Grabbing the Chapper: A Model of Israeli Tolerance and Cooperation

With national elections around the corner it’s easy to spot intolerance and discord among the Israeli population. Yet I recently discovered an unexpected model of coexistence and cooperation–the chapper.

I used to take the bus to travel to Tel Aviv. I knew about the minivan companies that compete with the two major bus routes between Petach Tikva to Tel Aviv, but I hadn’t been on one in years. There was something slightly disreputable about them–after all, chapper is Yiddish for grabber. I believe that these minivans have only recently become organized into companies and regulated. They are also known as sheruyot, plural for sherut. More than one new immigrant has mistakenly asked for the sherutim and ended up at the bathroom. But I digress.

My son had told me that chapperim are much quicker than the regular bus, so one evening when I was running late I decided to take my chances. You wait on the street–it doesn’t have to be a regular bus stop–and when a van approaches you signal the driver. If he has space for one more he opens the door. I am always slightly surprised that the driver has control of the passenger side–after all it’s a van, not a bus.

With no room to stand you must duck and find a seat as quickly as possible. Each van contains about ten seats, with a column of seats against each window and a row of three in the back. There are even working seatbelts.

The cooperation begins when it’s time to pay. The newest passenger passes the fare forward to the person in front of him, who passes it forward in turn until it reaches the driver. Passengers must be careful not to drop the coins in the dark. If a religious passenger needs to pass coins to a passenger of the opposite sex, the two are careful to avoid touching hands.

When the driver receives the coins, he calls out to ask the passenger’s destination. He then counts out the appropriate change and the process repeats itself, in reverse.

When you ride a bus, you are on your own. You listen to music, read, or close your eyes. The bus is full of sleeping soldiers or chattering groups of teenagers. Few children ride the chapper–they don’t get the substantial discount that they do on the bus–and most passengers are traveling alone.

When you climb onto the chapper, you have accepted an unwritten obligation to interact and cooperate with the other passengers. You can’t pretend to be asleep, and it’s too dark to read. You could sit in the back, I guess, but you’d have to wait a while for your change.

I’m going to be grabbing the chapper more often.