Egged, Israel’s largest transit bus company, has ceased its “Omer tracker” notification service after critics accused it of employing its digital signage equipment to share “irrelevant” information.
The Omer period, in Biblical times, began with the harvesting of winter’s first wheat on the second day of Passover and extended seven weeks until the holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah. The Bible mandates the counting of each day of the 49-day period.
In an article titled “Slippery Slope,” Idan Yosef, a commentator at the News1 website, criticized Egged for catering to its religious passengers. “Public transportation cannot be allowed to present information that ignores entire populations,” he wrote
“Including a message that says ‘Happy Holiday’” is iffy enough, Yosef continued, “but it can be accepted, as long as it appears on Israel Independence Day and is shown on buses in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.”
The ultra-Orthodox community is generally loath to accept Israel as a secular state and does not celebrate Independence Day.
In recent years, Egged installed digital displays on its fleet of vehicles that notify passengers what the next bus stop is, what other buses were available at a particular destination, estimated times of arrival, etc.
The sign system is also used to wish passengers well during various Jewish holidays. It was the first time Egged buses posted messages related to the Omer.
In order to properly observe the biblical commandment of the counting of the Omer, each night one recites the number of the day that is starting, accompanied by a blessing.
According to the Kikar HaShabbat website, Egged decided to shut down the program. The company did not respond to a request for comment.