Kids are More Important than
Cars and Religion – a Case for Co-existence?
A Matter of Priorities
Due to tragic events in America, you now hear surreal statements like: “Kids are more important than guns“. As a kid I remember another intriguing declaration. Scribbled in black over a bus stop in Mahane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem, a graffity announced: “Kids are more important than buses” !
The Haredi ideologues from the adjacent Geula, Mekor Baruch, Kerem Avraham and Me’ah She’arim neighborhoods tried to teach us all a lesson in priorities. Who can argue? For sure kids are more important than buses, but did they really wish to undermine the city’s public transport system? Is refusing to teach their kids how to cross a street the right way to protest?
Haredi men at a bus stop by the Mahane yehuda Market. Source: Markerweek.
Driving in Me’ah She’arim is not for the faint-hearted. Something in the ultra-ortohodx mindset does not seem to include street safety. It could be that God is expected to protect His Righteous from the dangers of the modern world, or something else… Who knows? But it’s better to slow down – drastically – when driving these alleys and pay a lot of attention just in case a human – big or small – tries to test the Almighty.
When we were kids in the fifties and early sixties it was almost a car-less world. We played on the Jerusalem streets unhindered by motorized interferences. Once every half an hour or so a vehicle would show up. We would shout: “Car, car”, and everybody would rush to the sidewalk, only to resume our street play once the interjector had passed. But that was half a century ago…
The kids in Me’ah She’arim today still play jump-rope and hopscotch in protected yards and dead-end alleys, while our kids are glued to computers, video games and televisions. There’s something nostalgia-evoking, innocent, even enchanting, about this frozen time capsule. It seems like childhood, as we knew it, is preserved here almost intact. But the streets are full with cars, and the alleys are narrow. Something has to be done to protect the kids, as well as the road-ignoring and car-denying adults, who might pop up unexpectedly on the pavement. We, unaware drivers, should be protected as well…
Only that doesn’t happen. Worse, you would expect people who are not too great on crossing a street to not sit behind a wheel. That is not true anymore either. The sweet graffity notwithstanding, Haredis drive in ever-increasing numbers. Due to their large families and small budgets, their cars, more often than not, are the road-beaten, fume-producing, third, fourth or fifth-hand Subarus, Citroens, Fiats, Fords and their likes. A slow moving, smoking, low, small car on the highway, often on the left lane, is likely to be driven by a traditional Orthodox man.
Some Haredi women, on the other hand, drive nice SUVs. They might drive their multiple offspring to school on their way to work in the “outside”, secular world. Or to do errands. But that is still the minority. Many of these women are originally American or European. They might have some economic securities to start with, but still work hard to provide for their large families with a middle class existence, as their men sit and study the Talmud. Their driving is usually careful and skillful, and does not add significantly to the danger level on the roads. That said, most traditional Haredi women do not drive.
Alternate world, indeed, but the bottom line, Earth-wise and State-wise, it winds down to more of the same: congestion, traffic jams, overcrowdedness, pollution, noise.
Holy Non-Driving: Shabbat
The saving grace, of course, is that traffic in the Holy City of Jerusalem is reduced to a third of its normal bulk on Shabbat, the Holy Day. On Saturday, the vast religious population of the city parks their cars and turns to walking. As part of the “status quo” agreements between religious and non-religious, set up since the early days of the State, Jerusalem streets empty out of buses on Shabbat. The light train, likewise, doesn’t run, and the ultra orthodox neighborhoods close to throughtraffic. If you don’t own a car, though, and you do want to get places, your only means of transport on Shabbat are taxis, driven by Arabs from the Old City, or walking.
On the bright side, though, even before I knew what pollution was, I felt that the “weather” in Jerusalem was mysteriously better on Shabbat…
Yom Kippur - The National De-Stressor
Yom Kippur in Jerusalem, and in Israel generally, is a special experience for the non-Israeli. Uniquely in the world, on that day, nobody, religious or secular, drives. Even Israeli Arabs respect this unique custom for the most part. The country becomes quiet. The streets fill up with kids on bicycles, skateboards and scooters, the air with human sounds. Even Earth Day does not match this bliss on Earth. Yom Kippur is supposed to be a harsh day, time to think of one’s sins and transgression, purpose and the meaning of Life, but I, personally, and many of my friends, cannot help ourselves but enjoy the exceptional peace and tranquility that set angelically over The Land…
As to the other 364 days a year, best wishes to all Israeli drivers, Haredi, secular, Jewish, Arab or UFOs. Amen!