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November 7, 2016 7:52 am

On a Slow Train to Jaffa

avatar by Menachem Kellner

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The Nahariya railway station. Photo: Wikipedia.

The Nahariya railway station. Photo: Wikipedia.

People have a lot of misconceptions about life in Israel. Even I, who have lived here many years, regularly find myself surprised.

Last Thursday afternoon, I had an interesting experience on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv train, the first leg of my trip home to Haifa. Four well-dressed gentlemen sat opposite me. One of them asked me if this was the train to Tel Aviv and when I confirmed that it was, a conversation ensued. We talked about the (absurd) length of the trip (90 minutes or so to cover a mere 40 miles) and the beauty of part of the trip (Nahal Sorek). I then asked the most talkative of them where he was from. He said “Ohio.” Since it was obvious that none of them was a native of the Buckeye State, I asked where he was from before that. His answer: “Jordan.” That I did not expect.

It turned out that they were tourists on a kind of bikkur moledet (a trip to the “old country”). They had visited relatives in Jordan (more about that later); had spent several days in Nablus (known as Shechem to us); had just spent the day touring Jerusalem; and were now on the way to Jaffa, with the intention of getting to Nahariyya at some point afterwards. One of them was originally from Nablus and had left there in 1979. He said that the city was unrecognizable – it had grown so much – from (he figured) about 200,000 to about 800,000 (so much for Israeli “genocide” of Palestinians, I thought). We talked about all sorts of stuff (one of them explained to the others the significance of my kippah and did a good job of it), clearly steering away from anything political. I noted that they were travelling sort of “fancy free,” with no real plans beyond getting to Jaffa. They agreed with me that had they been with their wives, there would certainly be definite plans.

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They asked me at which of the Tel Aviv stops they should get off in order to reach Jaffa most efficiently. I told them I would find out when we got to Beit Shemesh. (Incidentally, they knew all about Samson and Delilah — I guess the story is in the Koran, and they were Muslims, not Christians, though I did not get the impression they were “ultra-Orthodox” about it.

Why would I find out in Beit Shemesh? The national Police Academy is there, and on Thursday afternoons, the train fills up with cadets going home for Shabbat. On arrival I told one of these cadets that I was helping four tourists from Jordan who wanted to get to Jaffa and they needed to know at which station to alight. I was pretty sure it was the station Halachah (only in Israel will you find train stations called “Jewish law”). The cop I asked did not bat an eyelash, didn’t even glance at the tourists, and checking his phone, confirmed my guess.

The stop after Beit Shemesh is Ramle and my friend from Columbus, Ohio (he has two children doing doctorates at The Ohio State University) told me that he has an aunt in Jordan who was driven from Ramle in 1948. He said, with a disarming smile, that she still had the key to her old home. I was not interested in getting into an argument over what happened in 1948, so I simply said that I lived in Haifa, and the Arabs there had remained in 1948 (suggesting by implication that his aunt may have fled in 1948, but was not forced to). To my surprise, they all perked up and said, yes, that was true, adding that it was also true of Nazareth, Jaffa and other places. That really surprised me.

We reached their stop and they got off, after many expressions of friendship and gratitude for my tour-guide services.

Things here could be so different.

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