My younger son, Yonatan, turned 18 this week. He is very excited because with each of the last two elections, he mourned the fact that he would not be able to participate, and that he would have to wait up to four years to finally be able to exercise his right to vote in this country. Little did we know.
But this column is not about Israel’s upcoming national election. It is about the impromptu civics lesson my son received just a few days ago on a cold and rainy night here in Israel.
My son attends a yeshiva high school that includes dormitories for its students. But since the school is only 18 miles away in the central Israel city of Kfar Saba, he frequently returns home in the middle of the week for a few hours in the evening for a meeting, or to attend karate lessons or to see his neighborhood friends. But since morning prayers at school start pretty early, he sometimes likes to return to his dorm the same evening.
And he frequently takes the last bus heading for Kfar Saba and ultimately Raanana, which leaves at about 10:30 p.m. This bus is somewhat unreliable. Many times it has not shown up and Yonatan has to sleep at home and leave on a very early bus the next morning.
So last week, he went out 10 minutes early in the pouring rain for the last bus, to be sure he did not miss it if it came a little early. And the electronic board hooked into the bus by GPS flashed the bus would arrive in 10 minutes. It counted down to five minutes and then disappeared from the screen. The bus never showed up.
Yonatan really needed to be back at school at night. This was a real problem and he got a little upset.
So, he called the bus company’s customer service line to find out what happened. The woman that answered told him the bus driver decided to skip the stops inside our community. Yonatan could call during business hours the next day to receive compensation, she told him.
But now he was even more upset. So he found the telephone number of Israel’s Transportation Minister and sent him a text telling him what happened. It was 11 p.m.
Minutes later, Minister Bezalel Smotrich replied that he would look into it.
Public transportation has been less than reliable to and from our community for almost as long as we have been here. During the second intafada, the bus company did not have enough buses with bulletproof and rock-proof glass to run a full schedule. After that, people complained the buses were too few and far between because the government wanted to make it difficult for settlers. Years later, a new company won the tender to serve our area and as evidenced by my son’s problem, just doesn’t seem to care.
Smotrich has got to be pretty familiar with the laissez-faire attitude of the bus company, not in his role as transportation minister, but because he lives about 20 minutes up the road in the West Bank settlement of Kedumim. He or a family member has probably experienced this firsthand.
Smotrich is leader of the right-wing, religious-Zionist Tkuma-National Union Party, which is part of the Jewish Home alliance. He has served as a lawmaker in Knesset with Jewish Home since 2015 and was named transportation minister in June. We will, for the purpose of this piece, leave aside Smotrich’s politics, much of which I do not agree with.
Twenty minutes after he got the response from Smotrich, my son received a call from the vice chairman of the bus company, who apologized profusely for the incident. He also wanted to make sure that my son was safely at home and also promised compensation.
But he must have thought long and hard after their conversation because several minutes later a taxi driver called my son and said that the bus company had hired him to take Yonatan back to school.
And several minutes after that, the transportation minister followed up with a text to confirm my son received those phone calls.
When we lived in Cleveland, I always knew if I had a problem, I could call the office of my local congressman for help, and my family was required to do so on a couple of occasions. In Israel, it is difficult to know who to call. We are not officially members of or affiliated with a particular political party and lawmakers are elected nationally, not regionally, so there is no one that is directly responsible for me and my neighbors. My son’s encounter with Smotrich is about as close as we will come to a regional representative.
But the experience was empowering to Yonatan. And he sees now that his future votes will have consequences. I am grateful to the lawmaker for getting my son back to school on a very cold and rainy night and for the civics lesson he received.
Marcy Oster is a former Clevelander who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland Jewish News from Karnei Shomron, West Bank. To read more of Oster’s columns, visit cjn.org/oster.