I saw that quote in a poetry book recently, and frequently have cause to think of it, even when experiencing seemingly unrelated events, like passing by a local Hasmonean-era tomb on Chanukkah, or hearing a reference to "Canaan" in Joseph Erev Shabbat Vayeshev. (A lovely minhag of my roommate.)
I was on my way to the opening panel of the Jerusalem Conference last night, riding in a taxi with a somewhat talkative cabbie. (Note, although it's becoming something of a- still lovely!- cliche in these sorts of stories, that there was no kippa on his head. This is all translated from the Hebrew, by the way.) I usually don't take cabs, but the hotel where the conference is at is a bit out of the way and I was slightly pressed for time.
So I'm sitting in the back, listening to the Daf on my Ipod, and we're heading up Straus Street, when the driver asks me if I want to go straight or turn right on Neviim and take a more roundabout route. He explains that the straight route will take much longer- lots of traffic. The Haredim are out in force, rioting and burning trash in Kikar Shabbat over some nonsense. (We smelled it on the way back. Lovely.) So we turn right as he (and, I'll admit, I) carry on about the Haredim and their crazy and destructive habits, as he blasts the police for being ineffective along the way. "Nu, it's getting warm," he says. "They need something to do." "Let them work during the day, they won't have as much energy at night," I opine. "Where do you live?" he asks.
"Try adding a room to your porch in Katamon! The municipality will be on you in a second and stop you and fine you! Here in Geulah? Nothing!"
He then went on about how he thinks bottle recycling is nonsense, and would only put his bottles in the bin if he knew the money was going to tzedakah. "But the city keeps it all! See this bottle?" He holds up his soda. (Only liter bottles have redemption value in Israel, due to- believe it or not- Haredi pressure. Don't ask.) "I throw it in the regular trash- I don't need the money. Let someone who needs it collect it and get the 25 agorot." This then leads to a discussion about tzedaka. Amidst another blast at Haredim ("Rosh Chodesh Adar today- Marbim b'Simcha! They're practicing for Bi'ur Chametz already, and it's a month and a half off!"), he suddenly shifts gears. "Ahh, lots of tzedaka is given in Geulah- millions of dollars collected. I always give- you know what kimcha d'pischa is?"
A bit shocked to hear him use the phrase, it takes me a second to acknowledge that I do.
"You have to give! How can I enjoy my meal, my seder, when I know that other people don't have food? You have to give kimcha d'pischa..."
The conversation ends with talk of Gilad Shalit. "They want us to let people go- let them go! Then we can kill them right after we release them, when it's OK! Give me a gun and send me to Shechem, I'll do it myself!"
He drops me off at the hotel, telling me to send regards to the Mayor. Alas, I didn't get that chance, but the session was very nice indeed, with Mayor Nir Barkat (whoo-hoo!), Minister Benny Begin (looking more like his father all the time), journalist Nadav Shragai, Natan Sharansky (I always feel in awe when I see him), R' Aryeh Stern (two Katamonites in a row!), and Gavriel Barkai, the archaeologist, who gave an impassioned talk calling for Jewish rights on the Har HaBayit, from a mostly secular perspective. Interesting there too...my sister and brother in law were there- we sat together, which was very nice as well- and I got a ride home with a neighbor I see in shul every morning- turns out I was in ulpan with his wife. Don't think I'll make any of the rest of the conference, but Kol HaKavod to them, and most of all to my cabbie.