I had all sorts of titles planned for this. "Am Yisroel Chai!" And "Wow!" and "Rally". All of which are fine and appropriate. But this is the most appropriate.
See, the true miracle of the rally was the speed in which it was organized and the even more impressive speed in which people arranged transport. So the fact that we had the bus we did isn't a reflection on Saul, who arranged it.
Charter buses tend to have names to inspire,well, chartering them. Elite, Aristocrat, Luxury - you can see how those would go. Others are regional, but also useful - Monsey, Eastern, Cleveland Southeast. Another we saw was "Safety".
Ours was Jeff's Bus Service. Doesn't inspire the same feeling. :)
But we made our reservations and I spent Sunday shopping and making food for the trip, because we had to take all our own food - rest stop fast food places being out of the question. I also had a convention committee meeting that same day. So, I was busy.
And we spent Saturday talking about who was going, and who was not - one large Orthodox organization was against it and refused to publicize it. However, individual rabbis and so one in that organization disappeared, so they still had a definite presence. To be precise, they agreed with the sentiments involved, but didn't agree with the rally itself.
For everyone else, it was "Are you going? How? With whom?" Entire high schools went, for example. Some folks drove, some folks got train tickets in time, some found seats on buses. And some couldn't go, but were there in spirit.
So, it was 6:50AM. We arrived at the designated place, lugging food and water and books and a huge piece of fic I'd printed out, and my cane and Jonathan's Rio, which was stuffed with lectures. And the bus wasn't there. So we thought we'd check the nearby municipal lot. It wasn't there, but it was at the high school behind it. So, fine. We got in, we snagged a pair of seats, stashed our belongings and got out the bagels and coffee I'd brought for breakfast and otherwise got settled. Paid Saul the fee for the bus plus cash for the metrotickets we'd need.
And then we looked at the bus. Narrow seats. A lavatory with no sink. No VCR - we'd been promised a vcr. And our friend Wayne found that his seat back was unstable. Wayne sat in front of us. If I leaned on the seatback to stand up, it went backwards. If he leaned back, so did his seatback. We lived with it, as did the guy who shared that pair of seats, since they switched off every once in a while.
The seats around us filled, mostly with men. There were a fair number of women on board, including Saul's older two daughters (Hindi was at home with the youngest. Ahava is too young for such a trip.) I think the girls each took a friend, too. But it just happened that we had a lot of men around us.
Middle-aged men turn into twelve year old boys when stuck on a bus for any length of time. I think this is a law of nature.
This had not happened yet, though. They just settled into a good political discussion while heaping disdain upon various news sources, so things were calm. Later on, they would complain a lot. And make jokes that were amazingly non-crude. And discuss religious stuff. But right now, they were happy.
We filled up, we took off and it was fine. We made good time through Brooklyn. And then we got across the Verrazano Bridge (which I consider one of the most beautiful bridges in the world) and we noticed something *bad*. Our bus driver did not have EZPass. He had to pay at each toll booth. This takes time.
And Jeff was no speed demon. We began to notice this when we encountered other buses. Now, this was fun. We waved and took out an Israeli flag and grinned, and took note of who they were, and where they were from - most of them had signs to that effect,and sometimes the buses themselves would have clues. The buses named "Cleveland Southeast", for example. Our bus burst into "Cleveland Rocks" at that point, until they passed us.
And that was the problem. Everyone passed us. Jeff drove the speed limit, and not above.
And the boys on the bus noticed and commented. And commented and commented and commented. :) There was also the poor ac. The boys *loved* that. And politics got slightly acrimonious. And also silly, as we got closer.
What it never got was profane, which I didn't notice at that point, but was true nevertheless.
We did make decent time, but that was because most buses stopped at least once at a rest stop. We stopped once on a shoulder for "Jeff's" potty break.
We got to RFK Stadium, and drove around to find our assigned spot. We also waved at the groups who were already walking to the Metro station.
Amazing variety. Orthodox types in long denim skirts or white shirts/dark pants, more liberal types in t-shirts and jeans, very liberal types in shorts. Christians, too, judging from their signs. Some groups wore matching t-shirts or baseball caps. Some didn't bother. We didn't bother.
