That was my introduction to picking up travelers, at bus stations and hitchhiking spots.
Since then I have picked up and dropped off hitchhikers in Yehuda, Shomron and Aza, may it be speedily rebuilt. Although I would never pick up a hitchhiker in the city, I have no problem picking them up in Yesha.
From my point of view I am not worried about picking up someone suspicious from the hitchhiking stations. I pick up hikers from groups standing together. These youth would know immediately if there was someone who was not one of them. When they all stand together comfortably, I have no doubt that I am safe.
But, are the hitchhikers safe? That is not a question that an outsider can answer. Outsiders have associations with the word hitchhiking which do not apply to what is happening in Yehuda and Shomron where hitchhiking is a common mode of transportation. It is very efficient. It is part of the lifestyle for the youth, and adults, of Yesha.
The argument that it is safer to get into a bus, than into a car with a stranger, is hardly an argument in this particular case. Residents of Yesha know which cars to get into and which are dangerous. They have to be forced into the ‘wrong’ car. So it makes no difference whether the hitchhiker is waiting for a ride or a bus, it is the fact that they are on the road that makes them potential victims. To tell them not to be on the road, is to tell them not to do what has to be done. They have to be able to get from place to place.
A few months ago I was driving up to the Shomron and back to Hevron on Erev Shabbos. North of Yerushalaim there were dozens of youth at numerous spots hitching rides, all going to their Shabbos destinations. I picked up as many as my car would hold and wished I had rented a van so I could have picked up more. By the time I was headed back south, I was pleased to note that almost all the youth had been picked up.
Although I don’t get a chance to Shmooze with all my passengers, I learn a lot from the ones I do speak with and I enjoy coming in contact with all of them. These are the hilltop youth. I respect their healthy lifestyle and their dedication to Eretz Yisroel. It hurts to see their environment threatened by the government – a part of that environment being their mode of transportation, i.e. hitchhiking.
A hidden advantage of picking up hitchhikers is the chance to do Mivtzaim. One time a soldier got into my car in Kiryat Arba and rode all the way to Yerushalaim. When we first started speaking he told me that he had just started serving at the Tel Rumeida base in Hevron and that in his opinion there should be no Jews living in Hevron. By the time we got to Rehov HaNeviim where he got off, he realized how important it was for Jews to be in Hevron. I gave him compact Siddur-Tehillim-Tanya-Pushka and he really appreciated the gift.
Following the attempted abduction of two girls and the abduction and murder of Eliyahu Asheri, may Hashem avenge his blood, there has been discussion on what should be done to deal with the question of how to keep the youth from the danger of being kidnapped while hitchhiking. The suggestions include: no more hitchhiking, hitchhiking within security fences only and never hitchhike alone. One solution would be to increase bus transportation in the area.
Women in Green said that just as we did not stop riding buses when they were being bombed, we cannot stop hitching rides. Women in Green seem to have the best understanding of the situation.
Increasing bus service sounds good but is not sound. The hitchhiking system is very efficient. Supplying enough busses to duplicate the number of passing cars, willing to take in passengers, will never happen, so the youth would actually be waiting longer by the side of the road if they wait for busses. As mentioned above, terrorists do not care if their victim is waiting or a passing car or a bus. And once there is a bus schedule, then the terrorists will know the best time at each location to stage their attacks.
The youth cannot just stop hitchhiking. It would affect their everyday life. Their freedom of movement is part of their culture. These youth are very precious. They represent a brighter future in Eretz Yisroel. [I hesitate to mention it, but an alternative group of youth is the Israeli Gay Youth Organization. It makes one realize the support we must give to our Hilltop youth who uphold Jewish values. It is not a question of Jewish values or no values. It is a question of Jewish values or the extreme opposite.]
Immediately following the news of Asheri’s disappearance, a Psak Din was declared by a few rabbis, led by pro-Disengagement Rabbi Aviner, forbidding hitchhiking. This Psak Din is comparable to closing down Machne Yehuda, the main open market in Yerushalaim which has been the site of bombings for decades. No Rabbi ever said to close down Machne Yehuda. They expect the government to increase the security, which is what has happened. The Shomron is not a vast area. It can also be secured.
In the last few months there has been a reduction of security on the roads of Yesha which has brought the corresponding increase in terror activities. Rather than tell the youth to stop hitching rides, tell the army to send more soldiers back to guard the roads.
A second Psak Din has come out, this one by Rabbis Avraham Shapira and Dov Lior, which is more reasonable. Instead of forbidding hitchhiking it forbids standing in dangerous places.
Two things will happen if the youth do not hitchhike. First, not all will stop and the ones who continue will be in greater danger and second, stopping the hitchhiking undermines the routine of the youth. It risks making life in Yesha less appealing to them. They may choose to live elsewhere if they cannot even travel the short distances between communities in Yehuda and Shomron.
It is no secret that the government wants to make these areas Judenrein. If they can make life difficult enough, through reducing security, they might get the population to move out for their own reasons. Then the government will not be saddled with the responsibility of caring for them. The Psak Din of forbidding hitchhiking seems to be falling into line with government policy of making living in Yesha more difficult.
With the hitchhikers gone, the roads will be relinquished to the Arabs, whereas if there is an increase in hitchhiking there will have to be an increase in security and the nation will be safer. I wish the Rabbis had called for a National Hitchhiking Day where everyone has to either become a hitchhiker or give rides.
Crown Heights is not a safe place. It is safer than it used to be but it is still far from safe. In the 1970’s Jews were being murdered here. The Rebbe never said to change our lifestyle or to run away. We were to pressure the police for better protection and form our own security watches. The Rebbe instructed us to have a Siddur, Tehillim, Tanya and Tzedakah box in our homes and our vehicles as extra spiritual protection (in addition to Kosher Mezuzot.) We had to do what ever we could to protect ourselves and stop the crime without canceling events and going into hiding. If the Rebbe did not want us running from our community in Brooklyn… how much more so would this apply to communities in Eretz Yisroel! Our homeland!
Due to the success of the Rebbe’s advice to have the Siddur, Tehilim, Tanya and Tzedaka box, the books have been printed in one compact volume with a cover that has a pouch for the Tzedaka. It now comes in a size that fits into a pocket, and it is still readable. It is popular with soldiers. As extra protection, hitchhikers should carry this, again, in addition to Kosher Mezuzahs on their homes.
In Tehillim it says: Su MaiRah, V’Asaei Tov, do away with evil and do good. We have to stay focused. Terror is evil. For the youth in Yehuda and the Shomron, hitchhiking is good. Do away with terror… keep hitchhiking!