Running The Shabbos Gauntlet


The thing about Shabbat in Jerusalem is that it’s lousy with holiness.

So holy, in fact, that the streets, normally bursting with honking drivers, on Shabbat becomes a sea of families pushing baby strollers and sauntering hither, thither and yon in their holiday finest.

Even the one café in my neighborhood that used to stay open on Shabbat suddenly closed up shop, and in its place opened another café that keeps its doors firmly barricaded against the heathens among us in honor of what Heschel once famously referred to as a “sanctuary in time.”

I’ve got another name for it, but I’ll keep that to myself.

“To the sherut monit [shared taxi] to Tel Aviv, please!” I told the cabbie as we wound our way through the silent streets.

Because public transportation does not run on Shabbat in Jerusalem, we were headed to the fleet of vans that drive back and forth between Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, even on Shabbat.

“They’re stoning cars on Neviim Street,” my cabbie informed me.

“Who?” I asked.

“Them, that’s who!” he spat. “They’re ruining the city. No one can live here any more. The animals!”

I peered out the window but didn’t see any angry mob. I brushed it off. What did it have to do with me and my imminent voyage to Sin City, where I could while away the day at a beit café and stroll around the bustling streets talking on my cellphone without the Taliban stoning me?

Suddenly, the cabbie eyed me through his rearview mirror.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” he asked.

And because I’m incapable of keeping anything to myself, I told him the truth.

“We just broke up. I’ve been so sad.”

This time he took another look in his mirror and, apparently, liked what he saw.

“How about me?” he smiled. “I’ll marry you.”

He looked not a day older than 102.

“If you marry me, I promise to give you children,” he said with confidence. “A boy and a girl!”

Why is it that what is so hard for one man to give is so easy for another? I thought to myself as I jumped out of the cab.

“I’m Reuven,” the cabbie yelled, giving me his phone number. “Call me!”

But when I entered the sheyrut area all was mayhem. Or as they say in this country, a balagan. Usually, there is an endless procession of available vans. Once one fills up, another comes to take its place. But this time, there was no van to be seen and the crowd of passengers was multiplying.

Finally, a van appeared and the man who assumed the role of boss-man began barking orders. Half the crowd he permitted to file into the van while the others would have to wait.

For some reason I was not only included in the lucky half, I was also told by the boss that I could sit in the front seat next to the driver, which was good news all around considering I suffer from motion sickness.

But just as I was about to climb in, the driver himself stopped me with the wave of his hand and motioned for the man behind me to take the front seat.

Outraged, I tattled on him to the boss, who immediately started yelling and screaming and causing such a raucous that the next thing I knew, I was tucked safely in the front, like the little goody-two-shoes that I am. And because this is the Middle East, even though a second earlier the driver wanted me out, once I was in, he bore me no grudge.

Or rather, he had other things on his mind. The driver was in the kind of mood you could cut with a knife and it didn’t take me long to figure out why. As he turned onto Neviim Street, I saw a cloud of black enveloping the road. I put two and two together and realized that no doubt he and all the other vans had trouble getting past the angry haredi mob.

“They’re stoning cars!” I said to him in alarm, all strapped into the front seat and feeling very much like a sitting duck.

“No, the police are there now. They’re not stoning people any more,” he said.

I don’t know about you, but I found the “any more” small consolation, but I had no choice. As we drove through the angry mob made up of men and women (and many babies), their faces contorted in rage as they shouted, “Shabbos! Shabbos!” with their fists raised, I saw my life pass before me.

Would I die without ever finding the man of my dreams?

Or more specifically, would I die before ever reaching Tel Aviv?

Because that would be the biggest bummer of all: Being stuck in Jerusalem for a Shabbat that never ends. n

Abigail Pickus’ column appears the first week of the month.