Five-Star Jews


Photo Credit: Rabbi YY Rubinstein

Rabbi YY Rubinstein

I grabbed an Uber after I flew back to New York a few weeks ago. I like being able to simply take out my cell phone and summon an Uber or a Lyft; it’s so unlike the usual ordeal of getting into a yellow cab at JFK.

Uber drivers are driving their own cars. That means that they are clean and tidy and the heating and air-conditioning works.


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Maybe it’s just me, but I like it when you’re tired after a long flight, it’s 90 degrees outside, and you get into a car and the air is cool. Then there is the added luxury that these cars’ shocks work, too – such a comfort if you’ve just come off a flight that experienced severe turbulence.

The last yellow cab I took after a flight had an aluminum hose that was duct-taped to the air vent in the driver’s dashboard where the cool air was working – as opposed to where I was sitting where it didn’t. This was stuck through the tiny window separating driver and passengers (or “victims” as I have come to think of us).

I’ve experienced this cutting-edge technology in several other yellow cab rides, too. Sadly, the geniuses that came up with the aluminum-hose solution did not turn their attention to a solution for the yellow cab wrecked-shocks problem. A yellow cab ride often makes you feel as though your recent severe turbulence was actually a soothing and gentle massage by comparison.

Another difference between the two experiences is the friendliness of the drivers. The Uber and Lyft people are friendly and considerate. They are actually assessed and awarded a score by customers because of their friendliness, giving them a rating from five stars to one. The app that summons your ride even asks you if you want them to engage you in conversation or not.

Yellow cab drivers, on the other hand, have to pass a suitability test before they are let loose on New York’s roads. I have never actually seen one of these, but it’s pretty clear to me what they must look like.

Question 1: Your passengers are both over ninety and have several heavy cases. You should…

A: Make a nasty face at them and grunt.

B: Open the trunk, point out to them that it is open, and grunt.

C: Help them put their bags in the trunk and grunt.

If you think by now that I have a jaundiced eye for yellow cabs, you are right. But then again, this is partly their fault for painting the things the same color as those who are jaundiced.

I’m afraid that it’s not just New York’s cabs that are problematic. When I first moved here ten years ago, I made the laughable mistake of driving like a British person. This involved signaling to inform the other drivers that I intended to pull out or change lanes. This works perfectly well back in the U.K., but in New York City, it merely alerts other drivers what you intend to do and gives them advanced warning so they can make sure that you can’t do it.

I was giving a shiur in the Young Israel of Manhattan just before Yom Kippur. As I drove home the traffic came to a complete halt. There had been an accident and the police and ambulances were busy helping those who had been hurt. The flashing lights of the emergency vehicles showed that this was a serious situation. The car next to me disagreed and started honking repeatedly to let the paramedics know that they should stop what they were doing and get out of the way for someone who was in a hurry to get home. Others joined in too. Sheesh! And don’t get me started on a place called Brooklyn, which has elevated the phenomenon of double (not to mention triple and quadruple) parking into an art form.

I have an idea for the Jewish community of New York and across the United States. It is based on something I once heard about my rosh yeshivah, Reb Leib Gurwicz, ztl. His father-in-law, the famous mussar giant Reb Elya Lopian, once paid him a wonderful compliment. He said that Reb Leib was a “Walking Mesilas Yeshorim!”

Reb Leib didn’t drive a car but if he did, he would have been a “driving” Mesilas Yeshorim. The ideal is to be the sort of Jew that is actually a Mesilas Yeshorim in every facet of our lives, whether, in business, interactions with neighbors or driving a car.

So, my idea is to imagine how nice it would be if Jewish drivers, particularly if they are identifiable as Jews by their dress or the stickers on their cars, would be known as the Five Star guys on the road. We should be the let-people-change-lanes people, who never use their horns unless it’s to warn someone of danger, not to warn them that we are impatient and in a bad mood. And we should even try very, very hard, to be driving Mesilas Yeshorims who avoid double parking.


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