I've known Yossi for almost three years now. He never ceases to amaze me.
As any regular reader knows, he's a cab driver. It's a highly competitive field not because it pays so well, but because in the current economic meltdown, everyone who has lost a job has looked for other work. Many of them went and got a cab license and are now plying the streets with rented cabs.
Yes, rented. Many people don't know it, but unless you've purchased your own car, and bought your own "number," all of which comes to a hefty sum, your only recourse is to "rent" a taxi. There are people who own fleets of cabs that they rent out to drivers. Many of the cab-drivers you see aren't raking it in not only because times are tough, and customers are scarce. They also need to pay for their gas daily and their food (few go home for lunch). Many work 16 hour days, especially if they rent. Why? Because renting a cab costs the driver 300 NIS per day or more.
Which is why Yossi amazed me (again) this week. I saw him coming in early to work last week and today. Very early. I also saw him one day collecting money. I was puzzled, but shrugged it off, thinking maybe it was for a birthday or a Lotto ticket or something. In fact, after asking a couple of people, I found it was an entirely different story.
Yossi has worked at his "station" for 8 or 9 years. During that time, he has watched other drivers fall on hard times. It's a job that takes a high toll from family life. Something like seventy-five percent of cab drivers are divorced....after all, a woman could tire of being married to a guy who's never home. And whose income is dicey at best.
One of the drivers Yossi knows is an older guy in his sixties. Divorced. Rents his cab. Works to make a living hand-to-mouth. Lives in a share rental in the cheapest part of town. Eats one meal a day because that's all he can afford. His money goes to his ex-wife and children. He's the walking definition of "working poor."
He fell behind in his rental payments to the owner of the taxi (a guy who, by the way, gave him months of slack to give him a chance to catch up). Finally, the owner of the cab took it back. The driver was suddenly without a job and without a way of making a living. This driver is in his sixties. We're in a Depression. There aren't a lot of jobs out there. Especially for the elderly. The prospects aren't good, here.
Yossi seems to know everyone in Jerusalem. He took this suddenly-unemployed driver aside and told him he could help. Yossi drove this older gentleman to Wadi Joz, to a man he knows who owns a fleet of rental taxis. Who, as it happens, rents his cabs for several hundred shekels less per week than what the driver had been paying. Because Yossi knows the fleet owner and has been on good terms with him for many years, he was able to persuade him to rent a cab to this now-unemployed driver.
Then Yossi went back to his station. He went from driver to driver and pitched them, telling them that look, next week, it could be you or me that falls on hard times. He got every one of them to pitch in 20 shekels or so, and then went to the station manager. He persuaded the station manager to let the elderly driver return to the station with his newly-rented cab by taking these donations and putting them as a "deposit" towards the month's station fee (yes, the drivers also pay a fee to work at their stations).
"The guy's in debt--he's not reliable," the manager protested.
"But he has nothing without work. And all he's done for the last 15 years is work at this station. Look at him! He's old! What else can he do?" Yossi pleaded. The manager likes Yossi a lot. As a matter of fact, everyone who knows Yossi likes him a lot. He's a mensch.
"What's it to you? The guy's not even Jewish!" the manager replied.
"But I'M Jewish!" Yossi retorted, "And I can't see an elderly man go without eating! I have to take responsibility for this!"
"You'll guarantee him?" the manager asked slyly, no doubt thinking this would make Yossi yield. Not!
"I'll sign for him," Yossi declared, thus guaranteeing that he would be on the hook for any payments his colleague fails to make.
I heard this piece-meal from several people over several days, including the station manager.....and didn't understand it in part because my Hebrew is poor and in part because I couldn't really credit what I was hearing.
"YOU got this guy a new cab and got him back on station?" I screeched quietly over coffee this morning. Yossi looked abashed. "Ma la'asot, Sarah?" he said softly. "I could not turn my back and let him go hungry. I had to do something."
I think this is what in the Old Country we called "doing the right thing." G-d bless Yossi and may Israel be filled with many more like him.