Whenever I get on a bus or enter a vehicle to travel out of Ma'alé Levoná anywhere, or return home from anywhere, I recite this prayer:
May it be the Will of the Almighty, our G-d and G-d of our forefathers that our steps bring us to peace, that we be led to peace and that we be guided to peace;
That we arrive in the place we intend to reach, alive, with joy and in peace, and that we be returned to our homes in peace;
That we be rescued from the hands of our enemies, all evil animals that come on the road, all evil spirits and all forms of disruptions that can cause us disturbance and which come in the world;
And send us a blessing in all that we do, that we may be seen favorably in Your eyes, and in the eyes of all who see us.
Listen to the voices of our pleading, because You are a G-d who hears prayer and pleading.
Blessed are You, G-d, who hears prayer.
This is known as "The Traveler's Prayer."
There is a reason I do this, a possibility that occurred this evening (Sunday, 19 July) on the way home from Jerusalem on Highway 60, the north-south road that follows the ancient Patriarch's Road traveled by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob over three and a half millennia ago.
The bus broke down.
We had not even reached Tzómet Atí, the intersection that leads to the village of Giv'át Assáf (Assaf's Hill) on the way to Bet-él – Bethel.
We were on the open road.
In a country like Canada or the United States, this would not be too big a deal, though of course it would be distressing to the passengers who would all be wondering when they would arrive home. Those who had gone shopping and had bought refrigerated or frozen goods would be especially worried. In Israel, there is a small added element of stress to the normal stress load of an automotive breakdown: the bloodlust of our Arab neighbors, and the distinct possibility of a drive-by shooting by Arabs.
So when the bus, a bulletproof vehicle (sort of), broke down, everybody stayed inside, hoping against hope that the driver would get her started again. He tried, quite a number of times – but to no avail.
I guess he got on the phone with Egged, the National Bus Cooperative (which has a looser relationship with traveling Judea and Samaria than it used to), and they sent a company driver in the royal blue shirt that is the Egged uniform. The original driver, who apparently had his wife and two kids on the bus, had called up a relative, friend or neighbor; they exited the bus rushing off to a car that seemed to have appeared suddenly from nowhere.
The replacement driver, who did not really know Judea and Samaria at all, but who was responsible for sitting with broken down buses until Egged could either tow them to be repaired or repair them on the road, saw the cop sitting in the front seat, immediately behind him.
He asked me to keep order and to keep people from exiting the bus (remember the danger of drive-by shootings) until soldiers arrived in an army vehicle and stood there in full combat gear guarding us. Then he opened both front and back doors and folks did get out.
In Israel, it is the custom to pick up stranded passengers if you can. In Israel, you are required by law to offer someone help if he appears to need it – and this is backed up by strong customs and a strong sense of community and of oneness against a hostile world. So it was that I also exited the bus. But, I was now back on duty, a (volunteer) cop who had to guard the public – more often against their own stupidity than anything else.
On Highway 60, cars tend to zip by at 100 to 120 klicks an hour (62-75 mph). There isn't much chance of soft body tissue withstanding the impact of a hard vehicle hitting it at that speed, so my main concern and main task was to keep people from standing in the middle of the road trying to get cars to stop.
I wasn't worried about guarding them from terrorists – that was the soldiers' job – and I figured that everybody traveling on the bus had the brains to hit the pavement once they heard bullets flying. But Israelis can be especially stubborn and self-deceiving when standing in a roadway trying to get attention from a passing vehicle. Believing that G-d will protect you is one thing. Assuming that G-d will protect you when you stupidly stand where cars going 70 mph can turn you into roadkill is decidedly stupid. And there were at least two people with whom I had to repeatedly argue (volunteers do not have ticket books to issue tickets, even though they have the legal authority to do so) to stay behind the shoulder line so that they would not get killed.
It would have been nice if some pretty young lady had decided to roll up her skirt and show some leg to get attention, the way they did in the movies in the 1940's – but this was a religious crowd; with their standards of modesty, that wasn't going to happen.
But cars did stop; cars going to Ofrá, 'Elí, Ari'él and Shiló, picking up passengers going to those towns and villages. I was nervous about getting home, though. All these other places are pretty straightforward to get into. You stop at an intersection and the passenger walks into the community. Ma'alé Levoná is different.
Levoná is a hill, a rather high one; it is mentioned in the Book of Judges. At the bottom of Levoná is the Arab town of Sínjel (which I suspect was once known as Saint Gilles in Crusader days). Going halfway up Levoná are Arab homes and olive groves. It's a long drive to the summit, which is where Ma'alé Levoná is to be found. This means that dropping off a passenger at the tzómet – the intersection where the road up to Ma'alé Levoná begins – is not a particularly safe proposition. The Arabs one met along the way might be friendly – and they might not. Walking alone up the Levoná road to the Jewish village at the summit might be the last walk of my life – there are a lot more Arabs than there are of just me; and that blue policeman's uniform would remind them of every Israeli who had ever insulted or humiliated them. Talk about shooting a fish in the barrel!
But a pretty young teenager with olive skin came to my rescue. She apparently recognized me and asked if I was from Ma'alé Levoná and when I said yes, she mentioned that her father was coming to pick her up. I asked who her father was. He is one of two electricians living in the village, and had chanted the Torah reading this past Sabbath (only yesterday morning!). I told her that there was another woman on the bus who was going to Ma'alé Levoná, and described her. She ran onto the bus to get her while I continued to guard the crowd on the road seeking rides.
A few minutes later, this young woman's father came by with a nine-seater. Seven of us piled in, overjoyed that we would not have to wait for another bus, and two other folks from 'Ofrá, which is along the way, sought rides as well. They got them.
So, about fifteen minutes later, I was home.
My feet ached, I was hungry and tired. But as soon as I had had something to eat and drink, I came to the computer and wrote up this account. Tired as I am, I'm terribly grateful to be able to write that in spite of all my fears, I got home safely – "returned to my home in peace."