Monday, October 15, 2007

Undermining Stereotypes

Traveling by bus has advantages over driving your own air-conditioned sedan. For one, someone else gets to dodge all those maniac drivers, and then to worry about parking. Better yet, you encounter all sorts of interesting characters. Here are three couples who were all on the same bus I was on coming up from Tel Aviv this afternoon. (Tel Aviv, btw, is booming; this afternoon someone had inserted a new 40-storey-and-still-rising tower right across from the Arlozorov train station. I swear it wasn't there last time I was there, a few months ago).

A young ultra-Orthodox (=Haredi) couple with their 2-year-old. Well, Haredi-light. She was dressed correctly, but he had only parts of the uniform: black kippa (yarmulke), white shirt, black pants. So they're either North African Haredi, or perhaps Bnei-Brack Litvaks from the outer ring of the community. Except they were speaking Russian, which fits no known template.

Two grizzled infantry sergeants (meaning they're about 21 years old). One was rather dark, but nothing remarkable about him; his friend however had the trappings of the Hassidically-influenced semi Haredi: a large white woollen kippa, such as worn by the Bratzlavers and the Hamas (sorry, but it's true) and very long, flowing earlocks. They were deep into an earnest discussion of economics: supply-side, progressive taxation, that sort of stuff.

Finally, and perhaps most interesting of all: two very new soldiers, their uniforms still shiny, no insignia or ranks of any kind, lugging their large dufflebags. They effectively had the words "basic trainees" written on their foreheads. They spent the whole trip talking animatedly, until near Jerusalem we passed a bus that had broken down and took on some of its passengers, among them some elderly women. The two young soldiers sprang up from their places and offered their seats. Ah, and before I forget: the language they were so busy chattering in was Arabic.

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