Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Have you heard about the new Rav in Israel? Everybody in Israel knows him well and many are in touch – literally – on a daily basis. He is the Rav of public transportation and his name is RavKav. Actually, he isn’t a “he,” but an “it.”

For anyone who has not traveled on buses or trains in Jerusalem since 2011, let me introduce you to our multi-transport smartcard, RavKav, loosely translated as “multi-line.” An improvement to the system was introduced in January 2019, whereby bus drivers are now free to concentrate on their driving and not deal with money at all. Not only are passengers required to alight only if they have a RavKav on hand, but they cannot load their cards on the bus anymore. The cards themselves can be purchased at designated locations and loaded there. Once you own a card, you can also load it by app on your smartphone or on your computer.

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We locals have more or less learned to be prepared. But what is an innocent and unknowing tourist supposed to do?

A well-known rabbanit visiting Israel from New York delivered a shiur in Jerusalem which I attended. She began the shiur by relating the following experience she had had on the bus in the late afternoon.

After an exhausting but rewarding day traipsing around Jerusalem, she and her teenage daughter headed for the bus rather than walk back across town to her host’s apartment. When she proffered a 20-shekel note to the bus driver, she couldn’t fathom why he wouldn’t accept it. She understood some Hebrew, but couldn’t follow what he was saying about some guy named Rav Kav and that that was why he couldn’t accept her money. “If I can’t pay our fares, we’ll just have to get off and walk,” she determined, and wearily turned to the door.

Fortunately, a sweet Israeli high school girl overheard the conversation. She sprung forward and spoke to the driver in Hebrew at what seemed like a hundred miles an hour, and the rabbanit didn’t understand a word of their conversation. The teenager then explained in her accented but fluent English that they need to pay with a RavKav. Since they didn’t have one, she was offering to pay using her card. The rabbanit was overwhelmed by the generosity of the stranger.

However, the girl’s card was a discounted student card, and whereas she could pay for the daughter, she couldn’t pay for the mother, who needed to pay in full. A middle-aged haredi passenger was also listening in on the tale, and he sprung forward and offered to pay for the mother.

Mi k’amcha Yisrael!” (Who is like the nation of Israel!), the rabbanit exclaimed in awe. By now, all the curious passengers on the bus had overheard the drama and cheered at the rabbanit’s exclamation.

First thing next morning, I bought another RavKav. I already have a RavKav, but mine is discounted for seniors. What would happen, I conjectured, if a tired tourist, or tattooed teenager, or bashful boy alighted, and either didn’t have a RavKav or didn’t have any money left on his card? I wouldn’t be able to pay for them using my senior card. But now that I had a regular card in my possession, I would be able to spring forward and save the day, just as happened to the rabbanit.

I kept the new card in my wallet and my own card with my phone. From then on, I tried to always sit up front on the bus so that I could be the first to help anyone in need.

Days passed, then weeks, and my new card remained idle.

One 90-degree-plus morning in Jerusalem I took the bus to town on errands. At the bus stop on the way home, I reached into my bag for my RavKav and it wasn’t in its usual place. I searched through my telephone case, bag, and purchases, but it didn’t turn up. Had I dropped it somewhere? My bus passed by – but I knew better than to get on without a RavKav. I keep my senior card in my phone case, not my wallet; nonetheless, I searched through my wallet again. This time I noticed the spare RavKav that I had purchased to help out someone in need.

Well, at that moment I certainly fit the description of someone in need, and used the card to hop on the next bus home.

I had wanted to do a mitzvah and help a stranger, and in the end I helped myself. I’m not sure if that counts as a mitzvah, so meanwhile, my spare RavKav is waiting for a new customer.

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