This is the first of an occasional series I’m calling “Connections,” about the small but profound interactions with strangers that bolster faith in humankind.
A sherut driver’s heroic act of honesty saved this young traveler from a ruined trip.
In 1988, on winter break during my freshman year of college, I visited my favorite high school friend, who was studying in Israel for the school year. I foolishly bought a ticket that had me arriving late on a Friday — which, for my very observant friend, was problematic. It wouldn’t do for me to arrive at her dormitory during Shabbos, but true to form, she took this in stride and solved the problem — by getting us a hotel room. We would stay at the hotel, then head to her school dormitory after Shabbos was over. She gave me instructions for how to hire a sherut (a shared intercity taxi) from the Tel Aviv airport to her hotel in Jerusalem.
I was a little intimidated by the prospect of sorting out the sherut, but I somehow managed it. The drive was around an hour and a half, a quiet moonlit night, and I was the last person to be dropped off. I got out of the car, excited and nervous about the journey ahead, and paid the driver. I specifically remember setting my wallet on the roof of the car as I counted out shekels to him and said, “Thank you.”
I’d studied how to say it in Hebrew but wasn’t sure what language to use. The driver, I was fairly certain, was an Israeli Arab, and I didn’t know the phrase in Arabic. Was it rude or normal procedure to speak to him in Hebrew? I was utterly ignorant of these considerations, so I thanked him in English.
I stepped onto the elevator and turned, just as the doors were sliding closed. There, filling the elevator entrance, was the driver, breathless and wide-eyed. He must have run inside after me, and just made it before I disappeared up the building.
The driver stopped the doors closing and stretched out his hand, which was holding my wallet.
I took it, then stared at him in shock as the doors closed between us. I may have stuttered out another English “thank you,” I can’t recall. If not, I imagine that my eyes told him everything.