So I wasn’t going to talk about the teens that harassed my 11-year-old daughter and her friend or the stolen flags or the Yom HaZikaron siren at work. While they were all troubling events that bothered me a lot, I certainly wasn’t going to write about them. It just isn’t worth it.
Each time I do it, I get a bunch of angry e-mails telling me that I am a hateful jerk picking on people who are different than I. Then, a week or so later, I get the angry comments from my neighbors complaining that either i) I have upset their parents/family in the U.S. or ii) I am killing their property values. And I vow to never broach the subject. I make a conscious decision to omit a part of our lives in writing this, a journal of our lives.
However, a recent event changed my mind. It demonstrated to me that we are all victims of our own circumstance and need to do more to extricate ourselves from our prejudices and assumptions. We need to figure out how to make things work in a positive and loving manner because the alternative is not good. And it led me to talk once again about our neighbors in Bet Shemesh.
A few days after Yom HaShoah and before Yom HaZikaron, our daughter Batya was walking home with a friend from their afterschool activity. They were walking down the main street between neighborhoods when about 15 kids from the neighborhood across the street, standing behind a fenced in playground, started shouting at them that it is forbidden to stand in honor of the memorial sirens. While they weren’t threatened at any time, the shouting and yelling followed them all the way down the street and bothered them enough to lead them to tell their parents about it.
A few days later, on Yom HaZikaron, an announcement was made over the PA system at work. It said that at the time of the siren, all workers are to stop working for the duration of the siren.
I was initially puzzled by the announcement. Wasn’t it obvious that people do that? Yet, when I asked, I learned that in the past, there were workers in the building who did not honor the sirens and continued to work during the sirens. This troubled our director so much that he instituted a policy of instructing everyone not to work for that minute.
I just don’t get it. I understand the issues involved. I understand that there are people who are against the existence of the State of Israel. I just don’t understand their lack of appreciation for the people who die on their behalf.
Soldiers die so that they can sit and learn Torah in Eretz Yisrael. Innocents are killed in terror attacks simply because they are Jewish. These are the people we are memorializing and honoring. Simple gratitude means that you should join in as well, regardless of your politics or religious beliefs.
Some will say that these people never asked or wanted a State of Israel nor did they ask for or want the protection and sacrifice of those soldiers. To that I have a simple question. Are you so naïve that you think you would be able to live the life you lead if there was no State of Israel and no Jewish soldiers defending you?
Is it possible that these people think they would be better off living under Arab rule? Do they think they would be allowed to worship freely? Do they think they would not be terrorized, persecuted, harassed, beaten, and killed without restraint? Are they really that simple? If not, then they are obligated to be thankful for the protection and safety being accorded to them no matter who is providing it.
Or, if they really have such deep-seated objections that they cannot find it within themselves to do so, they are definitely welcome to vote with their feet. No one is forcing them to stay here. They are here, as are we, of their own choice and are free to go somewhere where they do not have to live an existence that is objectionable.
It was with this familiar sense of frustration that I heard some upsetting news on the morning of Yom HaAtzmaut. One of my neighbors gleefully called me to tell me that someone had put up a bunch of Magen David signs all over the main street in the charedi area and that I had to go see it for myself.
On my way to a Yom HaAtzmaut event, I was persuaded by my family to go take a look. What I found was not signs. It was spray paint. When my daughter saw it she mentioned that she had seen the group who did it the night before at about 1 a.m. Apparently, a group of teens went singing through the charedi neighborhood at the wee hours of the morning, spray painting the Magen David as a symbol of the Israeli flag all over the neighborhood, on building walls and sidewalks.
Although my initial thought when I heard about “signs” being put up was a sense of satisfaction, I was not pleased once I saw what was actually done. They vandalized the neighborhood, much in the same way that I have (repeatedly) railed against the charedim for vandalizing ours. Spray paint is spray paint and it is not any more “right” just because I agree with the message.
The incident had slipped my mind when I heard something new. There was apparently a confrontation. Either the spray painters happened upon a group of people from the neighborhood or their antics roused them. In either case, the vandals were attacked by pipe wielding young men and hurt, badly. A couple of them are still hospitalized.
When I heard this, I was also told that there is a group organizing to protest and to file a police report against those who hurt them. I was stunned. Here was a group of teens who were involved in vandalism and we are supposed to make them a cause célèbre to the community? I can understand their parents saying, “Hey, they spray painted and you put them in the hospital—the reaction was too strong.” But I don’t think the community can legitimately defend vandals.
And I realized that instead of ignoring the issue, I had a few things to say.
The first is that we were wrong here. If I can accuse the “other side” of wrongdoing, I have to admit guilt. We wronged our neighbors on this one and they have every right to be offended. The same way that we are offended when they spray paint on our property.
Secondly, I am concerned, not for my city, but for my country. The split between charedi and everyone else is getting worse, not better. It hasn’t flared up lately, but I don’t think that makes a difference. Every few days there is a story about a minor incident somewhere. I worry.
I worry about the fact that we cannot seem to get over our hatred toward one another and the feeling of superiority that exists between different segments of the Jewish population. I worry about the fact that the dividing lines are getting too strong to breach. I worry that instead of reaching out to each other to bridge gaps, we are pushing away from each other to make them.
Finally, I have realized that both sides are teaching a horrible lesson to the next generation. When nine-year-old Mordechai comments to Goldie when they are getting out of the car to go to the doctor in a charedi neighborhood, “Eema, take in the flags; we don’t want them stolen again,” I realize that he may have learned the correct practical lesson, but the wrong moral one.