Israel: Hitchhiking Home

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efratBy Dave Bender

Between 2010 and 2014, I lived in the Gush Etzion community of Efrat, south of Bethlehem, less than a kilometer from where three Israeli youths were abducted on Thursday night.

I regularly hitchhiked, rode my bike, and hiked the area, as did my triplet children, as did nearly all my friends and their children at over two dozen farms, towns and villages in the area – as elsewhere throughout Israel.

Yes, with occasional concerns due to managed area security issues. But without fear. I repeat: without fear.

It was a vow I made to myself when I first made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) from the United States over 35 years ago and I repeat here:

The Land of Israel is our home, where we stand our ground and stop running, both as individual Jews and as a people. Here and now is where we choose not to live in fear.

However, in the wake of the kidnapping of the three Israelis – two youths and a 19-year-old, several senior rabbis affiliated with the Sephardi – haredi community have issued “pis’kei halacha” – Halachic rulings forbidding their followers from hitchhiking – known colloquially as “tremping.”

In response to a slew of comments, which, essentially, placed the blame for the abductions on the Israeli kids themselves for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, blogger Batya Medad, a long-time resident of the Samaria community of Shilo, riposted:

It really gets on my nerves when I keep hearing that this kidnapping is ‘because they tremped.’ That’s not the problem. The three teenagers were kidnapped by Arab terrorists. They are victims of Arab terrorism. The problem is the terrorism, not the tremping.

In many parts of Israel and the world, waiting for rides on the road is an accepted mode of traveling. The Arab custom here is not to have formal bus stops. Arabs of all ages, both sexes, hail rides and buses in all different places, even at busy junctions causing delays to others.

I agree with her. Here’s what tremping in Israel is really about, from a personal blog post I wrote, and have updated here:

Not long ago, I hitchhiked my usual ride home from Jerusalem with an Efrat neighbor who was passing by the Gilo junction where everyone either catches a hitch, called a “tremp” in Hebrew, or an intercity bus – which comes by every 20 minutes or so.

It’s usually much faster and often more interesting to hitch – and every time’s a chance to meet someone new, learn something, often hear great music (speaking as a past radio programmer and DJ, folks in Gush Etzion and points south have awfully good musical taste) – and give someone a chance to rack up the mitzva points en route.

Dozens of riders, from teens to the elderly, regularly crowd together under the streetlamp alongside the bus bay, holding plastic shopping bags, backpacks and whatever else you’d lug along home after a day in town, at work or school.

They wait for rides to their communities, and – from firsthand experience – commonly not more that 10-15 minutes until a car or van going their way slows and shouts out the destination. The potential rider closest to the vehicle usually shouts out the destination for others who are going the same way.

Most evenings, there are two, three and sometimes even four vehicles pulling up at a time offering rides home. Amazingly, I haven’t seen anyone hurt or a collision (yet…) as they clumsily merge back into the traffic lane alongside.

Guess that’s just the way we roll in the Holy Land, so to speak…

After getting off a bus from in town, I stroll up to the junction and a car soon pulls up alongside. The woman driver calls out, ‘Efrat;’ I recognize her as a neighbor.

I get in, and a moment later a young woman walks up, carrying a infant, a car seat for the baby and a back pack.

Read that last sentence again, I’ll wait…

…a slight young woman with a 1.5-mo.-old babe in arms, and baby gear, hitchhiked a ride with total strangers on a ride through the wild “West Bank,” aka here, the hills of Judea.

Stop – hold that image.

She was headed to her village, Elazar, a short distance before Efrat along Rt. 60.

Our driver pulls out and we make small talk about visiting home towns overseas and family as we head off for the 14-km/9-mi drive along the two-lane road.

Our 15-min. southbound route under a brilliant full moon takes us into the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, past Bethlehem, Beit Jala and several other Palestinian Arab villages.

There have been numerous horrific shooting attacks against Jewish residents of our communities in the last several months, years, decades and more, but, on an evening like this, it somehow struck me as though we were somewhere in a would’ve, could’ve should’ve been small town, maybe somewhere in the rural U.S. dozens of years ago, before the idea of even a burly tough guy hitchhiking was an assumption of dangerous lunacy for either the driver or the ride.

Now think about that; hold that thought for a second.

Again, imagine the bond of trust, elemental “derech eretz” (innate decency, here), and healthy shared societal assumptions that brought together that vignette of the four of us, what it implies, and what it says about the hesed (grace), resilience and plain old decency and gumption of this society – as opposed to everything you read on the news about life here in Israel.

Now, could you envision such a scene like this anywhere else – really?

So, if you’re driving the roads across the length and breadth of Israel – stop and give rides to those “trempistim.” It could be a lifesaver.

