Israel Stories

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Dustman

You can smell the dust cart a mile off. Israeli rubbish has a unique smell, quite indescribable. Needless to say, as with the rest of the civilized world, being a dustman, rubbish collector or trash man is the least desirable job almost a low a politician, but then you are dealing with a different king of rubbish.

The driver of my local dust cart has a long flowing beard. Very yellowed from cigarettes and matted from a days work. His beard reminds me of hells angel’s bikers or a member of a 60’s commune. This beard is different as it is accompanied by two flowing pe’ot (side-locks). His head is crowned by a large black velvet kippa. In the window of the dustcart you can see his tallit and tefillin on the dashboard. On the passenger seat you see a book of Tehillim and in his radio there is generally a tape of Hassidic music.

I don’t know what his name is but his colleagues call him Rabbi. They also told me that he has a strange habit of picking bits of rubbish off the street, children’s toys mainly but sometimes other articles. Instead of throwing then with the rest of the rubbish in the back of the cart he attaches a small note to each of them and places them carefully on the nearest wall or in the nearest and safest accessible place.

I decided I would watch and see if I could understand what he was up to. Sure enough while his colleagues were loading the big green council bins on the back of the cart, he got down from his cab and looked around, found something and carefully picked up the object, wrote a note and placed it on a wall.

Then he saw me looking and smiled. He called me over. The smell of the dustcart was overpowering. I saw you talk to may friends, they think I’m mad. Do you believe we were all put here for a purpose, that whatever we do we do for a higher good? I suppose I do, I answered. My job, he continued, puts me in a unique position to do a very important mitzvah.

Now although I do not claim to know every one of the 613 mitzvot, I definitely know that collecting rubbish or driving a dustcart isn’t among them. Then it dawned on me. This man really was on a mission. There is a very special mitzvah of Hashavat Ha’aveda, returning lost property and he was in the perfect position to perform this mitzvah every working day.

I gave him a knowing look and we exchanged handshakes. I felt slightly in awe of this man and as his dust cart rumbled out of site I thought its amazing who can inspire you.

Then I took a deep good breath of fresh air.