Native-born Israelis have long been known as “sabras” — like the prickly fruit of the cactus, they are thick and rough on the outside, but softer, sweeter, more caring on the inside. The toughness of Israelis often is evident in business dealings, on the highways, in lines at the airport, and so forth.
More characteristic of the values nurtured in this beautiful Jewish state are the small but powerful myriad acts of kindness so often carried out to assist those in need.
One rainy, cold day in Israel this past December, my wife and I went shopping at the Moriah Center. While driving home to our apartment in Modi’in we had the misfortune to have a “puncture” (a blowout) on the right front tire of our recently rented car.
As newcomers to our apartment in the Buchman section of Modi’in, we knew very few of our neighbors. Given my age, 73, and my back problems, I knew that changing the tire on my own was not an option. We called the rental company and were shocked by what we were told — there would be a long wait, a $230 charge to change the tire, and then hundreds of dollars to purchase a new one.
We were not pleased.
We called our son, who lives in Modi’in, but he was at work in Jerusalem. He did have a suggestion for us, one that sent us into a number of “Jewish values” experiences. He gave us the phone number of Yedidim, a nationwide organization of volunteers who assist distressed drivers — at no cost. They request only that you consider making a small donation to Yedidim — which means, aptly, “Friends” — after the assistance is rendered. Amazing!
We called Yedidim and, situated precariously at a bus stop, waited patiently, knowing the wait would not be brief. But after 45 minutes, we called a friend in the neighborhood for advice.
Values experience #2: Within minutes, our friend and his wife appeared, bringing with them a small compression device, which they used to temporarily re-inflate the tire just enough to be able to move the car a short distance to safety.
Values experience #3: My son called to find out about our progress. We told him that hopefully we would soon be moving the car to a safer spot. David phoned a close friend, who works from home in the neighborhood. That friend told David that if we could move the car a few blocks, closer to his house, he could take a short break from his workday and perform an act of chesed by changing the tire.
Values experience #4: In the meantime, seeing the senior-citizen Silversteins and our similarly aged friends slowly compressing air into our tire, a young man — perhaps in his late 20s — stopped and asked, “What’s the problem?” Hearing of our situation, no further questions asked, he proceeded to quickly and quietly change the tire. When he had finished, I thanked him profusely and offered to buy him lunch. I also asked his name, to which he responded, Yaniv. He politely refused any of my offers for a reward. The name Yaniv means “he will prosper,” and for him, “prosperity” clearly derives from performing acts of kindness.
Values experience #5. A member of Yedidim soon arrived. Although our tire had been changed, we felt the need to do something for this volunteer, who had gone out of his way to assist us. Like Yaniv, he politely refused. He simply told us how we could make a small contribution to the Modi’in branch of Yedidim. Then off he went, with a handshake and a smile. Quite a mentsch!
Values experience #6. Our two friends directed us to their favorite tire shop, located in the nearby Yishberu Center. They were confident that the folks at Yaniv (another good sign!) Levi Tires could patch the hole in the damaged tire at a reasonable price. We arrived at the shop, and a staff member at Yaniv Levi examined the flat carefully. He determined that the tire was beyond repair. Since he could not fix our problem, and although he had spent a considerable amount of time on our behalf, the charge was zero.
Values experience #7: We next faced the daunting task of driving slowly with the doughnut replacement tire on Israeli Highway #1, going back to the main rental center at Ben-Gurion Airport. By chance, we noticed a local office of the rental company’s sales division very close to the tire shop. Perhaps someone there could offer assistance! One of the employees, with another inspiring name, Kesem (magic), jumped into action to help us. She examined the damaged tire, looked at our rental contract, and calculated that we had driven only 100 kilometers. She concluded that we had been given a bald, defective tire. “This was not your fault,” she said. “I will make certain that you do not have to pay anything and that the tire will be replaced around the corner at our affiliated tire shop.” After 30 minutes of concentrated effort, Kesem had worked her magic. We proceeded to the affiliated tire center seeking official confirmation of her assessment.
Values experience #8: The repair man at the Rental Company’s affiliated tire shop agreed to examine our defective tire. He swiftly and expertly completed his inspection, confirmed to the rental company that we were not at fault, and replaced the tire gratis. We were on our way back to our apartment — most grateful and paying nothing either for changing the tire or for a replacement tire!
Values experience #9: The next day I learned that the two friends who had been with us during the initial travail had purchased a Shabbat cake at the Moriah Center’s bakery. Amazingly, they tracked down Yaniv, the mysterious tire-changing mitzvah man, and gave him a Shabbat treat for his family. A private and much appreciated gesture of good will!
Sabras can be tough, but when encountering folks in genuine need, many arise to the occasion. I had been privileged to experience Israeli Jewish values in action, again and again. Am echad, lev echad!
Rabbi Alan Silverstein, Ph.D., became rabbi emeritus of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell in 2020; he began there in 1979. He’s headed the Conservative movement’s International Rabbinical Assembly, the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues, the Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel, and Mercaz Olami.