The last lecture I received in cab was from a fat guy in a Grateful Dead T-Shirt who proceeded to lay out the history of the medical marijuana movement in California, highlighting his role as founder, bankroller and caregiver. I have no clue why he decided to share his story as I was dressed in a suit en route to work meetings and am not a smoker. But it takes 20 minutes to get from my home to SFO, and I was stuck. Usually cabs back home fall short of that incredibly low bar.
Not the case in Jerusalem where some of the most colorful and informative characters we have met were cabbies. On this afternoon, we hopped in and asked to be taken to Yad Vashem. [Yad Vashem is the Holocaust Museum] “Oh, you want to go to Yad Vashem? I take you.” I thought he was licking his chops at what would be a meaty fare, but I misjudged.
The conversation always starts off the same:
Where you from?
No, San Francisco.
Oh, California is beautiful place. I’ve been there. Many jews in LA. I’ve been to Vegas…very nice!
Things quickly gets more personal:
You are Jewish?
And this your first time in Israel?
Your wife too?
No and Yes
You will love it. Where you going?
Cabbies are always shocked to learn that this is only my first trip. We review our itinerary, and he offers suggestions on things that I MUST also do. Then comes the meat:
Yad Vashem. I hope you have powerful personality.
It is something that every Jew must experience. To remember. To know the story. After you will want to cry. It is OK. Go somewhere and cry. Get it out.
It is a rare moment that I’m left with little to say, but there I was: quiet. Jamie is curious though and continues the conversation, posing questions like the good therapist she is:
Where are you from?
What do you like about it?
This is where I belong. This is where all the Jews belong. Here you look around and see your people. They look like you, they act like you.
From there, I can’t keep track of the specifics of the conversation but he went into why there is a need for a Jewish state and why it has to be here. He spoke about community, and how he knows his neighbors and there are always people around willing to help in contrast to the US where I don’t even know who my neighbors are. He was content that although he may only drive a cab, and he may not have much money, he was a part of something and he delivered an excellent portrayal of life in Israel. He spoke with certainty which I respect, but then he started to lose me:
You make Aliyot? [Aliyot means ‘to rise up’ and is when a Jew returns to live in Israel]
Because my home is in San Francisco.
You will come here. And when you do, we will be brothers. You find me, and I will buy you a beer.
He was not comfortable taking no for an answer and continued to disagree with me. He did it in a very loving and kind way. I didn’t press the argument as I knew that for our individual selves, we were both right, and neither was wrong. Besides, I was more interested in what he had to say, and the way he expressed it than hearing my own views. As our ride neared the end, I almost wished that he’d taken us the longer way around and charged me another 50 Shekels just to continue the conversation.
And then we arrived at Yad Vashem.