“Don’t forget your driver’s license,” called out Mendel to his wife Beila as she hurriedly packed their suitcase for their four day trip to Europe.
“What for? I’m not going to drive in a strange country. You’ll do the driving. I barely drive much here in Israel.”
They had just celebrated their son’s bar mitzvah, which they had organized and catered entirely themselves and felt in need of a short cheap break to relax a bit. Someone had found them a real bargain on the internet.
Their three children were safely housed with their grandparents for the few days, two of them were already old enough to spend most of their day in yeshiva ketana or cheder and the youngest one would really enjoy getting spoiled a bit by Bubby and Zeidy.
They were almost totally winging it, as was their habit. They had their flight tickets and had booked a car, which awaited them at Geneva airport. But other than that, they decided to see what they could find. They couldn’t really afford a good hotel. After all, the reason they had catered their own bar mitzvah was to save money, so they weren’t about to spend what they had saved on a vacation a week later.
They landed in Geneva in the early afternoon. Their new neighbor, an immigrant from France, had advised them that it was cheaper to hire a car through the French section of Geneva airport than the Swiss side. But they hadn’t thought to ask him what exactly was meant by an airport that straddled two countries.
Most of Geneva airport is in Switzerland and that’s the part where you disembark from your flight. It was only after searching for their car hire office and presenting their online voucher that they discovered that the French office was on the other side of the airport and off they went again.
By now it was almost dark and they wanted to be off and driving as soon as possible. Driving in a strange country is bad enough, but driving in the dark as well, added an extra unwanted dimension to the adventure.
They presented their pre-paid voucher to the clerk in the French office, he took out their car keys and said to Mendel, “Driving license please.”
He handed the clerk his license and the clerk looked at it and said, “Credit card please.”
“But we’ve paid for the car in advance.”
“Yes but we still need your credit card details as a kind of insurance in case you never bring the car back or you have an accident.”
“But you have all our credit card details from when we paid for the car.”
“No sir,” he explained patiently. “ You paid some online agents, not us. They will pass the money on to us eventually, but we have no records of your payment details. So please, sir, we need your credit card.”
Mendel turned to Beila. “OK, give him the credit card.”
The clerk peered at the card and said, “Sorry we can’t use this card. It’s in your wife’s name and we need the driving license and credit card to be in the same name. Please give us a credit card in your name, sir.”
“I don’t have one. We only have one card and it’s in my wife’s name. But she also has a driving license so let’s do the whole thing in her name.”
“Fine sir. Madame, may I see your license please.”
“Well, um, it’s not here,” said Beila, wishing desperately she’d heeded her husband’s request to bring it along. “But I can make a phone call and have someone go round to my home and fax a copy of it or scan it and send it by e-mail.”
“No sorry we have to see the original.”
“But you can’t refuse to give us the car. We’ve paid for it.”
“I’m sorry but that’s between you and the agent you paid on the internet,” explained the clerk.” We have received no money so we won’t be able to refund you. But neither can we give you the car. Those are the rules.”
The small section of this French part of the airport had been almost deserted all the time they were there. It seemed it was only used by people looking for a cheaper car-hire deal. Mendel and Beila were huddled together talking in Hebrew trying to work out what their options were. No car…no hotel…and no way to travel around looking for a hotel.
Suddenly Mendel was tapped on the shoulder. They turned around and there stood an obviously frum looking Jewish man. “Can I help?” He asked in Hebrew, smiling. “It sounds like you have some sort of problem. I just came over to sit here in the peace and quiet while I wait for my ongoing flight and the only language I hear is Hebrew.”
Mendel quickly explained their predicament, thanked him for his interest, but said that there was nothing he could do to help.
“But there is. I have a driving license and a credit card. I’ll hire the car for you.”
Mendel and Beila stared at him. “But you don’t even know us.”
“So what. A Yid doesn’t help another one when he’s in trouble?”
“I’ll give you a few hundred Euros as guarantee if you like,” said Mendel. “I mean, I hope they never need to use your credit card, as we have paid already. But you still can’t just go off not knowing what may happen.”
“No need. Here’s my phone number in Jerusalem. We’ll be in touch when you get back.”
And with that he handed over his credit card and license to the clerk, and within a few minutes Mendel and Beila had the keys to their car and were off on their way.