If there is one Hebrew word a foreigner quickly picks up in Israel it’s “pekak.” That is inevitable, since wherever you wish to go you will encounter pekakim, as traffic jams are called in the lashon hamedinah. Israel’s twisting, narrow roads and complicated ramzorim—traffic light systems at intersections—makes driving in the country an utter nightmare even in the best of times, and this is not one of the best as far as traffic goes. I am in Eretz Yisrael to mark the yahrtzeit of my father, z”l, and Vice President Mike Pence is staying in Jerusalem, just a few short blocks from my hotel. As fate would have it, our paths keep intersecting.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When the American vice president first arrived in Israel, his motorcade was heading towards Jerusalem as I was going in the direction of Bnei Brak to pay a visit to Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita. In order to secure the safety of the vice president and his entourage, the entirety of Highway 1 was closed from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which meant that we enjoyed a traffic-free ride going in the opposite direction. Today, though, I am not so fortunate.
Even though the vice president has already left the Knesset after delivering a rousing speech to its members, there are pekakim as far as the eye can see. My taxi driver suggests that I walk the rest of the way to the Interior Ministry, which I soon come to regret. Although I was advised to keep walking “straight,” no street in Jerusalem is truly straight, and I manage to get lost more than once. To my relief, I arrive only ten minutes late.
The security check at the front entrance is rather lax, considering that I’m here to see Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri, whose office is right up a flight of stairs. My engaging host is told by his secretary that I will be conducting the interview in Hebrew, and he seems to breathe a sigh of relief. I’ve also brought a photo along to show him, which I hope will help break the ice.
Some eight years ago I had visited Rav Ovadia Yosef, zt”l, the founder of Shas and Aryeh Deri’s mentor. This was before I started this publication, and I was seeking that consummate gadol’s blessing. The brachos I was privileged to receive upon telling him that I intended to unite all segments of klal Yisrael through our publication are a source of inspiration to this day. Rav Ovadia did something uncharacteristic: he put his hand on my forehead and recited countless verses from the Torah that express blessings. When I show the image to Aryeh Deri, he tells me that he has never seen Rav Ovadia bless someone in such a manner.
“That’s a good way to open our conversation,” he remarks with a smile.
“Well, it represents the depth of my feelings for Rav Ovadia, and by extension, towards Shas and towards you,” I tell him.
I am not exaggerating.
The Vice President’s Speech
Having just come from listening to Mike Pence’s speech in the Knesset, which the Palestinians have dubbed “Messianic,” I ask him to share his impressions.
“They say that he’s a very religious person. At the end of his speech I jokingly told Bibi Netanyahu that he should talk to him about the proposed ‘Supermarket Law,’ which would force supermarkets that had been operating on Shabbat with permission from the local authority to be closed on Saturdays. I’m sure he supports it, and would probably even say that we’ve made too many compromises!”