Miri Maoz-Ovadia
Miri Maoz-Ovadia Miri Maoz-Ovadia, married to Shlomo and mother of Naveh, lives in Neve Tzuf. She is the overseas spokespersons coordinator for the Binyamin Regional Council. Sunday 30.11.14 1 Comments 16161 views

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

There are many common modes of transportation throughout the world: bicycle, car, bus, taxi, train. In Israel, there’s one more category that’s just as common as the others – the hitched ride. Although you’ll find hitchhikers all over Israel, most of them are in areas with limited transportation. For better or for worse, Judea and Samaria meet that description.

Growing up, I gradually learned hitchhiking etiquette. Hitchhikers have their own sign language which every beginning hitchhiker must learn. Otherwise, communication with the drivers is doomed to fail. Those who want to take the initiative and skip the sign language make a placard; some even put in a little extra effort and add a smiley face – hoping to evoke the empathy of the passing drivers.

I have learned which drivers are worth travelling with and which are not. Who drives too fast and doesn’t bother adhering to the traffic rules. Who is flexible and doesn’t mind making a slight detour to bring you closer to your destination. Who chats the entire drive, making your chances of catching up on your sleep non-existent. I have even learned which drivers never stop (why???), so I don’t get my hopes up when I see their cars approaching…I used to get angry at them, but as I grew up I realized that picking up hitchhikers is a type of hospitality – a good deed and not an obligation.

I spent years hitchhiking, starting from whenever I missed the school bus in my high school days, through my Sunday morning journeys when I did National Service. I continued to travel to and from university, and later hitchhiked on my daily trips to work. I spent over a decade on the roads, thanks to the open-heartedness of the residents of my settlement, acquaintances or even total strangers (thank heaven my father is not reading this blog).

That period of my life was full of countless stories of drivers and rides, divided into various genres: comedy, action, thriller…Even love stories feature as one of the genres. There was one ride in which I chatted the whole way with the driver – who wore a cowboy hat and had nice eyes that met mine via the rear-view mirror. Right after he let me off, I phoned one of my girlfriends and told her I had just missed an amazing opportunity. I had just left a ride with a young man who could have been the love of my life, but now I had no idea how to get in touch with him… The man, however, was clever enough to find a way to reach me, and we actually dated for a while, but that was all.

Today, the scene is reversed, and I am the one behind the wheel. Today I am the redeemer. I hold the keys to the hitchhikers’ fates: who will reach their destination sooner and who will wait at the bus stop for a few minutes or even a few hours. Today I understand that picking up hitchhikers is not something to be taken for granted. Sometimes it means foregoing a private conversation with my husband after not speaking with him the entire day, or missing an opportunity to chat with my girlfriends. In the summer, the hitchhiker might be all sweaty, and no air conditioner is powerful enough to clear the air inside the car… There are times that I’ve had to take a detour because of backed-up traffic, and a well-meant attempt to help a hitchhiker ends up taking him farther away from his destination.

All these thoughts rose to the surface last week, on the eve of the big storm. I passed the bus stop on my way home from work and it was already raining hard. I picked up a few hitchhikers, and the last one, who continued with me to Jerusalem, was a woman of about 60 who looked like a not-so-new new immigrant. As we neared Jerusalem, I asked her where she was going and was amazed by her answer. She told me that about two years ago she had broken her arm and was hospitalized in the orthopedic ward of one of the hospitals in Jerusalem. When she was discharged, she was so grateful for the dedicated care she had received that she decided to volunteer at the ward. Since then, every week for the past two years, she hitchhikes to the hospital to volunteer. Her story was so touching that without thinking twice, I changed my route and took her all the way to the hospital.

Even though that detour added 20 minutes to my own journey, I felt good when I got home. If that woman could continue doing her good deed for two years, the least I could do was give her a ride and bring her nearer to her destination.

I’ve often felt that I learn so much from the guests entering my car. The things I learn and the good feeling I get from offering such simple, basic assistance to those who need it make picking up hitchhikers worthwhile and important.

Simply put, as one of those people who travel every day, I feel the need to apologize in advance to you, my fellow travelers everywhere. Sometimes I have no energy, and just feel like a quiet drive alone, or I feel like talking on my cell phone without having to restrict my conversation. But don’t judge anyone who doesn’t stop for you. Try to understand them. On the other hand, I promise to make the extra effort even when it’s difficult, to return the favor to humanity for all those years when I relied on the kindness of others.

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