. In all honesty, I didn't have any expectation of getting them back. "Toda" (thank you) I told him.

I would have loved to tell the angry passenger whom I had just met my lost-pita story, but she had already boarded the next '13' bus. Although spending over an hour in search of the equivalent of 9 shekels ($2.35) isn't the most effective use of time, the incident proves once again that in this special land, nothing is ever as it appears.

The Israel Experience

800px-PikiWiki_Israel_15245_Tel_Aviv

 

When asked about the "Israel experience", tourists & new immigrants are likely to respond

that the ambiance of Shabbat in which most stores & businesses close Friday afternoon to only reopen Saturday night is unique to the Holy Land. In spite of the massive building throughout the country, on Shabbat, almost everything comes to a halt, allowing everyone from the corporate executives to the construction workers to take a break. But last week, the ultra-Orthodox parties were threatening to topple the government over planned construction in Tel Aviv at one of the train stations and along the tracks, planned to take place on Shabbat. Eventually, a compromise was reached. At 1st glance, this appears to be part of a debate on the question of if the State of Israel should observe the Shabbat publicly or not.

In the Jewish tradition, the only circumstance in which desecrating the Shabbat is permitted is if by doing so, human lives are preserved. Indeed, those who had planned the construction on Shabbat had done so on the basis that improving the train station was necessary to prevent car accidents or possibly to encourage more people to leave their cars behind and ride the train. It can be argued that riding the train instead of driving also prevents fatal car accidents.

In the end, the vast majority of Israeli society from all sides of the spectrum support preserving the unique atmosphere of the Shabbat. The debate is more of a technicality. To what extent does construction on the train line really prevent loss of life that justifies being done on Shabbat. This is a fascinating question that is likely to be debated in the coming months.

The true headline is that Israel as whole observes Shabbat, the special 25-hour day of rest that one has to experience in order to appreciate. This is undoubtedly one of the greatest benefits of living in this special land!

Joys of the Israeli bus!

Daf_berkhof_vdl_egged_ashdod_israel_efi_elian

In all of the places where I lived in the US, I can count the times that I rode a public bus on one hand. On the other hand, here in Israel, I ride buses on a daily basis, and sometimes even several times per day. For anyone who wants to experience an 'only in Israel' moment, a ride on a public bus is an absolute must!

While in many societies bus passengers tend to come from the lower socio-economic classes, here in Israel, such divisions do not seem to exist. The person sitting next to you on the bus is equally as likely to be a professor or a doctor as a blue collar worker. With an excellent public transportation system in most places, riding the bus is simply the most convenient way to get from 'point alef' to 'point bet'.

Israeli society is known for its informality compared to other cultures, and this is apparent from the bus ambiance. Passengers who do not know one another usually become engaged in conversations and occasional heated debates. Very quickly, other passengers start to join in by voicing their opinions and remarks.

By far, the most notable difference between Israel and other societies relates to how Israelis board buses. When I first came to Israel, I was told, "if you bring your mid-Western manners in Israel, you'll get left behind.". I only understood what this meant when I saw Israelis boarding a bus for the first time. The concept of a "line" simply doesn't exist in Israel! As the bus approaches the stop, passengers simultaneously push their way onto the bus, as the driver screams "get on, get on, I need to close the door!"

Since the Israeli work-place is much less formal than most Western societies, bus drivers do not hide their emotions. If the driver is having a bad day, it's sure to come out in all of the interactions with passengers. Who can blame them? Israeli bus drivers not only drive the bus, but also are in charge of collecting money, giving change, answering questions, and entering all of the codes for various destinations as passengers charge their "rav kav" (bus card). Often, they also have to deal with frustrated passengers who don't hesitate to voice their complaints.

But thankfully, most bus drivers have more good days than bad ones, and they often tell jokes and make friendly small-talk with the passengers. When listening to current events programs or hourly news broadcast, drivers often voice their opinions about what is reported. If a passenger disagrees, another debate breaks out. The vibrancy of Israelis is unlike that of any other place in the world.

In an attempt to solve Israel's traffic problems, the government subsidizes public transportation to encourage people to leave their car at home. Recently, a new law was put into effect further reducing the cost of public transportation by offering unlimited daily passes for a heavily subsidized price. This allows passengers traveling within a city, or between two different cities, to get on and off the bus as often as one wants. In this way, all places in Israel have become much more accessible, which helps businesses of all kinds. If on the way to Tel Aviv I have to use the restroom or get hungry for falafel or shwarma, I simply hop off the bus and reboard the next one.

During this past Sunday's Tisha B'av fast, I found a great way to beat the summer heat. I boarded a bus in Rehovot, rode for 45 minutes, got off, and reboarded another bus for another 45 minutes. Along the way, I overheard interesting stories from other passengers, heard several foreign languages spoken, and enjoyed seeing the massive new residential building projects in our city as well as in other places in Israel. Next time you want to get a real feel for daily life in Israel, hop on the next bus where an adventure awaits you!