February 9, 2006: Going My Way?

There are really only two types of people in America today who will stand by the side of the road and get into the car of a stranger. The first are axe murderers. Now, to tell the truth, I don’t really know if axe murderers hitchhike all that much. An axe is a pretty hard thing to hide in your pocket, and they probably have their own cars because their work requires them to travel around a lot.

If you do an internet search for “axe murderers” and “hitchhiking,” you will get many amusing stories, but no actual accounts of axe murderers getting lifts. On the other hand, because of the potential that an axe murderer’s car is in the shop and he needs to get to work, all mothers warn their children not to pick up people by the side of the road.

The other type of person who hitchhikes is a victim. He or she will be victimized by the driver of the car who gives the lift. That is why mothers in America warn their children never, ever to accept lifts from strangers. It may very well be that the axe murderer’s car is fixed, and he is driving around looking for hitchhikers. On the other hand, even axe murderers have mothers who tell them not to pick up strangers.

Welcome to the yishuv system in Israel where tremping (hitchhiking) is a way of life. It was with some anxiety the first time I decided to “tremp” from the yishuv into Jerusalem. I had to force myself to forget all my mother’s warnings about accepting rides from strangers. I was still a little nervous, so I took my son.

I thought it was a very odd system indeed that one can stand by the side of the road, hold out his hand, and not be chopped to pieces by the first person who pulls over. In just a few minutes, a car pulled up, we got in and — get this — the driver actually took us to Jerusalem and let us out!

What I had to learn was the correct way to hold my hand. First, I stuck out my thumb. I had seen hitchhikers do this in trucker movies from the seventies, but apparently it is some kind of rude gesture here. (O.K., will someone call me after Shabbat and explain what it means. The joke has gone on long enough!)

Now, I have learned that there is a whole tremping code in the Gush. Pointing one finger away from the body indicates that the person wants to go to Jerusalem. Pointing a finger down at the ground means that they want to go to another yishuv in the Gush. Pointing the finger straight up in the air indicates that the person needs a ride to Ben Gurion Airport. And making a fist indicates that you need a ride to the nearest protest.

A school age child pointing and smiling indicates that he is skipping school, has no money, and wants you to take him somewhere for falafel.

While I have only tremped myself a few times, I do give rides to people all the time. I love the idea that it is considered rude to drive right by someone and not offer a ride. I just have to ignore my usual urge from America to roll up the windows, lock the doors, and drive away as fast as possible.

The thing I like best is the fact that we depend on one another. We accept that our lives are a collective effort. It doesn’t matter if I haven’t met you yet. If you live here, I trust you. On a cold rainy day, parents can relax knowing that their child without a car is not standing in the cold with no way of getting home (O.K., he might be with me eating falafel, but that’s another story.)

And showing my kids that they can trust people who live here and don’t have to be afraid of their neighbors is just one more reason we love to live in a place like Neve Daniel.

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