Last night I attended a wedding in Jerusalem. The groom, an Australian friend of mine who I met here in Israel, married an American, giving the wedding an American-Australian flavor (actually, the Australian flavor was more pronounced, especially with the groom donning an Australian Rules Football guernsey and guests kicking around a football). This is one of the great things about Israel: because you have Jews from so many different countries and backgrounds, weddings have their own unique flavor, as they incorporate different customs from different countries.
But this post is not really about this particular wedding, or weddings in Israel in general. It is about what happened to me after the wedding, and what this says about Israel and Israelis.
I leave the wedding at around 11:30pm, and make my way to my car. Now I should probably explain how my car’s security works. On my keyring, I have two separate “controls”: one contains a button for activating the alarm/locking the car and deactivating the alarm/unlocking the car; the other contains buttons for locking and unlocking the doors, independent of the alarm. In addition, there is a keypad inside the car, for inputting a code to enable ignition.
As I approach my car, I press the button for deactivating the alarm.
I press again.
This is weird. This has not happened to me before.
And yet again.
What’s going on here?
Now panic starts to creep in. Here I am, in the outskirts of Jerusalem, at 11:30 at night, far from home, and I can’t even get into my bloody car. Or can I?
I have an idea. I press the button for unlocking the car, and a familar sound breaks the night’s silence. The car is unlocked. Unfortunately, a second later, a much more audible sound is heard. The alarm!!
Other departing guests stare at me, some guy in a car, with the alarm blaring, who, in their mind, may not even own it. Although I suspect my skullcap probably gives away the fact that I am no car thief.
I enter the car and sit down. The alarm stops after about 10 seconds.
Now what? Hey, wait, I have another idea.
I enter my code and start the engine. Phew! The engine starts.
So does the alarm.
So I am faced with a choice. I can, theoretically, drive home, but with the alarm blaring the whole time (I live about 30-45 minutes away). Of course, that would not only be annoying to me and all other drivers, but would probably result in me being stopped by the police. Or I can try to deal with this now.
I decide to drive. I am tired, and it is late. I drive down the road, to a more remote area, but then stop, realizing that this is not a good move. I need to somehow deal with this situation now.
As I am contemplating my next move, a bald-headed, tough looking guy knocks on my window. I open the door. He asks me, in Hebrew, what the problem is.
I cannot disable the alarm.
Is this your car?
Well, it’s my company car. The company leases it for me.
Give me your keys and I’ll see what I can do.
Now, in most other countries, I would never just hand my car keys to some strange, tough looking guy in the middle of nowhere. I would be too afraid. But in Israel, I feel differently. Crime is certainly lower than in most places, and I am used to Israelis bending over backwards to help someone in distress. So I hand over my keys without blinking.
The man takes my keys and starts playing with the button to deactivate the alarm. He is no more successful than I was. He then asks me to open the car bonnet. I ask him:
Do you think you can disable the alarm?
Well, I have stolen a few cars before.
So here I am, having given over my car keys to a man with experience in stealing cars. Yet I am not overly concerned that he will pull a knife on me and steal mine.
The man tries to see what he is doing in the pitch black, but has no success. So he asks if I have a number for the car leasing company. I retrieve it from the glove box.
Can you also give me your phone?
Now the man not only has my car keys, but also my phone.
He dials the number and requests that a service van be sent to assist me. He patiently describes the problem, and informs the woman on the other end our exact location. He then hands back my phone and keys, and asks if I have a cigarette.
No, sorry. But if you find one, I wouldn’t mind one either.
The man laughs, wishes me luck, and disappears into the darkness.
Approximately 45 minutes later, the service van arrives. I go over to the technician, explain the problem, and he proceeds to replace the battery in the control. The old one was flat (have they heard of providing spare batteries with their rental cars?!)
As you can see, the story had a happy ending. Sure, I am extremely tired today, and somewhat peeved that I was delayed by 1 hour because of a flat battery in the car alarm control. But the point of the story is to give you an insight into a great feature of life in Israel: complete strangers are willing to bend over backwards for you, and, consequently, you are willing to place your trust in complete strangers. And while this is not unique to Israel, I believe it is certainly more prevalent here than in any other place I have ever lived or visited.
(Cross-posted on Israelity)