Chavi Feldman

Protesting or bullying?

I’m not often ashamed of this country. Yes, we, as a nation, are generally a chutzpahdik people, but more often than not, the Israeli people will stop on a dime to lend a hand and help someone in trouble. I’ve seen it, I’ve been on the receiving end and on the giving end. Last night, I was deeply troubled by what was occurring just minutes away from my house.

My husband and I were on our way to a funeral and we had a car full of people. We had turned out of our yishuv and onto highway 446 only to find ourselves bumper to bumper all the way to the Shilat junction. Within minutes we realized what was going on. It was not an accident despite the presence of police and an ambulance whizzing past us at top speed. It was a group of charedim who decided to protest the law requiring all men, including ultra-religious ones, to serve in the army.

For me, this brought back bad memories. This was not the first time these kinds of protests have happened in our backyard. We had a week’s worth in the summer, when the men were given a “vacation” from learning during the month of Elul, and thought that protesting on the highway and inconveniencing thousands of people was a good idea. It was at one of these protests that I was on my way to pick up my daughter from the mall and got into an accident. A bad one. Thankfully no one was hurt, but both cars were badly damaged and I shook on the inside for days afterwards. The protesters threw themselves in front of cars and the man in front of me panicked and slammed on the brakes and I plowed right into him, turning the back of his station wagon into an accordion.

That day, tensions were high. So many of my friends were seething. Mothers were almost an hour late picking up their still-nursing babies from day care and another friend missed her doctor appointment that she had booked three months earlier. My daughter, coming home from work, was stuck on one of these buses and she had to use the bathroom so badly, that she hopped off the bus and ran home from the Shilat junction. It’s a good forty minute walk, maybe a twenty five minute run and she made it all the way home while her bus still sat in the same spot.

So back to last night. While we were anxious to make it to the funeral on time, we soon discovered via whatsapp that the family in mourning was stuck in traffic as well. Next to us, a bunch of very young religious boys actually jumped out onto the highway and proceeded to sit down on the road. Cars were honking, drivers were screaming from their windows in complete frustration, anxious to get home to their families after a long day at work, and the police was nowhere to be found. I was thinking about this family trying desperately to get to the cemetery to bury their mother and grandmother and I was raging on their behalf. Emotional and bereft, saddened by such a great loss, this is the one time in your life when you just need to put one foot in front of the other with no obstacles. It’s hard enough as it is to do just that, let alone worry about being late for such an event. And as a family whose sons served in the army, it’s a double insult, a spit in the face. It’s appalling and unacceptable.

You want to protest because you feel it’s not important that this country – that is surrounded by enemies – has a top notch army to protect its people, then why are you even here? A friend of mine actually stopped to tell them what a chilul hashem they were making and asked them if they were aware that her sons were protecting their religious freedoms and they told her to shut up and then told her that only God protects.

Something is very wrong with the chinuch going on in the charedi community if they encourage their youth to treat others with such disrespect. Even setting politics aside, the bullying tactics they are using to inconvenience so many people and the lack of basic human respect for what is going on in other people’s lives is just mind-boggling. Just last week I was watching CNN news coverage of a group of militants Muslims protesting on a five lane highway in France. They had pushed flaming tires onto the highway and began crowding cars forcing them to stop. I can only imagine what it must have felt like to be a woman driving home from work alone – or worse, with young kids in the back – and having your car surrounded by screaming men refusing to let you simply drive to the safety of your home. It terrified me and despite the police presence, there were so many protesters, that even they couldn’t kept the situation under control. Sadly, yesterday’s protest on the 446 didn’t seem all that different.

The police needs to take control of these protests and punish the perpetrators by force. Fining them is not enough. Imprisonment would be a good first step. They cannot go unpunished and they need to learn respect and tolerance above all. It pains me that my son – along with so many of my friends’ sons and daughters – are working so hard and so diligently to protect this group of people who are not just ungrateful for the selfless service and protection that these soldiers provide, but are disrespectful as well.

And here I thought, that with all those hours spent learning in yeshiva they would have learned a thing or two about Hakarat Hatov.

Silly me.

About the Author
Chavi Feldman has a degree in graphic design and advertising and works primarily as a music teacher. She has lived in Israel for more than two decades.