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Lesson on the F Train

Lesson on the F Train


The New York subway always draws me into its depths with its distinctive, gritty sounds and its musty, undefinable smells. Traveling across the city appears to offer an instant schooling in diversity. As I swipe my MetroCard at the start of a journey, I am afforded admission into an Ivy League university of humanI felt curiously liberated differences.

Yesterday my subway car contained within it a representation of what seemed like every shade of every difference. Age. Race. Color. Class. Gender. Religion. Size. Shape. Profession. Ability. Disability. Riding that endless F train through New York City on a recent visit, it dawned on me that I could probably choose at that very moment to belly-dance for cash, belt out an Irish ballad or mutter incantations—and I truly believe that no one would have looked askance. Not one person. At first this disarmed me, and I felt curiously liberated. But the elation did not last. In its place, a vague discomfort settled.

Was this the model of acceptance of others and their differences? Freedom of speech, people have a right to express themselves, the “I won’t stop you and you don’t stop me” mentality? Perhaps it was. Let people live. Be free to do as they choose. Was this the lesson to learn? Worryingly, I speculated whether it could mean something more sinister. Was apathy simply masquerading as non-judgmentalism? Was disinterest merely disguising itself as tolerance? Perhaps the celebration of diversity has a murky underbelly that we could call indifference. Or at worst, a real lack of care.

Months ago, a close friend of mine strongly disagreed with a choice I had made, and voiced her opinion in no uncertain terms. Her words left me reeling; I felt doubted and invalidated. But now it seemed that the unpretentious F train had brought home a truth. What initially had felt like a slap in the face began instead to feel like a form of intense and powerful care.

I am left wondering about the fine lines that I am sure I rarely get right. Accept. Tolerate. Be open. Yet at the same time: Care. It does matter. You do matter to me. I have a value system, a sense of allegiance to right and wrong. And I will share with you what I think.

Living in Jerusalem, it seems that care for fellow Jews is thick in the air—something that I never fail to be touched by. On public transport, there is surely no hint of indifference. In fact, rather than a question of Will anyone get involved, the question is, Will anyone stay neutral?

On my way to work one morning, a man on the Jerusalem light-rail train asked me to give my seat to an elderly woman, heavily laden, who alighted at the Machane Yehuda It seems that care for fellow Jews is thick in the airoutdoor market. Though the woman stood right beside me, I had not noticed her. I felt sheepish at my inaction, but the man looked at me without judgment. As I stood up, he smiled. Tolerance and deep care are certainly not mutually exclusive.

The next time I vacillate between tolerance and indignation—or waver between acceptance and outrage—I’ll recall how it feels for someone to care enough to tell me that they do not agree. I will recall the unease that comes with thinking that people may not care at all. And I will remember the man who managed to strike that balance so respectfully.

Rachel Glass lives in Jerusalem. She works with families and schools, supporting children's social, emotional and communication skills. Her writing explores the interpersonal and offers insight into the meaning within everyday life.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Kona Alan MD Hawaii November 23, 2016

Nyc is a sewer. Move to Israel or Hawaii Reply

Adonai's Anointed Pittsburgh September 11, 2016

Well stated. Thought-provoking. Thinking deeper..... Reply

Alan S. Long Island, NY September 8, 2016

To each their own... I also ride the F train. It is simply safer in New York to mind ones own business. Unsolicited comments or actions are just not appreciated in New York. However, acts of civility are appreciated by native New Yorkers. I have often offered my subway seat to people that appear to need it more than I. Many New Yorkers do that, without regard to the color of a person's skin. That said, my wife and I were crossing a street in Jerusalem when an older gentlemen walked up to my wife to say something to her about her outfit (cut offs below her knee). I pulled my wife away and as he started to yell at me that pulling her away was not how things were done in Israel. I don't mean to start a brouha, and I love Israel, but I prefer a New Yorker's non-involvement anytime over an Israeli's unsolicited opinions. Reply

Sarah K NYC September 8, 2016

Yashar Koach! Beautiful article - thank you! Reply

Anonymous CA September 7, 2016

Rachel, I would prefer to use the word ethnic or different cultures, rather than race. Reply

חוה September 6, 2016

nice! Good article! Reply

Iris New York September 5, 2016

I am an Israeli living in the States and constantly aware of the cultural differences and the shock of the average American to an Israeli who seems to meddle in someone else's business. It was refreshing to read about the positive flip side of what has become such a negative hallmark of the Israeli mentality. Reply

Barry Weinstein Israel September 5, 2016

Wise words well written. Gives fresh perspective on how we relate to the people around us and to the cultural differences between Israel and the US. Food for thought! Reply

Tsivya Far Rockaway, NY September 5, 2016

Great article- thought provoking! Reply

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