The Algemeiner Journal

{Matzav.com/Photo: Dave Bender}

12 COMMENTS

  1. Don’t blame the tremping. Blame the two legged animals that live in our region that refuse to let us live simply because Esav soneh es Yaakov. Nebach. May Hashem help these boys get home safely.
    Each of of us can identify with something like this; this is a mother’s worst nightmare.
    May HKBH sent moshiach speedily in our days to help put an end to our the tzoros.

  2. It’s difficult to respond to foolish words, but we’ll try.

    Saying you shouldn’t take a tremp does not by any means take the blame off the terrorists. Of course “the problem is still the terrorists” just as when you lock your door at night the problem is the robber, and when airport security drive people crazy before boarding it’s not “to take the blame off the terrorists”.

    The “problem” and the blame is still the terrorist, but we should do our best to protect ourselves.

    Hey, when Herzel and Ben-Gurion said we cannot live any more without an army, is he placing the blame for all the Jewish blood of generations on the Jews?

    Look. It’s very nice to be patriotic and stand your ground etc., but you gatta do some bible reading before you put your life on the line for this land. It’s very clear throughout the bible that it is NOT our land if the nation doesn’t stick to God’s words. How many kings jeopardized the entire nation by their over confidence? by “standing their ground” without much ground to stand on?

  3. You might have good points but now at this time we should only be concerned for the 3 boys. Doing wat we can for them and supporting each other being strong and hopeful together. Your article is wrong time and place and is for another time. Right now let’s stand together and be sensitive

  4. What happened to those boys is terrible and heartbreaking. May they be the last victims. Accepting and offering rides to strangers had been forbidden by our Gedolim already since longtime, at the very least since the second intifada.

    The article attempts to pull at our emotions and love of the land. This perhaps has a place on The Algemeiner, but I am not so sure it should have been reprinted here. There are no good reasons to do something reckless, and none at all to do what our Gedolim have forbidden.

    A Palestinian terrorist who seeks to attack a hitchhiker – or who seeks to attack a driver who offers a ride to a Jewish-looking stranger – will not be wearing a keffiyah. He or she will be dressed like an israeli yid, will speak Hebrew and English, and his or her face will not “look Arab” – that’s how a particular person gets chosen for this sort of attack.

    May we only hear good news.

  5. People are quick to place the blame on the culture of “tremping.” But explain to me why it’s safer to get on a bus (in Israel or NYC) with DOZENS of strangers, any one of whom could be dangerous – either a terrorist or simply mentally unstable. The NYC subway system – both on and off the cars – is FULL of unstable people.

    Attacks on the subway system (Japan, UK) and busses (in Israel R”L) are understood to be terrorism, but somehow hitching is considered reckless.

    It’s all about what you are used to.

  6. Why is it that when (lo aleinu) buses were being bombed we were told by the Israeli establishment (including the media and yes, the man on the street) to keep on riding buses and not to capitulate to terror? And that we will refuse to change our way of life? (And made fun of the american seminary girls who took taxis or walked.) And when (lo aleinu) they bombed shopping malls no one suggested to stop going shopping? But when it comes to tremping (settlers, west bank…) then they talk different.

  7. Why is it that when (lo aleinu) buses were being bombed we were told by the Israeli establishment (including the media and yes, the man on the street) to keep on riding buses and not to capitulate to terror? And that we will refuse to change our way of life? (And made fun of the american seminary girls who took taxis or walked.) And when (lo aleinu) they bombed shopping malls no one suggested to stop going shopping? But when it comes to tremping (settlers, west bank…) then they talk different.

  8. Interesting read and even more interesting comments!!!!

    Gedolim have forbidden hiring Arabs for years and we find them as hired hands YES in yeshivos, mikvos, shuls, grocery stores and as maintance men in Charedi neighborhoods. So what do you say to the words of Gedolim?????

    Stop attacking those who live in Yishuvim and Yehuda and shomron, BTW there is a large ‘tramping’ station outside of Betair.

  9. The attitude of “kochi v’otzam yadi” that this writer espouses, “The Land of Israel is our home, where we stand our ground and stop running, both as individual Jews and as a people. Here and now is where we choose not to live in fear.” goes against daas torah and common sense. Its more important for you to feel powerful and strong, than to help prevent an admittedly uncommon but unfortunately real potential tragedy. Yes “tremping” is a great and beautiful mitzvah but we have to heed our Rabbonim when to desist from something seemingly benign.

  10. ITS ASSUR TO PUT YOURSELF IN A SAKANAH,PERIOD. NOW IT NEEDS TO BE DETERMINED IF ITS A SAKANAH OR NOT. ARE YOU A POSEK TO DECIDE OR THE RECOGNIZED POSKIM?

  11. A previous commenter stated:

    “Hey, when Herzel and Ben-Gurion said we cannot live any more without an army, is he placing the blame for all the Jewish blood of generations on the Jews?”

    I am not a kanoi, but many early secular zionist leaders did indeed blame Jews for Jewish blood. They blamed the so-called Galus mentality.

    Let’s try a little balance between safety and bravery.

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