Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Jerusalem—It’s the eternal capital of the Jewish people, built by King David, destroyed by the Babylonians and Romans, and fully reunited by the Israeli Defense Forces under the command of Moshe Dayan in 1967. Jerusalem has always occupied a special place in the heart of every Jew. As twice-serving Russian-born Prime Minister Menachem Begin famously said: “I come to Jerusalem. There, the sky is blue and memory becomes clear.”

Since Israel’s significant expansion following its miraculous victory against a mass attack from Egyptian, Syrian and Lebanese troops in 1967, two major cities have stood out as centers of Israel: the young state’s spiritual and geographical capital—Jerusalem, and her cultural and modern capital—Tel Aviv-Yafo. For decades, the two have grown at different paces, each following her own destiny. Tel Aviv became a maze of high-rise buildings, finance and technology start-ups, bars and nightlife scenes, while Jerusalem mainly stayed millennia behind her sister city, remaining the blast-to-the-past that awakens divine inspiration in even the most spiritually disconnected Jew, Christian or atheist.

However, in recent years, Jerusalem has been going through a transformation which Mayor Nir Barkat has called a “cultural renaissance.” Since as early as the completion of the Chords Bridge (Gesher HaMeitarim in Hebrew) in June 2008, the eternal Jewish capital city has undergone a delicate modernization process, one which has been trying to bring her into the 21st century, while maintaining the ancient charm which Barkat proudly claims leads to “everyone feeling that Jerusalem belongs to them.”

Current projects, including the stunning Teddy Kolleck park next to Jaffa Gate, state-of-the-art Pais Arena in Malha and even the less-recent expansion of the internationally renowned Alrov Mamilla shopping boulevard, have truly brought the City of Gold up to contemporary international standards, causing its tourism statistics to rise an average of over 8 percent each year, “surpassing even Tel Aviv in internal tourism,” Barkat proudly added.

However, Mayor Barkat claims that his city’s crowning achievement in recent years has been the completion of the Jerusalem Light Rail Train, a project which connects Mt. Herzl and Heil Ha’Avir Blvd. in Pisgat Ze’ev (polar opposite sides of the city) in less than 45 minutes. The train also stops at hotspots such Sha’arei Zedek hospital, the Central Bus Station, Mahane Yehuda open market (colloquially known as “the shuk”), Ben Yehuda St. area and the Old City on the way. Since this new train line first opened for revenue service four years ago, Jerusalem’s extensive Egged-operated bus network has been marginalized to remove redundancies between its routes and the light rail’s centralized artery, with small changes being introduced every few months. Even those who spent extensive time in Israel’s capital city are advised to check the website of the Jerusalem Transportation System (jet.gov.il/web/en), call their Call-Kav hotline (*8787 from any Israeli phone), or download the Moovit app (available on the Apple App Store, Google Play Store or Microsoft Store) while planning any serious outings on public transportation.

The latest and perhaps most dramatic change in the streamlining of Jerusalem’s transportation system is the introduction of mandatory cashless payments on most trips. In the past, a bus or light rail ticket purchased with cash allowed the rider a 90-minute transfer to other modes of transportation, a necessity in a new system which heavily relies on switches between local buses and light rails, where trips can oftentimes involve two or three transfers. Now, this hour-and-a-half window is only possible when paying using a smart farecard (kartis chacham, or colloquially, Rav Kav) — cash-issued paper tickets only entitle a rider to transportation on one bus line or to one light rail entry. While this effort has been shown to significantly reduce waiting times to board buses in Jerusalem, it has oftentimes confused tourists and students who were ill-prepared for this change and therefore ended up paying two or three fares in order to reach their destination.

For those who are planning on visiting Israel soon, or especially Jerusalem, and can foresee themselves using public transportation, there are two main options to still take advantage of the 90-minute transfer window. One is to obtain a personalized Rav-Kav card, which can be issued for free to any Israeli citizen or foreign resident who presents a passport (note that driver’s licenses and other state- or U.S. government-issued ID cards won’t be accepted as identification anywhere in Israel without a passport) at any of the Al HaKav locations (including the Jerusalem Central Bus Station by platform 22, Rav Shefa mall on the second floor, the Clal Center off of Agripas St., and Hadar Mall in Talpiot). The main advantage to this type of Rav-Kav is that in the event of its loss, all prepaid tickets can easily and quickly be recovered. On the other hand, getting one in the first place is often a time-consuming and emotionally challenging process (especially to those who are not yet used to Israeli levels of customer service... in other words, nonexistent customer service), and may not always be worth the effort for someone visiting Israel for a short period of time.

Visitors who don’t wish to wait to get a personal farecard should instead purchase an anonymous Rav-Kav card from any bus driver or Egged ticket counter, at the cost of 10 NIS. Even though these cards are not personalized by name, each traveler will need to have a separate Rav-Kav in order to take advantage of the 90-minute transfer window. Both types of Rav-Kav cards can be loaded with pre-purchased 10 or 20 trip cards within Jerusalem (55.20 and 110.40 NIS respectively), single- or round-trip rides on intercity buses, or accumulated value (erech tzavur) in increments of 50 NIS, which can be debited when boarding a bus, train or light rail. Rav-Kav cards are recognized on every mode of transportation in Israel, and are now the prefered form of payment for anyone getting around on public transit.

When faced with all of these details of complicated transportation plans and slightly convoluted Israeli farecards, it’s important to go back to the simple, ancient beauty of Jerusalem. Whether visiting to reconnect to their roots, as Menachem Begin recommended, or to come and take part in the city which Mayor Nir Barkat likened to “a precious, beautiful jewel,” The Jewish Link of New Jersey wishes a safe and pleasant trip to all of our readers planning a visit to Israel’s capital in the coming weeks and months.

For more information on Rav-Kav farecards, Jerusalem’s streamlined transportation network and for help planning any trip on public transit in Israel, please visit jet.gov.il/web/en or call *8787 toll-free from an Israeli phone.

By Tzvi Silver, JLNJ Israel

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