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Auto Emancipation

In the late part of the nineteenth century, Dr. Leo Pinsker, one of the leading lights of the Lovers of Zion movement, wrote a book called Autoemancipation. The theme of the book was that the Jewish people should no longer wait for others to come to their aid and free them from the bondage of the long exile that they were still enduring, but rather that the Jews, by their own volition and actions, should return to national independence in their ancient homeland. 
This book predated the political Zionist movement founded by Theodore Herzl in 1897 and in its own way proved to be prophetic. Over the past 170 years since the appearance of the book, its prophecy has been fulfilled though the book itself hardly remains a best seller. Such is the fate of prophetic authors, a fate to which I can personally testify. But in my current stage of life, the idea of auto emancipation has taken on a completely different meaning and message. 
As you can see by the title, it is no longer one word but rather two words and it signifies freedom from the ownership and operation of an automobile. I don’t think that Dr. Leo Pinsker realized that this would also be a bit of prophecy regarding the future state of society. The automobile in our time, like many great technological advances, has proven to be an asset and liability at one and the same time. Our society cannot exist without it but it has imposed itself on society in many negative ways. 
Because of declining eyesight, advancing age and lazy reflexes, I no longer own a car nor do I drive an automobile. I am emancipated from its burdens and costs but I have lost a great deal of my daily independence. I am dependent upon the benevolence of others to take me places and though I am a faithful consumer and customer of the Rechavia Taxi Service, there are many times that I am still dependent upon others to get me from here to there. 
Freedom carries with it burdens and responsibilities but overall I am quite content to be emancipated from the burdens of owning and driving an automobile. I am witness to the difficulties of the congested traffic that now marks daily life in Jerusalem. In fact, I think Jerusalem and Israel generally, despite all the improvements to its infrastructure and highways, is one large traffic jam. 
The Hebrew word pekak meaning stopped up like a cork on a bottle, has become one of the more common nouns used in modern day Hebrew to refer to traffic. But since I am now in New York when writing this immortal article, I realize that Jerusalem is in the minor leagues when it comes to traffic jams. Yet people persist in owning and driving automobiles and people who own automobiles very rarely avail themselves of public transportation no matter how relatively convenient and cost effective it would be for them. People treasure their privacy and independence and that is the secret of the fascination that our society has with automobiles.
It is hard for us to imagine the world and society that existed before the twentieth century brought the automobile into human lives.  As a teacher in a Yeshiva, I found that my students, and to tell the truth, I myself, had difficulty relating to the presence of animals in daily life as portrayed in the Talmud and other Rabbinic works. It was and I think it still is hard to transpose cows and bulls into Hondas and Buicks. But they lived in a world of true auto emancipation. In general, it is difficult if not even impossible to exchange one society with the lifestyle of a previous society. 
There were millennia when people enjoyed auto emancipation with all its blessings. But I do believe that there would be few if any in our society currently that would wish to return to such a world. Maybe there will come a day when everyone will own a helicopter and the automobile will be a relic – the cow and donkey of yesteryear – but until that day arrives auto emancipation is reserved for people like me. I accept its blessings but I also accept the problems that it poses. I certainly do not miss the status symbol that many automobiles confer on their owners. But I realize that in most instances it certainly does beat walking.
Shabbat Shalom.
Berel Wein

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