Israel is a crowded country. Yes, we have the entire Negev desert, and the dream of David Ben Gurion, our first Prime Minister, was to settle the Negev. And we have done that to a large degree. But most Israelis live in an urban environment. That means you bump into a lot of people, and it's very hard to find parking.
I used to think people were just rude in that they would bump into you and not apologize. But I've come to learn that in Israel, it is simply a way of life. In their mind, it's not offensive, so there's no reason to apologize. Now let me be clear, I often generalized in these blogs. It would not be true to say that no one apologizes. Many people do, of course. But by percentages, it would be far less than in a Western country. And I'm not talking about somebody physically hurting you or running you over, just a minor bump.
When I first started learning Hebrew, and I bumped into someone, I would say excuse me in English. It was automatic. But after a few weeks, I started saying slicha in Hebrew. But then I learned the real secret and would bump into someone and simply say nothing.
A packed bus station in Jerusalem on Sunday morning. (Photo: Matania Dagan)
I was flying to Ukraine in the summer of 2000 before we actually lived here. We had been here all summer. We had planted a congregation in a city called Berdichev, Ukraine, the year before, and I needed to go there and minister. Today, in 2021, Israel has orderly lines where you take a number. But not that long ago, it used to be survival of the fittest.
As I stood in "line" to check into my flight, I realized there was no line but just a mob of people. These were mostly immigrants from the former Soviet Union, so it would be wrong to say that it was Israeli culture. Very few Israelis visit Ukraine (except for ultra-orthodox Jews who go to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachum from Uman). But we were wall-to-wall humans. I had to push my way to the front, and on the way, make sure nobody got in front of me. It was one of the most bizarre hours of my life. If I had not pushed and held my ground, I never would have gotten checked in.
Normally these days, when you arrive somewhere if there aren't any numbers, you ask, "Mi Haacharon?" (Who is last?). You find out who that person is, and you know that you're after them. The next person to walk in will ask the same question, and then you let him or her know that you are last, and they are after you. Then someone will come in, "I just have a question!" and they will go to the front. Sometimes the mob will rebuke him or her, letting them know that they also just have a question. Sometimes you can get away with it.
Parking is not much different. People do not stress over small nicks or dents in their doors. It's a way of life here. Nobody parks sideways, taking up two spots to protect their car, as you would see some in the United States. I have never seen that here once, and that person would be sure to get a ticket or even towed. There's just not enough parking, particularly in the larger cities like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Parking is hard to find in Tel Aviv!
In the neighborhood where we're staying now temporarily, there is no parking for our building. Fortunately, we gave our car to our daughter and son-in-law. Life in Tel Aviv is easiest without a car. But when we take the car from them for a few days, finding a parking spot is only slightly easier than winning the lottery! And once you find a parking spot, you never want to leave it! You will do whatever you have to do not to move your car—which of course, begs the question, why have a car? Hence, we gave ours away.
And when you find a parking spot on foot, you might stand there and hold it. I'll give you an example. We had to park in an overnight garage the other day, and Elana was walking home from exercising when she found an empty spot near our apartment. She called me up, and I ran out of the house to the parking garage to get our car, and she waited by the parking spot. And people will respect that here. If someone is standing in an open parking spot, everyone honors it.
Parallel Parking is an art in Tel Aviv
Well, almost everyone. Once I did see a person holding a spot at the market before Shabbat. This is the busiest time of the week in the market. Someone decided that she was going to take a parking space even though somebody was standing there. She just slowly backed up her car, even as the young lady was yelling at her, and she kept taking steps backward until the driver had parked her car. She jumped out, beeped her door locked, and went to the market. It was a most interesting game of chicken.
When I just took the car to give it back to my daughter about an hour ago, a man walked up to me as I got close to my car and said, in near desperation, "Ata yotse?" (Are you leaving?) I told him that a great miracle was about to happen to him, as I gave him the parking space. He was extremely grateful. I may have seen a tear in his eye. 😉
We are so obsessive over parking spaces here that when you don't even need one, and you happen to see an available parking spot, you subconsciously want to hold on to that parking space. It doesn't matter that there's nothing you can do with it. It's like finding money on the street from another country. And if you see two open parking spots close to each other, you start wondering if the world is ending.
In Tel Aviv, you can spend 45 minutes just driving around looking for a parking spot and still not find one. The first thing you ask when you're looking to rent or buy an apartment is, "Yesh hania?" (Is there parking?).
And yet, for some reason, I love this city more than any other city in the world. Something might be wrong with me and the other few 100,000 that live within the city borders of Tel Aviv.