Advice and Reality Face a Moment of Truth in Israel


“Just don’t take the bus.”

As I left on a trip to Israel a couple months ago, this was the advice I got from everyone. Even then, a time of relative peace, the
ersatz front-page pictures of terror-torn Israeli commuter buses surrounded by wounded people being moved to ambulances were still too fresh. Suicide bombers, not rockets, were foremost in our minds. And we all know that suicide bombers target buses and cafes — public places where innocent people gather.

So as I took off in late spring, leaving behind my young daughter and husband, I thought about this simple panacea — “Avoiding buses and cafes, how hard is that?” Did I expect to see buses blowing up all around me as I stayed safely on the sidewalks? Not really. But traveling to a land that has been beset by terrorists carries with it added anxieties, so why take chances?

Then I arrived in Jerusalem.

My first instinct in any new city is to mingle. I like to walk the streets, stop into ordinary shops — grocery stores and electronic shops, not just the Judaica stores or Dead Sea skin care outlets for tourists. I like to take public transportation.

My instincts set in. I wanted to see what it is like to live in Jerusalem. So first thing, instead of a taxi, I took a shared cab from the airport to my hotel — an amazing ride where everyone made friends during our 40 minutes together. A psychologist from San Diego was chatting with an ecologist who split her time among Israel, the United States and Latin America. The clearly religious were giving advice to the traveling bohemians. Lively chatter among complete strangers filled the minivan, and when I arrived at my hotel without the exact fare — upsetting the cab driver — someone I’d never met before paid my part without a question.

“Just being in Israel replenishes my soul,” the woman who’d just spent $10 on me told me as I took off gratefully with her card so I could send her money back.
It was dusk, and darkness was falling over the city. I asked at the hotel’s front desk whether it was all right to walk in the neighborhood to find a place to eat; the manager assured me it was. Out I went, jet-lagged but invigorated, into the heart of Jerusalem. And even at 9 p.m., many many people — young and old — were walking everywhere. I was especially struck by the women alone on the streets. I’m used to Los Angeles, where first, no one walks, and second, no one walks alone. At night, Jerusalem seemed so safe.

I saw buses drive by filled with commuters. I wondered.

A mini town square, Ben Yehuda lies at the heart of the tourist district and at the heart of where young Israelis hang out. In the course of the 10 days I was in Israel, I went there many times — for a falafel on my first night, to shop for souvenirs on another, for a late-night dinner after Shabbat. For several blocks the street is cordoned off from cars, like Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, so vendors and performers fill the public spaces.

It was an easy walk from my hotel.

The question of the bus came up really only on my third day in Israel. I’d made a commitment to meet a friend in Tel Aviv, and I was not about to pay $60 to $70 each way to take a taxi there. I rose early on Sunday morning, a regular workday in Israel, and set off for the bus station, where I’d been told I could catch a gesher — a shared cab or minivan available to all, much like the one I’d taken from the airport. I walked to the bus station, a longer hike than I’d expected, because I wanted to get a glimpse of a different part of Jerusalem, particularly the regular, working-class neighborhoods.

Getting where you want to go is easy, because everyone helps anyone asking directions, even when you speak only English. However, having misjudged the distance, I made my way to the bus station with little time to spare. And then I couldn’t find where the geshers were stationed. And no one knew enough English to know what I was asking about. I was really in Israel now. Suddenly, I was in line to go through the metal detectors to enter the terminal, and once inside, even with my limited Hebrew, I could easily see that a bus was leaving for Tel Aviv in just a few moments.

I stepped up to the ticket line. Flashes of my daughter went through my mind. I pushed away thoughts of the final blackout scene in the Oscar-nominated Palestinian film “Paradise Now.” I accused myself of being ridiculous and went up and bought my ticket — $3.50 for a ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv on the bus. Door 15 the ticket seller told me.

I was taking the bus.

Not so easy, I soon saw. So was everyone else. The bus hadn’t arrived and dozens — maybe even a hundred — Israelis were pushing toward the doorway to be first in line. The danger now, I realized, was getting crushed. My New York bus instincts began to take over. My Los Angeles freeway driver gusto came into play, too. I was going to get on that bus.

As it turned out, I did. One of the last to get a seat, I sat next to a gun-toting soldier returning to his base who had two cellphones ringing constantly, which he could only answer after removing his iPod earphones, which were already projecting loud enough for me to share his music. In the aisle next to us, a mother with her two young girls sat on the floor. The bus was packed with what looked like workaday commuters. We arrived in Tel Aviv on time and without incident.

When I was returning to Jerusalem later that day, my friend escorted me to the gesher, and I sort of regretted getting the help. I e-mailed my husband that night that I’d done exactly what everyone told me not to do and was none the worse for wear. He was shocked. I was proud. It was such a simple thing.

