Just an Ordinary Day in Jerusalem

by Daniel Pinner

The car needs its M.O.T., and the most convenient place to get it done is in Jerusalem. 45 minutes there, 45 minutes, half an hour for the M.O.T, plenty of time to get back home before the children come home from school.

I set out on an ordinary summer’s day, driving Southwards towards Jerusalem through the hills of the Shomron (Samaria). 15 minutes from home I pass Shiloh, where the Tabernacle stood for 369 years, long before King Solomon built the First Holy Temple.

A few minutes later is Wadi Haramiyeh, the narrow defile through the mountains, winding its gentle way through the Samarian hills. Here on this road, 2,187 years ago, Judah the Maccabee and his original 600 warriors ambushed a Seleucid detachment with 2,000 soldiers marching towards Jerusalem.

As I explained to my children when we drove along here last Chanukah, the Maccabees chose this spot to ambush the Greek Army because there’s no cell phone reception due to the high mountains, so they couldn’t call for reinforcements.

Maybe when they’re a bit older they’ll understand their Aba’s humour.

An uneventful drive along familiar roads.

I’m aware that the rear light burnt out a couple of weeks ago, so before bringing the car for its test I stop at a car-parts shop to buy a new light bulb.

The man installs it for me, in a minute or less. “Twenty Shekels”, tells me. He looks to be of North African extraction, probably Moroccan, maybe Tunisian or Algerian, friendly, with a ready smile, mid-twenties, unbuttoned shirt revealing a hairy chest, wild curly hair (both on his head and on his chest).

I take out a ₪200-shekel note, and his smile falters. “Don’t you have anything smaller? – I’m out of change.”

“Sorry”, I apologise, “How about a credit card”.

He shakes his head. “My internet connection’s down, I can’t take the credit card.”

He looks at me for a moment, then says, “Well, not a problem. When you get the opportunity, put the 20 shekels in a Tzedaka-box for me. OK?”

“Sure”, I say, and drive off with a working rear lamp.

I get to the M.O.T. Centre, wait the usual half-hour for my turn.

The car fails on two things: brake pads and windscreen wipers.

OK, easy enough to repair both. Just down the road is a petrol station, I pull in and enter the shop at the side. “Shalom, what have you come for?”

He speaks Hebrew with a heavy Arabic accent, and I tell him I need new windscreen wipers.

He shows me what he has in stock. One set costs ₪50, the other costs ₪90. I ask him what the difference is, and why is one almost double the price of the other?

The cheaper one is made in Taiwan, he tells me, the more expensive is made in America.

“Better quality, it’ll last you three or four times as long. So you may think that this one” (he indicates the Taiwanese) “is cheaper, but if you buy it, the profit is cancelled out by the loss”.

It doesn’t translate well into English: his exact words were, “יצא שכרוֹ בהפסדוֹ”, a phrase taken from Pirkei Avot. Pure Mishnaic Hebrew… spoken with a heavy Arabic accent.

I agree, give him my ₪200-Shekel note, and as he gives me change, he says, “Wise choice”, using the Hebrew word חכם. He adds another Hebrew phrase: אתה רוֹאה את ההנוֹלד – meaning literally, “You see that which is yet to be born”; again, Talmudic/Mishnaic Hebrew idiom for being able to see ahead. As in, “Who is wise [חכם]? – One who foresees the outcome of events [הרוֹאה את הנוֹלד]” (Talmud, Tamid 32a).

The Arabs in Israel use Talmudic/Mishnaic Hebrew idiom freely in conversation. Well, that’s Modern Hebrew vernacular for you: unchanged in 2,000 years and more.

A few hundred yards away is the garage where I can get my brakes fixed. I get there, drive in, and one of the mechanics approaches me. He’s tall, blonde, and muscular. His T-shirt reveals two heavily-tattooed arms, sporting beautiful pictures of snakes, dragons, mermaids, unicorns, and various other animals all intertwined.

His chest sports more tattoos, a psychedelic design interwoven with Russian words.

“Do you have an appointment?” he asks me, in Russian-accented Hebrew.

“No”, I say, and tell him what I need.

He confers for a few moments with the other mechanics, then tells me that he can have my car up on the lift in half an hour or so, and the work will take another half an hour. My car will be ready in about an hour, maybe a little more.

“There’s a room here, make yourself comfortable. There’s tea and coffee if you want.” He glances at the clock on the wall: 1:20. He continues: “If you want, in the tyre-place across the road, they pray Minchah at 1:30.”

I can’t help smiling. Where else in the world would a native Russian speaker whose body is covered in tattoos direct me to Shul on a weekday afternoon?

“Sure”, I say, “where exactly?”

He calls one of the other mechanics. “Motti, you’re off to pray? – Show this guy the way.” Motti comes over: short, Yemeni, beard and peyot [side-curls], maybe fortyish.

We cross the road together, go to the “puncture-macher” (tyre place), and climb the stairs. The office has one shelf loaded with Siddurim: Ashkenaz, Sefard, Sefaradi, Yemeni, Chabad, some with Russian translation, a couple of ArtScrolls with English, and some with French.

A couple of dozen people drift in, we pray Minchah.

I return to the garage with Motti, we begin chatting about this week’s Parashah. Again I smile: where else in the world does a garage mechanic explain the intricacies of Rashi on the week’s Parashah?

We get back, the tattooed Russian is working on my car. “We’ll be ready in 10 minutes”, he assures me and calls over another mechanic. He calls him Ahmed. “Can you finish these brakes for me?” he asks, and Ahmed nods.

The tattooed Russian calls Motti. “You got your Tefillin?”

Motti smiles, and they walk into the room. Motti takes out his Tefillin and a Kippah, the Russia puts on the Kippah, washes his hands, and puts on Motti’s Tefillin.

He says the Shema and takes them off. Motti tells me that Moshe is slowly becoming more religious. Moshe hears, and says, “Hey my name’s Misha. It’s only Motti who calls me Moshe”.

Motti looks at him. “‘Misha’ is a goyishe name. Who can even pronounce it? The Communists called you Misha. Your name’s Moshe”.

“I was born Misha…”

They clearly both enjoy the banter.

My car’s ready, I pay the few hundred shekels with a credit card and go back to the M.O.T. Centre. This time the car passes in a few minutes, I collect the tax disk, put it on the windscreen, and drive off.

I stop at a supermarket on the way home. I don’t need much, the fridge and freezer are already well-stocked, but I need some veggies and cheese.

My wife and I both enjoy Brie, so I ask the bloke at the cheese counter for 350 grams of Brie.

He’s clearly an Arab, both by his looks and his accent. He sees my Kippah, and tells me: “The Brie is French, it’s made with chalav nokhri [unsupervised milk]”.

“Not a problem”, I reassure him, “but thanks for telling me”.

Interesting: an Arab working in a supermarket in Jerusalem knows enough about the details of Kashrut to tell me that this cheese might not be Kosher enough for me.

On to the quick check-out, 10 items or fewer. One bag of tomatoes, another of cucumbers, lettuce, cabbage, cheese, and a loaf of bread.

As I’m waiting in the queue, I see three Tzedaka boxes on the counter. One for a Yeshivah, one for orphaned brides, and one for food for poor families.

I think of the anonymous fellow who sold me the bulb for the tail-light, take out three ₪10 coins, and drop one into each box. Two for the bulb-seller, one for me. Which is which? – I don’t know. Let G-D decide.

I pay and leave. The clock on the dashboard reads 3:45. As long as there are no traffic jams, I’ll be home before the children.

Just one more ordinary uneventful day in Jerusalem.