I spotted Guy at the shabby bus stop on the south-bound side of the Geha Highway, at the foot of the narrow bridge that leads to the Ramat Gan campus of Bar-Ilan University, near the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak.
Most highway bus stops in Israel have been cleaned up, but 30 years ago, they all looked like this – pockmarked, cracked, crumbling, covered with graffiti and posters. Trash litters the ground, and behind us, down in a gully, stands a small trailer-cum-snack bar, whose stick-skinny and unshaven proprietor sprawls on one of several plastic chairs scattered around his enterprise, which may or may not be legal, but looks like it isn’t.
The narrow sidewalk leaves little room for people to stand, and the space has been further cramped by five different large mailbox-type metal boxes in which waiting bus travelers are encouraged to deposit donations of food and cash for different haredi (ultra-Orthodox) grocery-distribution charities.
There are about 30 of us, waiting for buses to Tel Aviv, Rishon Lezion and Jerusalem this Wednesday evening. Two soldiers in uniform, a young haredi woman in long sleeves and a long skirt silently reciting psalms, several black-coated men with beards and students. Bar Ilan was founded by the modern-Orthodox movement, but most of its students are not religious. So some of the women are in tank tops, and the men are with and without skull caps.
Guy is without. He’s got a pistol in a holster stuck in the back of his jeans and he’s wearing a black end-of-unit-training T-shirt with the standard funny drawing that only the guys in the unit could possibly understand. He’s a bit overweight and has a steely look in his eyes. During the course of the day I’d seen him on the far end of the lecture hall during a conference on “The Decline of Citizen Armies in Democratic States,” sponsored by Bar-Ilan’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA). I introduce myself. His name is Guy. He’s studying political science at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and he attended the conference both for school and because he’s got a personal stake in the subject.