A Hopeful Story
It's no secret that Israel is turning 60 with much less joy and optimism than when it turned 50. Yet despite Israel's security, economic, and social problems, one still encounters moments of grace and hope when one least expects it. Here is a story of one such occasion.
It is a glorious spring day. My daughter Rebecca is given leave from her army job of working with at-risk youth in order to travel to Tel Aviv for basketball practice with Israel's 20-and-under national team. On her way back, Rebecca takes a train from Tel Aviv to Modi'in, and then she decides to share a cab to Givat Ze'ev with another woman. A little past the checkpoint (marking the "Green Line" of the territory that Israel conquered in 1967), traffic comes to a complete stop. The army has apparently closed the highway in order to neutralize a suspicious object. Rebecca soon loses patience inside the cab, as do many other people around her in their own cars and trucks. Rebecca then remembers that she has her basketball with her and she takes it out and starts bouncing it on the road.
It turns out that most of the men leaning against their vehicles are Arab workers. The men study the girl bouncing a basketball in the middle of Highway 443--and then they realize that she's good. Some of them whistle and motion to her. Initially, Rebecca is uneasy (this was just a few days after the Merkaz Harav terror incident), but then one man addresses her and asks her to throw him the ball. She throws him the ball. Within a few minutes, Rebecca finds herself in a circle with about 10 Arab men, who throw the ball back and forth. Soon one of the guys places the ball on the ground and does some fancy stuff to it with his feet. He then kicks the ball to his friend, who also skillfully handles the ball with his feet--and then it's a no brainer: in short order a 6 x 6 soccer game is set up on the deserted oncoming portion of the highway, with two rocks placed at each end to serve as goal posts.
A few "shababniks" come by (these are ultra-orthodox young men who should be at a yeshiva studying Torah—since that is the reason that they have been excused from military service—but who much prefer to chill and hang out). The Arabs immediately see that the shababniks are talentless and they are made the game's goalkeepers.
Meanwhile, the woman who is sharing Rebecca's cab keeps calling to Rebecca, urging her to return to the cab, saying: "they're Arabs after all and you never know what they could do to you." What Rebecca is concerned about, however, is that the traffic will suddenly start up again and she will be stranded on the 443. But the driver of her cab, himself an Arab, assures her: "Don't you worry. You just go on ahead and play--I'm not going to leave you behind."
The game feels like a hafla (party). The truck drivers crank up their sound systems and Arab music bounces off the surrounding picturesque hills. Drinks and food magically appear. There's a bus or two on the road, and those still inside press their faces against the windows to get a better look at the game. Rebecca is the only woman playing, but she is used to this. She is very impressed by the ball-handling, and she can't get over the fact that the men continue to smoke even through complicated athletic moves. Rebecca notes that the Arabs show her respect and play cleanly with her (they are a bit rougher with each other). Afterwards Rebecca tells me that these guys were the best that she has ever played with.
And then, after a number of goals are scored by both sides (final score: 6-5 in favor of Rebecca's team), the traffic starts to move. The empty cans of soda and bags of chips are collected, people wave goodbye to each other, the men get back into their trucks, and Rebecca gets back into her cab. She told me: "I saw that they were Arabs right from the beginning, and I was a little scared, but then we started to play and it was all right."
Postscript: In April, Rebecca was chosen to be one of the starting 5 on the "All-Israel" girls basketball team.
Copyright 2008, Teddy Weinberger