The Line Thing
Israelis are the greatest people on earth when it comes to helping each other out. Look at the way the people (not Olmert's government) have rallied around the people of Sderot; look at the way folks responded to Hezbollah's bombardment in 2006; most of us have numerous examples of everyday folk stopping to help someone in need.
The exception to this good-heartedness is The Line.
It doesn't matter which line--any line brings out the heart of darkness in the average Israeli. The line at the pharmacy, the line at the grocery store, the line to get past security at the Mall, the line of traffic on Derech Chevron....
Today, I ran some errands in the morning with Yossi, and we ended up in Armon HaNatsiv at a local grocery store. Because we each had exactly one item, we chose the Express Lane. This lane was better than most, it being Erev Shabbos and the store was packed, but still it was slow because the two elderly women in line in front of us didn't get the concept of "express line" -- their cart was full of 20-30 items.
However, the line backed up behind us and people waited with various degrees of tolerance for the two elderly women to finish. To their credit, they were very quick about it, moving their purchases briskly on to the counter and paying quickly with a credit card at the end. However, the line behind us continued to grow until there were half a dozen men waiting, each with a mere handful of items.
As our purchases were rung up, an extremely elderly man of uncertain balance limped up to the cash register, holding a loaf a bread. The man was obviously frail. He limped slowly to the cashier, gripping his cane. His eyes were rheumy and he appeared very short-sighted. He held the loaf out to the cashier while leaning on the cane and said something quietly in Hebrew.
Pandemonium broke out behind us. The half-dozen men, none older than 50, all of them apparently able-bodied, cried out, "There's a line!" "That's not right, sir!" and other protests to this act of line-cutting.
The cashier, to her credit, ignored them all. She grabbed the loaf of bread, rang it up, made change and sent the elderly customer on his way in under 60 seconds.
The bank was no better. Today is Erev Shabbat and a lot of people are off work or working a half-day. Since we've been snowed in for two days, the lines were worse than usual. My bank has a procedure where you place your card into a machine and the machine prints a ticket to tell you your place in line at various windows. I go inside and walk to the least crowded machine where only one woman is getting a ticket. I stand behind her, but being of American origin, I don't want to crowd her. My mistake. A young man wearing a black kippah immediately walks up behind me, then around me, and stands behind the woman at the machine. I tapped him on the shoulder.
"Excuse me, adoni -- there's a line and I'm next," I said politely.
"No, I'm next because I've been here at the bank and the teller sent me to another window, and so I have to get a ticket for that window but I've already been here for half an hour, so I'm ahead of you," he declared.
I wasn't in THAT big a hurry, I understood his point as I've been directed to other windows myself, and I simply didn't have the energy to argue in Hebrew about it. I really didn't care all that much.
The Huband has the best standing-in-line story, dating back to his Yotvata days. The softball team was heading for a game in Tel Aviv and the bus pulled into the central bus station in Beersheva. There's a ten-minute break so everyone gets off and rushes over to the felafal stand. The Husband waits patiently in line, orders his felafal, and as the counterman hands the finished felafel to him, a hand appears over his shoulder and snatches the felafal.
The Husband turns around in time to see the guy behind him, a total stranger, chowing down on the felafal.
"What are you doing?! That was MY felafal! I ordered it, I paid for it, and YOU took it!! What were you thinking?!" he roared.
The other guy explains, a bit defensively, "But I'm in a hurry!"
"This is a bus station, you idiot! We're ALL in a hurry!" The Husband roars back.
Shamefaced now, surrounded by a bunch of irritated kibbutznikim softball players, the guy looks down at the hijacked felafal and then holds it out to The Husband. "Do you want it back? You can have it," he offered.
The Husband looked at the felafal, now missing one end where the mooch took a big bite out of it, and declined. "No, I'll order another. I don't want one you've eaten half of already," he said disgustedly.
This is the same mind-set that dictated that the father of several children in a large Hundai van suddenly swerve into my left-turn only lane from Derech Chevron to Ester HaMalca the other morning. I'd made the mistake of leaving daylight between me and the car in front of me, and hey, he's in a hurry, so never mind that we're both transporting our children in heavy traffic -- he simply swerves in front of me and the only way to NOT hit this idiot is to stand on my brakes.
Israelis are the world's most terrific people, in my humble opinion, EXCEPT if you're standing in line with them. Hearts of gold on the street, in the office, in their homes -- but ravening madmen when you put them in a line.