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September 1, 2015 | 17th Elul 5775

On the Road

June 29, 2003
Marc Rosenstein

Ten o'clock meeting in Jerusalem.

6:05 The old pick-up truck actually starts with no problem, despite the dew that has fallen in the night. There is already plenty of traffic on the highway to Acco, but it is flowing quickly down the long decline from the Bet Hakerem valley to the plain of Zebulun. On the way I pass the entrance to the industrial park where there is a helicopter parts factory named Cyclone. For years the sign in Hebrew read "Tziklon," but then someone noticed that that sounded exactly like the pronunciation of Zyklon [the gas] in German, so the spelling in Hebrew was changed to Saiklone.

6:35 Park at the new Acco train station, a sleek, functional building that was built, inexplicably, with no driveway for pickup/dropoff; one must either stop along the side of a busy road that has no shoulder, or drive all the way into the long, narrow parking lot, turn around, and drive back out. The man ahead of me buys a round trip to Tel Aviv, as do I; the ticket clerk, in a jolly mood, comments, "looks like everyone's coming back today…" There are signs painted on the platform floor, in Hebrew – "stay behind the yellow line," but in English "mind the gap." In the London Metro there are "mind the gap" signs, meaning watch your step in cases where there is a gap between the platform and the car door threshold. Apparently an Israel Railways worker was inspired by the signs in London without realizing what they meant.

This is not a Sunday, so the 6:42 is barely half full (on Sunday, when soldiers are returning from Shabbat leave, the cars are packed like sardine cans), mostly with soldiers, but also commuters and kids on vacation. The cars are shiny and comfortable, the windows large and clean, and the airconditioning is powerful. We are serenaded by cell phone warbles. It occurs to me that most of the people in the train are talking, but not to the people sitting near them. We pass the dismal back yards and dumps of the factories along Haifa bay. Much of the population of the train is exchanged at the four Haifa stations, and we glide along the dunes and beach, arriving a few minutes late to Tel Aviv, at 8:15.

The train to Jerusalem was discontinued about ten years ago; it took a couple of hours from Tel Aviv (driving time is 45 minutes); one took the trip for the scenery – and so few people did that that the line was shut down, though a new, fast line is under construction. At the Tel Aviv Central station there is an outdoor bus terminal, with express buses to various destinations in the center and south of the country. The 480 bus to Jerusalem runs every 15-20 minutes. I make the 8:30, which is full upon departure, mostly with middle-class, middle-aged modern orthodox women; the bus is a sea of colorful, stylish straw hats. Apparently there is some kind of a conference or exhibition for the religious public at the Jerusalem convention center. Rush hour is over, so the ride is fast; before I know it we are climbing from the coastal plain through the Judean hills to Jerusalem. Protected by airconditioning, I can enjoy the beauty of the mountains in the bright summer sun. The trip is going so smoothly I imagine treating myself to coffee and a croissant before my appointment…

But then, of course, there is a fifteen minute wait in line to be checked by the security guard at the entrance to the bus station, after disembarking from the bus. No croissant today. I rush through the station (new, in the fashion of shopping malls where you can also get a bus ticket) to the street, and am just in time for the 28 bus, which avoids downtown, passing through the ultra-orthodox neighborhoods on the west and north (traditional scene of Shabbat stone-throwing incidents, even last week), ending up at the Mt. Scopus campus of the Hebrew University. A friend once commented that the architecture of this fortress-campus reminded him of an airport, with its long white passageways. Now the security apparatus at the entrances to the campus makes the resemblance even more striking. I don't have a student ID, but my story is apparently convincing, and I stroll into the School of Education at 9:59.


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