I am always anxious when turning on my phone after the Holidays. This year with Shabbat leading directly into a two day Shavuot I was even more jittery than usual. And this year I had good reason to be because the first Whattsapp image I received was from my son who is at university in Israel. It was a “selfie” in the style of his age. Only it wasn’t cool. His face was cut and bruised, his front tooth broken and his hands scraped. His “Call me” caption didn’t help to calm me and I dialed his number wondering what could have happened.
I had never heard the term “Arsim.” And am almost always repelled by labels especially as they pertain negatively to a group of people. But apparently that explained what had occurred. And the story that he told me concerned me in more ways than I can express.
He and some friends had spent Shabbat and Shavuot in Jerusalem. After the chag he met up with fellow IDC students in order to catch the bus back to Tel Aviv where they would transfer to Herzilia. Whilst waiting in line a group of around 8 “Arsim” who were visibly drunk and who were headed to a club in Tel Aviv tried to jump to the front. An older man (late 60’s) stopped them from doing so and they became abusive pushing him and threatening him and others around him.
They boarded the bus. Now even more aggressive than they had been, they began to harass the foreign students for near on 45 minutes. As this escalated they seemed to think it appropriate to demand money from the students in exchange for not attacking them. It became more and more intense until one demanded my son vacate the seat that he was sitting in. He refused, and that was when the youth punched him square in the face shattering his glasses, breaking a tooth and cutting up his face. What he didn’t count on was that he had picked on a pacifist who knows how to fight, who has trained his entire life and who chose to not become a cage fighter – not because he didn’t have the talent, but because of the nature of the sport. In a flash the youth was on the floor of the bus languishing helplessly in what would have been ruled a T.K.O.
It was then and only then that the soldiers on the bus and the other passengers got involved. The soldiers forced the whimpering aggressor on to his feet and forced him to apologise to my son, which he reluctantly did. My son demanded the police were called and the aged guy obliged. They would never arrive. Throughout the episode the bus driver was unmoved and uninvolved as were the passengers.
The bus arrived in Tel Aviv, the “Arsim” went on to their club, the soldiers to their base and the passengers to wherever it was that they were traveling. No doubt they would repeat the story of the journey to their friends and family but would do so without emotion. My son, however, broken faced and broken hearted would spend the night in pain, not sleeping because of the frustration and disappointment and because a sad shift had occurred. For a brief moment he became Kitty Genovese in the country where he least would have expected it.
I would only get to speak to him 24 hours later and only then could help him pick up the pieces. His tooth was still broken, his face still bruised and his glasses destroyed beyond repair. I explained that in no time at all we could address these items, which all could be sorted and all would be right as rain. But my promises were shallow and my words empty, because we both were acutely aware of the unsaid. We didn’t say that this had happened in Israel where until now he had felt safe we glossed over the fact that no one had helped and that no one had cared. Instead we focused on who would fix his tooth, because somehow that seemed much less complicated.