As much as American culture and language have seeped into the Israeli life style, there are still many daily facets of life here in Israel that are quite different from what we’re used to in our home states. As such, even the mundane takes on added significance. Take crosswalks and traffic lights, for example. Since we don’t own a car and therefore walk all over town, the crosswalks and traffic signals have become objects of interest. Often painted with a series of parallel white lines, when a pedestrian steps into the street at a crosswalk, vehicles must stop. Where there are traffic lights, a little green or red figure of a person walking lets you know when you are allowed to cross. Crossing a two-way street can take twice as long as expected; many have pedestrian islands in the middle of the road with two differently timed traffic lights. This requires you to cross half the street with the light to the pedestrian island and wait there for a second light to change before you can continue to the other side. Pedestrians can be seen patiently waiting for the light to turn green even with no cars in sight, and j-walking, crossing in the middle of the block or against the light, is not an expected occurrence. For those of us relocating to the Holy Land from the New York – New Jersey area of the United States, however, this is all easier said than done.
At crosswalks I deliberate: “Are the cars and trucks speeding down the block actually going to stop, should I try to make them stop, or should I wait till they pass?” I am still amazed when I daringly step into the street and the oncoming cars really do stop. The other day I stood and waited on a busy street for traffic to clear when all of a sudden I remembered: “I don’t have to wait. I’m at a marked crosswalk and the cars , trucks, and buses all have to stop for me!” Wow! I feel like Super-olah: stopping speeding buses with a single footstep.
A four-way crossing can be even more complicated to figure out if the stripes to cross the avenue are only on one side of the street and you’re on the other; if I only need to cross the avenue am I expected to needlessly cross the street in order to cross the avenue? I don’t think so. And which New Yorker wants to be delayed waiting for the light when there is no traffic, or waste time by walking to the end of the block, crossing at the corner, and then walking back up the other side when the store you need is right opposite? It really goes against the grain.
All these cogitations about doing something as simple as crossing the street seemed to make a good topic for a blogpost but I wanted an esoteric focus, so here it is: life is like a series of crosswalks. We come to many of them in our lives when we have to make one life-changing decision or another – are the signals clear so we can go ahead, do we wait for them to change, or choose to remain where we are? Some crossings seem easier to navigate than others with clearer signals or fewer options; other roads appear to be fraught with obstacles and crossing will be more hazardous; we have to decide whether we should try to make it across now, wait till it’s easier, or conclude that it’s not the right road to take. And, we always have to know where it is that we want to go, no matter how we get there. A map is a handy thing to have.
Making aliyah is a lot like crossing a big boulevard to an unfamiliar side of town. Prepare as best you can, take your map, run quickly, and pray. Thank G-d we seem to have made it safely across!
One other thing I’ve noticed about Israeli streets – the street names are visible even at night – with actual backlighting or phosphorescent paint. Even when it’s dark, in Israel you can always find your way home.