During the past two years I lost both of my parents, who suffered from severe illnesses which required lengthy stays at hospitals and rehabilitation institutions. During such situations, relatives (in this case, my brother and I) spend a lot of time by their loved ones' hospital beds, mostly at night.
Sleeping at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer and at the Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva is entirely possible, particularly when someone you love is right beside you, awake and in agony. But the hospitals are not prepared, purposely it appears, to accommodate relatives who choose to spend the night by their loved ones. Due to this situation, relatives visit a number of times a day, each time for a few hours – on the way to work or school, or before they go home.
The problem is that there is no public transportation on Shabbat and holidays, and there is no taxi service at Sheba Medical Center on Shabbat either. In this situation, one can either spend all of Shabbat at the hospital, or fork out NIS 60 (about $17) for a taxi ride. So, I found myself, week after week, arriving at the hospital before Shabbat began and staying there until it ended; alone, without a proper place to sleep, and usually without food either.
On the weekends the hospitals were filled with staffers and patients' relatives or friends who do not observe the Sabbath. They came and went as they pleased with their private cars. Religious families would sometimes spend the entire Shabbat at the hospital.
Today, a month after my mother passed away, and following the establishment of a new government in Israel, I am calling for a change to help those who rely on public transportation to travel from their homes to important destinations, also on Shabbat.
Like me, there are many others who need public transport on Shabbat, not to go to the beach or parties, but to visit loved ones at the hospital or the retirement home. Sometimes public transportation is needed in order to reach the hospital on Shabbat to pay last respects to parents.
I grew up in the Bnei Brak area, so I am very familiar with the roadblocks on Shabbat. And you know what? It's okay, because that is the meaning of status quo. I don't have a problem with the blocking of roads. I have a problem with roads that are supposed to be open to everyone yet are open only to those who own private cars and those who can afford to spend money on cab rides. I have a problem with a situation in which, as usual, the lower economic class is hurt.
I am not trying to change the opinion of those who observe Shabbat and ask that they desecrate it. But there is television on Shabbat, we get electricity (which is used by many people who keep the Sabbath) from a company that operates on Shabbat, and restaurants and movie theaters are open as well. So why should it bother you, particularly when there are special taxi services that operate on Shabbat ("sherut" taxis) anyway?
And to those secular Israelis who are against public transportation on Shabbat, I ask that you keep in mind that there people who do not own private cars and cannot even get to hospitals. So don't oppose public transportation on Shabbat because it preserves the country's "Jewish character" – that's hypocritical. The State will remain Jewish even if people will be able to reach their destinations by bus any day of the week. The only difference is that such a Jewish state will be more democratic and tolerant.
In the current economic climate, there is no justification for keeping people locked inside their homes on Shabbat. A certain segment of the population should not be able to determine how the rest live in this country.
The author, 27, is an IDF officer (reserves) and a social activist. He is a biophysics and Jewish sciences student at Bar-Ilan University.