April 15, 2024
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April 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I have a confession to make: I pick up hitchhikers.

I know what that sounds like. I’ve lived most of my life in a world where the concept of hitchhikers conjures up images of shady movies that usually involve a goalie mask and a chainsaw.

Yet, here I am, I would like to believe pretty much sane, and still picking up strangers in my car. And I have no plans of stopping.

If you would have told me five years ago while we were still living in Teaneck that one day I would voluntarily be choosing to drive complete strangers, I would have called you crazy. Flash forward four and a half years from my aliyah and I estimate I have given over 150 tremps (the Hebrew colloquialism for rides given to hitchhikers).

Truth be told, the very concept of hitchhiking isn’t really new to me. The first time I hitchhiked I was 18 and naive, which in retrospect is probably not the best combination for traveling with strangers. I was studying in Michlelet Orot in Elkana, deep in the Shomron. There were times that I felt so far away and so far removed that the only way to “escape” for just a few hours was to hitchhike. And so I tremped with my good friend from Montreal. A lot. We got to meet very special people and see the country in a much different and authentic light.

As a parent and a more seasoned adult, I unfortunately know all too well that the world, though filled with wonderful and truly good people, also harbors individuals who are dramatically the opposite. I stood shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other Israelis begging, praying and crying for the release of three precious young souls kidnapped while hitchhiking home just a couple years ago. Even as I write this, I still need to stop and collect myself.

So how come I continue? Even more so, how do I even allow my two teenage sons to hitchhike? Well, first and foremost, I do have very clear rules. For example, my sons are allowed to hitchhike from Shaalvim, where the buses run few and far between and where most times they recognize their drivers. They are also allowed to tremp from inside our Yishuv and from two other trempiadas (designated areas for catching a tremp) nearby.

As to my self-imposed rules, I have limited my picking up of hitchhikers to just three or four areas from which I feel comfortable. Every Israeli who chooses to pick up hitchhikers establishes his or her own personal set of rules.

Let me be clear. I don’t lead a dangerous lifestyle. I buckle as soon as I get in the car. I never text while driving and I don’t even allow my 12-year-old to sit in the front seat when most of his friends have been doing so for a while now. You see, to most Israelis, tremping represents something different altogether. For many Israelis, including high schoolers, tremping sometimes is the only way to get where they need to be. They rely on tremping and they rely on the grace of passersby.

Our family knows only too well what the grace of passersby feels like. This past Pesach, our family was vacationing in the North, and en route to Netanya where we were intending to spend the last days of chag with my sister, our van had other plans. Despite whispering silent prayers for our car to make it to the top of a very steep incline in the Galil, we were forced to pull our extremely overheated car over to the side of a busy road. At that precise moment, another car pulled over as well. Turns out there was nothing wrong with his car. He noticed that we were in severe car trouble and simply pulled over to help. “Your car is overheated,” he said. “Let me cool it down,” he offered. And he did just that. He then went on his way, wishing us a chag sameach. Our car did not make it to Netanya. We ended up barely making it up the hill just to be able to pull into a gas station. Within seconds of parking our van, billowing with engine smoke, two other cars drove over to us and another two guys tried to offer us help and mechanical advice. For about 45 minutes on an erev chag, these two men tried to help us figure out what to do. We ended up ditching the van and cabbing it to Netanya, although I’m thoroughly convinced that somebody at that gas station would have invited my family of six home with them for the last days of Pesach.

The entire way to Netanya I couldn’t help but reflect on that experience. Only in Israel would I have been comfortable to have strangers helping me at the side of the road and in a strange gas station in nowhere-ville. And only in Israel would I have that sense of achdut, solidarity, while stranded with my husband and four kids, a pile of luggage and beach paraphernalia, a couple of hours before candle lighting, in the middle of nowhere.

For me, that’s why I continue to offer tremps. Despite terror attacks and truly horrible incidents, we still walk through the golden gates of Jerusalem to kiss the cool stones of the Kotel. We drink cafe hafuch with friends on Ben Yehuda. We drive through checkpoints in the Gush, whispering to our brave soldiers words of gratitude and silent prayers of protection. We take buses everywhere. And we offer cool water to the Arab construction workers building our neighbor’s home.

Are we wary?

Yes.

Are we cautious?

Very.

But we also live life—fully and for each other.

So, if you see me driving around with a rabbi in the front seat, a soldier and a pregnant woman in the middle row, and my kids squeezed in the back, please don’t call the police. It’s really just another typical day.

By Esti Rosen Snukal

 Esti Rosen Snukal made aliyah with her husband and four boys from Teaneck, New Jersey. She is an adopted mother to a lone soldier from Highland Park and a volunteer for the Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin. Esti documents many of her aliyah adventures on her Facebook page and can be reached at [email protected].

 

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