Leadership – Israeli version

He must have watched me before I first see him, because in the moment that we lock eyes, he already knows that I am in trouble. It’s one of my more helpless moments, when I feel most visible, like on a stage with a spotlight on me, so everyone can see how I mess up. In fact, right now, everyone can literally see me struggling, because I am wandering helplessly up and down the middle aisle of bus no. 480 from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, and it’s full to the last spot, so that I and another woman won’t find seats, and I am nervous about that, especially because the bus has already left the station and is tossing and turning. The third curve is the moment, when I lock eyes with him – a young soldier. He gets up, takes my hand and without a single word moves me only with his eyes, with quiet self-assuredness that seems to be taught in Israeli kindergarten. And he does not only move me: somehow, magically and with hardly any noise or balagan, he pushes me into his seat and then gradually reorganizes the whole bus. People get up, change seats, nobody refuses to move, it only takes a few minutes, but in the end, really magically, he has found a seat for everyone. It feels like dominoes or puzzle pieces rearranging themselves and falling into place.

I know that in Germany there would have been discussions, noise, arguments, embarrassment, many people would have refused to change seats, they wouldn’t have seen the need or the point to get involved – what’s it to them, if someone else has to stand? People would also have questioned the authority of the person trying to move them. My soldier is tall and handsome in his uniform, but he is not exerting his physical presence. There is a real quiet assertiveness around this man, a calm control and he definitely has no fear of judgment from other passengers. He makes me feel safe, “aufgehoben” is a nice German word for that, it means “carried and shielded in a subtle way by one’s hand”. I have experienced that feeling before with many Israelis and in the strangest situations. G. and G.S. operate like this, even when we go out for drinks. They always have an oversight over the complete table, see a “crisis” or uncomfortable situation even moments before it actually takes effect. Their leadership style is frictionless and effective, no debates, no resistance. But a feeling of responsibility at any second.

Without a word, my soldier finally sits down a few rows behind me, when he is done rearranging the bus. We smile at each other. Irrationally, I feel like I have been spared from something uncomfortable. By a stranger that has never seen me before and needn’t have done anything nice for me. When we get out of the bus in Arlosoroff station, he waits for me and walks me to my next bus. We share a little kiss. Turns out: Even modern time magical leaders appreciate a thank you.

I collect great beginnings. Beginnings of songs, of movies, of great articles and books.

This quote by Buzz Bissinger is the most beautiful beginning in my collection. It also captures perfectly what it feels like for me to research and write newspaper articles about Israelis and Israel. The short notes below describe the experiences behind my published texts. They are the fun, silly, absurd, baffled or sad real beginnings of those stories. They sketch what happens before or after I write the actual piece and send it off to the editor, and they are taken from my diary entries about rummaging up and down that little country and its people for no other reason but pure curiosity. 

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