As much as I love writing, my profession is social work. I recently started a new position in that field. While my previous jobs were local, I now commute to Yerushalayim three times a week. The 7 a.m. bus is usually smooth sailing. But last week, when I traveled in the afternoon, there was total gridlock at the entrance to the city. It took almost half an hour to get from the entrance to Binyanei Ha’uma (a distance that should take two minutes).

Fortunately, my job pays for taxis within the city. As I settled into the back seat of a cab, I recommended to the driver the best way to travel to my destination without returning to the gridlock I had just escaped from on the other side of the road. And then I unwittingly said a terrible thing. I told the cabbie that I would need a receipt. I don’t know what came over me to cause me to say something so inconsiderate. It was clearly an awful thing to say. The driver began yelling at me. Couldn’t I have given him that piece of information before I got in the cab? I explained that I needed the receipt to get reimbursed from my office. I didn’t think I was making an unreasonable request. He was upset because now he would have to pay taxes. The money he would earn after the 20-minute drive was not worth his while.

I generally don’t appreciate being taken advantage of. Normally, I would not take such yelling sitting down, especially when the guy is supposed to give me a receipt. I would tell the offender how offensive he was. I would uninhibitedly express my self-righteousness and point out the offender’s wrongness.  But I didn’t. Something held me back. I intuited that simmering beneath the yelling and rough exterior that I was being treated to, paying for, actually, there was a world of pain. The driver was a man in distress, trying his hardest to stay afloat in an ocean of sorrow. The explanation for his heartache wasn’t long in coming.

First, the driver gave me a lecture about the profession of taxi driving, which I clearly knew nothing about. I apologized for my ignorance and offered to pay him more money. He appreciated the gesture and calmed down.

I asked the driver if he knew what my profession was. I brought up my profession because I thought we could commiserate about the low wages we both earn in our professions. United we would stand. Without blinking an eye, he answered, “Social Work.” I could not believe it. Was this guy a prophet? He agreed that social workers have a tough job, and their salary does not adequately compensate them for their demanding and, at times, dangerous work. No argument there.

I asked the cabbie how he knew I was a social worker. His pain began to trickle out along with his answer. His mother has dementia. He could tell I was on my way to visit a needy person at his home, just as social workers come to visit his mother in her home. His mother needs a caretaker. The social worker who visits her only authorized ten hours of homecare. Ten hours are not nearly enough. He adds another ten hours of care out of his own pocket, but it costs a huge chunk of money. He is constantly fighting with the social workers. They don’t know what they are doing. The slow trickle of pain slowly increased in intensity.

Hearing his pain, I didn’t take his insult to all members of my profession personally. I empathized with his frustration and understood why social workers would be the target of his wrath. I explained that it’s likely that the social workers would be happy to provide more hours of care, but their hands are tied, having to defer to the powers who make those financial decisions.

The driver pointed to his phone on the dashboard. He asked me to read the message on the screen and tell him what I saw. I identified a list of simanim for Rosh HaShanah: rubiah (black-eyed peas), silka (beets), t’marim (dates), carrots, pomegranates, apples, honey, fish head, etc. At that moment, the true source of his pain came to the surface. Once upon a time, his mother would make all the “brachot” (what I call simanim), but nobody in the family thought to ask her to teach them how to prepare them. Now, because of her dementia, she can no longer make them. She can no longer do the things she used to do. So sad.

The driver explained that he and his brother are working hard to figure out how to prepare the “brachot” for Rosh HaShanah this year. While he poured his heart out about his unfortunate situation, his brother happened to call. He and his brother must have spent ten minutes on the phone discussing who would buy the rimonim, who would cook the beets, and where they would find the rest of the items on the list. It was touching to listen to the conversation and see the great effort he and his brother put into every detail.

When the driver hung up, I told him how lucky his mother was to have such good sons who try their best to care for her and meet her needs. When I asked about other siblings, I realized I had touched another sensitive spot. Poor guy.

By the time we reached my destination, I believe the driver felt a bit better about himself and about the way he was handling his challenging situation. He felt understood and appreciated. I wished the driver a Shanah Tovah, and he drove off to his next fare.

Especially during this holiday season, we should take note of and appreciate our blessings. We should remember that the needs, desires, and challenges of others are not always evident. Beneath the small piece of ice that we can see, often lies a large iceberg not visible to the eye. As they say, “Everyone has his or her own ‘pekele,’” which necessitates the patience and understanding we should do our best to provide for each other.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year.

Suzie Steinberg, (nee Schapiro), CSW, is a native of Kew Gardens Hills and resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh who publishes articles regularly in various newspapers and magazines about life in general, and about life in Israel in particular. Her recently published children’s book titled Hashem is Always With Me can be purchased in local Judaica stores as well as online. Suzie can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and would love to hear from you.