And the ac cut out becuase it didn't work if we drove slowly. And the boys in the back began making airplane jokes - "circling RFK" and complaining of the heat. I finished my book, Kavalier and Clay, which I heartily reccomend to anyone with an interest in comic book history and its intersection with WWII and Homosexuality. Wonderful novel. I was prepared for this. We got to our spot. We were told no backpacks, so we took shopping bags with water and prayerbooks or books of psalms. I wore a waist pouch with room for my prayerbook, my wallet and a fic printout, with a place for a water bottle, and attached my cellphone to it. I also took my cane. My bad foot had been acting up.
And we got our metrotickets and we went to the station, where we didn't move for a long time - long enough that a large part of the crowd chose to walk the mile or so instead. We couldn't make that choice, not with my foot acting up, so we waited. And just as most people left, the station opened and we even sat on the train. And then there was leaving the train and the train station and walking to the Capital Building, and seeing the crowd and hearing the crowd and not seeing or hearing the speakers, at least not clearly.
But it was great. So many thousands, tens of thousands of people, so much support - it was a message we hoped would be heard. There were people who had come in from California by bus, leaving on Thursday and stopping for Shabbat part way. We kept meeting people we knew. It was tremendous. Made everything entirely worth it.
We stood around and played Jewish Geography ("Where are you folks from? Do you know X? Oh, I know their parents!" Jonathan is a master of the game. He'll stop random strangers and find out things.) and left early before the trains got too bad. We still stood all the way. Captain Saul had said to "be back at 4PM sharp." We were early. He wasn't there at all.
And then, came the controversy, one that our already impatient bus driver would not understand.
Jewish men are supposed to pray three times a day at set windows. Afternoon prayers are from after midday until sunset. It is better to say these prayers with a quorum of ten adult men. It was about 5:00. There were about 3 hours left in the window - and afternoon prayers are maybe 15 minutes long. But, we didn't know how long it would take to round everyone up, and we were missing six people, plus we didn't know how long it would take us to just leave the parking lot, and once we did, we didn't know how long it would take to get to a rest stop.
So the argument went round and round, until finally most of the men, including Jonathan, decided to stand outside by a nearby tree and say the prayers, but others refused, saying it was a waste of time and we'd do better to leave now and to wait for a rest stop. As it transpired, we didn't get the missing until around 6PM, after all the men who'd wanted to had prayed.
We didn't get to a rest area until practically full dark. So they missed out. Leaving took an hour, including a game of chicken with another bus and a singalong. We didn't get to the rest stop until 8:30 - too late for those who'd missed out.
Jeff the driver, in a rush, told us we had 20 minutes at the rest stop. Personally, I was in great need of water, as we'd already drunk all of ours and we'd spent the time from 4-7 in what amounted to a steam bath, prompting a lot of "shvitz" jokes from the boys. Shvitz is Yiddish for "sweat". So, we went to the snack shop instead of the main rest stop. Which (the snack shop) was full of other people with the same idea, grabbing water, soft drinks and whatever kosher snacks they could find, as well as using the facilities. I got a couple of liters of water, and Jonathan also refilled our waterbottles. And then we waited for Jeff and counted stars.
Three stars appeared. That means time for evening prayers. But no one let out a cry for Ma'ariv, and the moment was lost. Instead, about 40 min after we parked, Jeff showed up and we piled back in. And began the longest part of the journey - the trip across the NJ Turnpike. It was hot and sweaty. It was slow. And partway there, there was an...earthy smell, such that we wondered if the toilet door was open. It wasn't. This gave more fodder for the boys. But still not profane at all.
I didn't notice until I read this XFiles fic, where the characters spoke like, well, cops. Guys. You know. And then I paid attention to the boys around me. Also, as I said. Guys. Guys who'd regressed to twelve. No cursing. Even when we'd been awakened by a huge pothole. No cursing. Very odd. Our intrepid and rather punchy captain Saul commented at that point, "I have no more male organs." That was the most.
We got home, tired, and hot and very happy at 12:30, very glad we'd gone.