Maybe, sometimes, overcoming your fears and joining in is an accomplishment. I say this as many of my friends are considering whether to travel to Israel right now. Maybe it’s important to go, now more than ever. To be with the Israelis who are continuing their daily lives there, despite the threats. Maybe sometimes taking the bus is the best way to go.

Could You Help Me Find My Uncle?


Dear President Ahmadinejad:

Allow me to introduce myself to you. My name is Robert Stevens, and I am a 27-year-old child of Holocaust survivors. The purpose of my letter is not to criticize you for being anti-Semitic or for wanting to wipe Israel off the face of the earth or for making an international statement defaming the legitimacy of the Holocaust by calling it a myth. Instead, I just wanted to share with you a little glimpse into my life and actually ask you for some advice.

This past Saturday evening, before I left my apartment with my fiancee to celebrate a friend’s birthday party in New York City, I remembered that it coincidentally was also my uncle’s birthday — my father’s brother. My uncle’s name is Boroch Jeszyja Miedzinski. Indeed, it is certainly a Jewish name. His first name, Boroch, means “blessed” in Hebrew, and Jeszyja, which is another form of the name Josiah, means “fire of God,” also in Hebrew.

I really wanted to reach out to my uncle to wish him a happy birthday, but I didn’t have his phone number or his address. If I did, I’d certainly call him or visit him, and certainly I would have mailed him a card. To be honest, I am embarrassed to admit this, but I actually don’t know where he really is now, and perhaps you could help me find him.

I tried looking up his address throughout the United States, Israel, Poland, Germany, Russia, France, England and other countries in Europe, but I just couldn’t find his address or phone number. Various organizations wrote me informing me that they never even heard of him. I used the Google search engine to try and find him or something about him but to no avail.

My father died 10 years ago and, unfortunately, he hadn’t seen his brother in many years, so he also didn’t leave me with any contact information for his brother.

Thankfully, because you have pointed out to the world that the Holocaust is a myth — that the Nazis could not have killed him because such killings were just Zionist propaganda to get world support for Israel — you have renewed my hope that he may still be alive, and that I can find him.

I guess I can admit that I feel a little silly, too. I mean, I used to think that perhaps the Nazis killed him, but if the Holocaust never happened, he must be alive, or he’s just a myth that existed to bring about sympathy for Jews. My father, however, was pretty darn convincing when he told me that I reminded him of his brother because we both had the same squint and intense look in our eyes.

Before I give up, though, I do have the following information, which perhaps a man of your power and influence could use to help me find him.

My uncle was born on Jan. 28, 1931, in Lodz, Poland, to my grandfather and grandmother, Pinkus and Tauba Miedzinski. He was the youngest of four children, with my father, David, the eldest.

I have a copy of a photograph of him that I can send to you, if you think it will aid your search. The photograph was taken presumably by the Germans or the Judenrat, and was affixed to a Lodz Ghetto ID card. I know this because you can see that the corner of the photo was stamped with “Litzmanstadt.” If you weren’t already aware, Litzmanstadt was the name Germans gave to Lodz when they took it over and formed a ghetto for the Jews.

The remaining information I have for you about my uncle is that sometime after his bar mitzvah, when he was 13 years old, he was presented with a train ticket — perhaps as a bar mitzvah present from nice German soldiers — to catch a ride out of the Lodz Ghetto.

His travel information, which is the only information I have about him, might be the missing link to help you locate him for me. The Germans, as you know, were great record keepers.

According to a chronicle kept by Jews of Lodz, June 26 was also apparently a popular day for travel for the youths of Lodz. Of the 912 total people who had the same train tickets as my uncle, the majority were teens and younger children.

The German records state that my uncle was last seen boarding the Cattle Car Express, Transport No. 867 under Record No. 611. One-way ticket, Lodz Ghetto to Gan Eden — or what historians whom you might consider misguided refer to as the Chelmno extermination camp.

President Ahmadinejad, any assistance you could offer in helping to locate my uncle would be appreciated. I would love to meet him. He just turned 75.

I’m definitely going to bust his chops for being an actor in this silly Holocaust charade. In the meantime, for his birthday, I will resort to lighting a candle for him next to the only photo I have of him, taken when he was just a little boy in the Lodz Ghetto. The birthday candle, which I lit this past Saturday night, on Jan. 28, is actually what Jews call a yahrtzeit candle.

And when the flame of the yahrtzeit candle glows brightly, it symbolizes an eternal fire from God that will always and forever burn, representing the sacred souls of my beloved uncle and all my other 6 million Jewish ancestors and declaring that despite any of your endeavors, their memory will be for a blessing, not a myth.

Kind Regards,
Robert Stevens
Courtesy New Jersey Jewish News.

Robert Stevens resides in New Jersey. He dedicates this letter in honor of his parents. He can be reached at: rstevens27@gmail.com