Yom revi'i, 3 Elul 5768/3 September 2008, Wednesday.
The Israeli ahead of me in line sees that I have only a few items, and offers me his place.
Three people jump up from their seats to help the mother lift her heavily-laden stroller onto the bus. Two middle-aged ladies take charge of her toddler, as the mother gets settled into the seat someone else has offered her. Several hands of various colors and ages pass her fare to the bus driver; and then several hands pass back her ticket and change.
Beautiful teenage children, one after the other, wish me "Shalom" as I pass them on the street. They make eye contact, and smile.
Cashiers in the supermarket point out the cheaper prices and the better deals. They speak like women helping out other women rather than like shills for any particular product.
Four strangers in a car disavow ownership of a 20-shekel bill that has been found on the floor of the car. It is decided that the owner of the car will put the money into tzedaka, rather than accidentally transgressing a Torah law.
A young Israeli in a bright red shirt, his carefully spiked and gelled hairdo unencumbered by a kipah, rushes to help an elderly woman who has fallen in the street. He slowly readjusts her shopping bag and her walker, and assists her to the middle of the sidewalk in front of his trendy hair salon. "Are you okay?" he asks. "Do you need something to drink?" He stands outside with her for several minutes, until she is steady enough to move on.
A bus driver sings Shabbat melodies with an autistic boy, who is clearly a regular passenger. The driver pulls up as close as possible to people's homes, because "on erev Shabbat, people shouldn't have to go so far with their Shabbat groceries."
A credit card is dropped in the Misrad HaPnim. Several Israelis vie for the honor of fulfilling the mitzvah of returning the lost property, even though it means scouring the building for the owner. Only one of eight participants in this exercise appears to be religious.
A teenager's wallet disappears. Nine months later, it is returned, with ID and 100 shekels intact. Exactly as he lost it.
I find myself a few shekels short when paying for my groceries. The cashier says, "Don't worry. Pay me tomorrow."
Most Israelis speak patiently and slowly when asked, enunciating like foreign language teachers. They repeat several times, as requested. This includes the woman who calls from my health care provider, to remind me that a yearly checkup is available to me now. I thank her for her patience. She laughs sweetly, and wishes me a very good day.
Everywhere in the world, one can find people who will be rude and self-centered. And yes, there are certainly cultural differences between what Americans view as acceptable, and what Israelis will tolerate. Personal space is different the world over.
But sometimes we repeat our disappointments in people so often that the negative stereotype is more clearly remembered than the positive one.