I was having one of those unlucky days yesterday where was starting to worry about my short term memory. We took a cab from the Kotel to downtown Jerusalem. A few minutes later I realized that I had lost my cell phone (and older model blackberry that I use in Israel). I started wondering where I could have left it. We dialed the number and the cab driver answered. He said that he was on his way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem but that he would return to Jerusalem and meet up with us to give us back the phone. I felt quite lucky and of course tipped him appropriately. A cousin who was with me told me that if this had happened in Brooklyn, there was no chance I would ever see the phone again
Within the same hour or so, I realized I didn't have my sunglasses. I started to think about it and decided that there was a chance I had left them at a fast food Shawarma place where we had eaten lunch. Everyone figured that there was no chance they would still be there. We had tickets to something in Jerusalem that would take about 45 minutes so I couldn't go back until after that. I decided it was worth taking the chance and wandering back to Moshiko (one of my favourite Shawarma place in Israel) and having a look. I asked the staff and sure enough, they handed me back my sunglasses. Two for two - that was quite something. My cousins were shocked again.
So was I just having a lucky day? Or are you more likely to recover a lost object in Israel? Interesting question.
On the one hand, when we first arrived in Israel four years ago, our daugher left her camera on a park bench at a Tali event. She was extremely upset, not so much with the loss of the camera, but with the loss of all of the pictures that she had taken. We sent around an email to the Tali families and within a few hours someone called and returned the camera. So even four years ago, we were pleasantly suprised that some people would go out of their way to help return a lost object. And we have had other similar experiences since that time.
On the other hand, Israel certainly has its share of car thefts, house break-ins and other types of crime, just as you might find anywhere and sometimes more so. I have to admit that I was quite surprised a few years ago when someone stole my dock shoes (of all the things to steal - and they weren't even new - they were fairly run down) at the Netanya beach - picked them up and ran off while I was rinsing myself off after a swim in the sea. I had to make my way up the huge number of stone steps from the beach with no footwear in extremely hot temperatures. It was a painful experience.
A cousin of ours shared a more shocking story with us. He was in a store in Rehovot and some guy asked him if he could borrow his cell phone to call his wife. He said his battery died. He made a call and stood there talking (or pretending to talk). Then suddenly, he ran out of the store with the phone (an iphone) - in the middle of the day. My cousin ran after him but it was too late - he was gone.
Just last week, another friend of ours had her cell phone removed from her pocket while she was on a bus. And there are many similar stories of smart phone theft.
So I have no way of suggesting that cell phones or any other possessions are safer or less subject to theft in Israel. Perhaps the opposite is the case. And Israeli thieves might be even more chutzpadik than you might expect in their modus operendi.
But we have had at least three postive experiences where we have lost items that we did not expect to get back and all three have been returned.
The statistical sample is probably too small to be able to draw any conclusions. But three for three is a fairly good track record. For what it's worth, I do have a sense, for reasons that I cannot necessarily pinpoint, that the average Israeli, individual or family, is somewhat more likely to return something that they find (or try to help find the owners) than the average person or family in many other countries. My personal experience with lost and found has been relatively limited (a handful of occurences) but to this point, it has supported, quite pleasantly, my optimistic and hopeful assessment of expectations.