Sherut drivers: Keys to peace?

Here’s a lesson I learn over and over again, as I commute back and forth to university.

In Israel, there are minivan cabs that go intercity; it’s called a sherut in Hebrew, which is the same word for service.

I frequent the sheruts on my way home from university between Bnei Brak, a very charedi (ultra orthodox) area, and Jerusalem. Often, the sherut is already mostly filled with charedi passengers by the time it gets to me, dressed in my jeans and short sleeves.

There is a delicate science to managing peace in the sherut. Charedi men and women do not sit next to each other, which means, when I get on, I automatically scan the van for a seat next to a woman or a seat next to the occasional secular or Arab man.

When a man or a woman alight the sherut, and there are no open seats of the proper gender, the sherut shuffle happens: People look around and try to work it out. That is, if the new passenger is charedi themselves. When it’s a secular straining to make it work, there is sometimes a clear resistance, and that’s when the sherut driver makes his mark.

The sherut driver is sometimes charedi and sometimes not. However, either way, his first priority is always one thing: filling his van and making the most money out of each trip. Which is totally fair, seeing as this is his livelihood.

So, whether the charedis are givingt the new passenger a hard time and dirty looks, or they are welcoming in finding a solution, the driver is all about making that solution happen. “You move there, and she can fit there.” “Go to the back, and he can sit up here.” And then, everyone is satisfied; charedi customers, new passenger and most of all, fully-paid driver.

Money as motivator. It sounds crude, but I have always believed it is the root of international conflict, including the Palestinian Israeli situation. But at the end of the day, we all want to feed our families. It’s a service humans live for and pride themselves on, and that includes the drivers of the sherut.


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