I was leaving Jerusalem the other week, and made my way to the Central Bus Station. Anyone who has been there knows that, just as you enter, you have to navigate a narrow turn through a security barricade, which naturally slows down foot traffic. The two women in front of me, already walking slower than the barrier necessitates, stopped right afterwards to engage in a personal conversation. I loudly asked in Hebrew, “Excuse me! Could you move forward, you’re blocking a very narrow passageway!” As they reluctantly stepped aside, they muttered, “It’s all good,” to which I replied loudly, “You are not the centers of the universe!” A passing-by woman gave me the thumbs-up and said “Good job!” and we all went on our way.
I find my voice getting louder lately, especially when it comes to asking the otherwise oblivious to be aware that their personal space has crossed into someone else’s. While there are many ways to say it in Hebrew, I prefer asking “S’lícha, efshár l’hít’kadém?” or “Excuse me, could you move forward?” The verb “l’hít’kadém” can mean “to advance,” so it’s as much a direct request for them physically as it is behaviorally. Yes, it’s spooked a few people, and that’s a bonus; but for me, it’s about mutual respect. The very least I can do is not get in the way, because all things being equal and we’re both on foot, your destination is just as important as mine; therefore, neither of us have a right to block the entire sidewalk for our own needs. We move to the side, not suddenly stop in the middle of the sidewalk. Most of the time I’m met with righteous indignation, and I can live with that. But the more important encounter with calling someone out was yet to come.
I was in the busy Shuk HaCarmel on Friday morning, in an incredibly busy store of prepared foods, when a father prods a piece of food with his finger and then prepares to leave — not even bothering to eat it, let alone pay for it, and all in front of his son and right next to me. “Excuse me,” I asked in Hebrew, “Do you expect me or someone else to eat that, once you’ve touched it?” He claims that he muttered “Forgive me” under his breath, but if he did, it was only discernable to himself; I, on the other hand, made sure he could hear me say “What kind of example is that?” as he left, again not bothering to pay for the food he touched. Just when I was about to second-guess myself and my actions, that perhaps I overstepped my own personal space to confront his lack thereof, the father is back and now in my face. He uses the same finger to prod my shoulder and says, “You need to calm down.”
What right do you have touching me? The same that lets you touch food that you don’t intend to buy?”
“I said excuse me, and yes I can touch whatever I want.”
“What a great example you’re showing, and in the meantime you may not touch me.”
“You need to calm down.
I stood my ground, and ultimately he left and still didn’t pay for the manhandled food.
That experience was scary — not because the guy got in my face, but because his son saw the whole altercation. The father was going to walk away, showing by example that it is okay to touch what is not yours, and what you don’t intend to take responsibility for, upon ruining for everyone else. All I could think of were the two suspected cases of gang rape by minors this week, and the parents of the accused protecting their sons by blaming the victim, and I called him out on it. I couldn’t let someone get away with this, even if it was just food, and clearly no one around me was paying attention, much less cared.
This isn’t about assuming guilt before due process of law; it’s about a growing culture that leaves us un-surprised when someone oversteps their own space, and how that same state of not being surprised allows it to fester. If we want to stop seeing headlines like we have in the past week, we have to be willing to call this behavior bad, and we have to be willing to call it out as we see it taking place.
Some will shrug off this post as the histrionics of an immigrant snowflake, and some will take invading another’s personal space to its potential but not eventual ends — domestic violence, road rage, and yes the Palestinians. My interest is the same as most: that we do everything to make our young country befit our ancient ideals. Being a personal example is the one way we can all move forward.
“S’lícha, efshár l’hít’kadém?”