Did you ever imagine yourself being attacked? Then think of all the plausible and implausible things you’d do to protect yourself. What if you’re attacked while in your car? I can’t be the only one who thinks of these things. I’ve even done some training to protect myself from such a frightening albeit unlikely scenario. I never thought it would actually occur. And I never imagined my car being ambushed by my fellow Jews…
There’s a strange and unfortunate phenomenon of so-called ultra-Orthodox people who seem to have taken it upon themselves to be the keepers of morality in Jewish society. No matter how immoral — or illegal — their actions are in doing so. Not to mention: none of their business.
Some of the more “egregious” sins these hooligans look for are people dressed in ways they deem immodest, breaking rules of the Sabbath, and anything to do with support of the State of Israel.
A section of the city of Beit Shemesh called Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet has gained a reputation for having some pretty aggressive of these zealots. And it was in Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet that my 9-year-old daughter and I found ourselves on Yom Haatzmaut, as I drove to pick up my son from a barbecue in my little Chevy, festively adorned with a brand new Israeli flag.
As we approached an intersection, I slowed down and found my car instantly surrounded by Hasidic youth. It still took me a moment to realize it was a deliberate, targeted ambush.
In those brief seconds as understanding dawned on me, one of them snapped off my new Israeli flag. I was shocked and horrified. My daughter was understandably petrified.
Scary as it was, I was more furious that they broke my flag. I put my car in park right there in the intersection and got out of my car without any plan at all. I tried my most intimidating death stare on the dozens of boys — and they were all boys, probably no more than 13- or 14-years old — but they were all unimpressed with my facial expression and merely jeered at me, calling me names. “Shiksa,” Yiddish for a gentile woman – was the most clear.
I tried getting a video, but found myself fumbling and unable to function normally. I felt no real fear, as I didn’t think they would hurt me physically. But what they did, in some ways, hurt me even more deeply as I felt an ever-deepening rift between my own people.
I felt lost, standing there in the midst of these Jewish boys who were treating me like an enemy. I felt a part of me crumble: the part of me that hates generalizing, that refuses to paint an entire community with the same brush, as all I could see before me were so many, all acting as if of one mind.
Then something happened: a young teenage girl, from the very same community, approached me and told me what should have been obvious. She told me to call the police. I did so. And they already knew what was happening and promised to take care of it.
But the police wasn’t the point. And the fact that they already knew about those hooligans but, strangely, didn’t have patrols standing there already wasn’t the point.
The point was that the girl saved me. Not physically, but mentally. Because she was from that community too. And to me, she was clear proof that those hooligans are just that: hooligans. She reminded me that the rowdy crowd isn’t the whole; they are merely the ones that make noise. The ones that we notice. Even the police have a hard time stopping them. But as long as there are people in the community who are willing to do the right thing, to take a stand for what’s right, then there’s hope after all.