“I must go say goodbye to the Kotel before I head back to New York tomorrow!” my mother-in-law announced. It was the morning of the seventh day of a jam-packed Chanukah (which coincidentally had included countless jam-packed sufganiyot as well), and my son, who was on vacation from yeshiva that day, immediately volunteered to accompany her to Yerushalayim.
“Are you coming too?” she asked my bent-over form as I swept the dining room and kitchen from the aftermath of yet another Chanukah party. “Too much to do,” I replied. But after Mom went out to purchase last-minute gifts to bring back with her, I reconsidered. As much as I really did have an excessively long to-do list and no great desire to shlep around on public transportation, I owed it to my wonderful mother-in-law to devote some quality time to her before her imminent departure. So when she returned home, I told her that I had decided to join her after all.
We caught the 1:35 p.m. bus at one of its first stops, so we had our choice of comfortable seats. However, because of the high demand for buses over the chag, ours was one of the non-Egged tour buses that had been drafted into service. Instead of paying when we got on, the bus had to stop shortly before we approached Yerushalayim, and an Egged agent boarded and manually swiped all the Rav Kavs of the many passengers on board.
“That guy should have retired long ago!” my mother-in-law observed with obvious amusement. Sure enough, it took at least 20 minutes for the elderly agent to complete his rounds, chatting amicably with the passengers along the way. He was but one of the many Israeli “characters” we were to encounter on that exciting day.
By the time we made it to our next bus stop, it was already past 2:30, and we debated our options for reaching the Kotel. We tried to hail any number of passing cabs, but were ultimately forced to concede defeat and instead walk to the bus stop where we could catch the #1 line. Apparently a fair percentage of the country’s population had decided to do the same. We miraculously did make it onto the double bus, which was packed like sardines, and we held on for dear life.
In a modern-day neis Chanukah, three out of the four occupants of the front seats where we were standing soon disembarked, and first my mother-in-law, and later I, were able to sit for the remainder of what would prove to be a virtually interminable drive in heavy traffic. The bus driver signaled to the hordes of frustrated people at the various bus stops that he could not stop for them, but some brave/foolhardy souls literally stood in front of the bus trying to block its path in their frenzied determination to get on their way.
The woman who sat beside me for the rest of the journey was one of the most interesting characters we had ever encountered (in what no doubt must be the country boasting the most characters per capita in the universe). She hailed from Tiveria, and had been travelling with her two companions since early that morning.
“Today is my 63rd birthday!” she announced, and then proceeded to ask me for a gift. I rummaged through my bag and presented her with a pocket pack of tissues to mark the occasion. “These will come in handy at the Kotel,” she said approvingly. Then she proceeded to share her life story, photos of her kids, and a birthday bracha for me. Not too surprisingly, she apparently moonlighted as a medical clown. Despite the arduously long and winding route in mind-numbing traffic, she kept the entire front section of the bus entertained, and at times laughing hysterically.
We finally reached the Kotel after 4 p.m., some two-and-a-half hours after we had set out. My poor, petite mother-in-law wiggled her way to the Wall, only to have to later repeat Shemoneh Esrei after nearly being knocked over several times by oblivious fellow worshipers.
In the end, we decided to stay for the final night of Chanukah candle-lighting, both of the impressive torches atop an adjacent wall, and the magnificent menorah by the Kotel itself. Then we enjoyed music, singing, dancing, and (admittedly not as much) the requisite speeches by attending dignitaries, before plowing through the crowds to make our way home.
“There had better be lots of buses lined up at the station!” declared my mother-in-law as we made our exit. Alas, not a single bus was in sight, just one hundred or more prospective passengers.
Again our efforts to secure a cab failed miserably; we decided to try our luck outside the city walls instead. Here the bus stops were less crowded, but most likely the packed buses would not stop to take on additional passengers. The taxi drivers ignored us once more, so we began walking uphill toward Mamilla and the light rail.
“This is the longest possible route to take!” cautioned my son. But somehow we kept on walking. And walking. Bubby was a phenomenal walker from time immemorial, walking miles a day with a walking partner even into her high 80s, but soon she began to lag and request a brief rest, and another…
B’chasdei Hashem we finally stumbled upon a cab with three frum girls piling in and one additional seat available. Fortunately, my mother-in-law took the cash I handed her and agreed to meet us in town.
My son and I continued our brisk trek through the inky black but beautiful streets of Yerushalayim as we made our never-ending way around the imposing walls of the Old City, and then past the bustling crowds at Mamilla Mall. Next we took the light rail to our designated meeting place and easily spotted Bubby, who incredibly had arrived only a mere ten minutes earlier.
The first bus we tried to board was already overfull and refused to stop, but the second one fortuitously still had some seats available. Baruch Hashem we were able to catch our breath and return home happy but spent to light our own Chanukah menorahs and eat a final Chanukah dinner together – all the while marveling at the unplanned Zos Chanukah adventure we had been privileged to share at the eleventh hour before Bubby’s much-too-soon departure.