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Robert Israel Kabakoff
Robert Israel Kabakoff

Two Jews walk into a Brooklyn shoe store. No joke

It’s not even clear whether or not they ever even made it inside when they were accosted, challenged, insulted, and physically attacked by an anti-Israel, third-rate, make-believe, Brooklyn-not-Hebron, mujahadin. During the course of the assault on one, the attacker warned the second, a “friend,” that he too would be “hurt” if he tried to intervene. Heavens to Betsy. Not ME! Slim chance of that though, Jews being what we are, and true to form, according to mutiple reports, the “friend” was stunned, immobilzed by fear, like the proverbial deer in the headights, so, his buddy, despite the IDF logo, also paraylzed by the adrenaline rush of the confrontation bore the brunt, including having coffee spilled on him by the attacker raging about his IDF sweatshirt and the “dirty Jews” who have the temerity to resist the next Holocaust by defending the world’s only Jewish state against the nihilstic savages intent on her destruction.

The friend might get coffee spilled on him too, or worse, punched in the face a few times, G-d forbid, can’t have that, so delicate and fragile are we. We’re Jews. We don’t defend ourselves, we have no honor, shame doesn’t bother us, we don’t get angry, we whine and kvetch and beg for protection. Apparently, we are not obliged to suffer any losses in our own defense; like everyone else does, after all, we’re the “chosen,” while actually acting in self-defense? Taking risks, inflicting cost? That’s for heathens and gentiles. We get the heathens and gentiles to do it for us. The dogged detectives of the NYPD got the Staten Island holy-warrior, easy job, and he’s been charged, but will likley agree to a plea and probably (unless his multiple priors weigh in, doubtful) be released with the proverbial slap on the wrists and end up a hero to his comrades. Why not?

A few days later, the victims of the “hate crime,” two young Jewish guys, marched with a crowd of about 100 led by a local city councilwoman in protest and defiance. Whatever. Beats a blank, but no cookie. The threat of another march won’t deter anyone. Yuri Foreman was there too, kol ha kavod lo, but the world is not a boxing ring, so playing it safe on the streets won’t cut it. The cookie was squandered when the attacker was able to saunter away, unscathed, with the type of smug, self-satisfied grin only a winner can rightly justify wearing. One on two? Not bad.

June 5, 2010, Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York. Defintely the worst night I ever spent as a sports spectator. I’m not big on watching sports anyway, only stand-out events: a New York team in the playoffs, a well known and charismatic fighter, the Superbowl, stuff like that, otherwise, there’s a lot more for me out there to be entertained and enriched by, I like music, fine art, and literature, and my competitive energies are directed elsewhere, politics, so that’s it. Yuri Foreman though? His first (and last) title defense, fits as a standout, so I took the subway, bought the ticket, and readied myself for a show. A few months before, I had the privilege of meeting him at the annual Aish fundraiser gala, it was only a few nights after his title bout when he was crowned, taking the super welter weight belt, his face still bearing the marks of combat, so was wearing sunglasses, but the event was captured on Kodak and I treasure the photo, mounted on my wall. That made the Yankee Stadium evening all the more poignant for me. But, alas, it didn’t go so well.

Up in the peanut gallery where I was seated, you could see a lot of the crowd, many more fans in front of me than behind me, and most all, overwhelmingly fans of the challenger, Miguel Cotto, a Puerto Rican fighter. Aside a few closer to the ring, and a few scattered others holding Israeli flags, I was outnumbered by hundreds to one. It’s okay, we’re all New Yorkers and fight fans, so I wasn’t worried. A cop spotted me, he recognized me from a summer camp we worked at years before and directed me to a section for seating the Disabled, where I had some space to myself amid a tightly packed full house, and before moving on advised: “if your guy wins, better head out quick.” Got it. Now, my guy wasn’t winnng, not a good night for Yuri or Yuri fans, at one point, near the end, his corner man literally threw in the towel in the ninth round. Yuri misstepped and sprained his ankle, so it was over, but just before that, though, while our champion was still struggling just to keep his footing, taking more shots than he was throwing, someone in the crowd in front of me, about ten rows forward, a fan of Cotto’s yelled out: “he hits like a  Jew.” As those words were coming out of his mouth, he looked backwards, up the rows to me, where I had been loudly supporting Yuri, so he knew where to aim his comment. The instant he said it, our eyes locked, he saw the expression on my face change, I’m not sure exactly how he read it, but he read it right, because he quickly looked down, then away and never looked back. His words hit a nerve, the nerve that says: “really? Let’s see how this Jew hits,” and that was enough. He didn’t want any of that action. Neither really did I, especially not then in that crowd, but my reaction was immediate, reflexive, and involuntary. I don’t take kindly to insults like that, and if necessary, will make that point in a way that cannot be misread. He saw all that. Anyway, the fight and title were both lost. I forget as much about the match as I can, painful to witness, and there were no worries about exiting The House That Ruth Built that night, but that moment, when the big mouth Cotto fan saw he overstepped and quickly reversed course, just by reading my face, that moment sticks.

Bullies are cowards. This is not news. That’s why they prey on those they believe cannot make them pay, it’s how they get their kicks, and we facilitate them every day by playng the “helpeless victim” role we  adopted by adapting to centuries of ghetto weakness. But, now hear this! It’s a post May 14th, 1948 world. We are not in the ghetto anymore. Repeat: we are not in the ghetto any more. Folks, it’s us. Not them we gota’ fix, it’s us. Bigots, bullies, and haters will do what they do, it‘s not up to us to even try to change them, a lost cause anyway. It’s up to us to change us. We raise deer in headlights and have elevated and rationalized cowardice to the status of some kind of twisted virtue. It set in. We worship Anne Frank and ignore Mordechai Anielewicz. Capish? Meiveen oti? It’s us. It’s us. What can we expect from our young when we teach them to be weak, dependent, frightened, self-centered victims too terrified of getting “hurt” to stand up like men, like people with self-respect demanding the same from others, like b‘nai Yisrael, like Chosen led by Joshua ben nun. We read Torah but, aside ritual, ignore it. Moshe rabeinu, a former prince, now fugitive, smote the Egyptian slave-driver. Smote him dead. Yehudit got him drunk then decapitated our enemy. Shimshon ha Gibor, blinded and betrayed, brought the whole house down when it was clearly the end taking the enemy to olam ha ba with him. This is sacrifice, this is honor, this is a “fight.” This is why we still know their names millennia later. They have something to teach us. We must honestly confront ourselves, bravely dare I say, look inside, identify the missing or corrupted parts and commit to restoring and repairing what was lost during the twenty-centuries since bar-Kochba and Masada. They spray paint a swastika? We spray paint over it, in red: “Bring it! Cowards.We are not in the ghetto any more. As long as there is an Israel and a fearsome IDF there won’t be one either, except for the ones we inhabit in our minds and recreate in the external reality of the physical world, like outside a shoe store in Brooklyn or on the streets of Lod. The time to redress our glaring deficit is now. Jews routinely swallow shame, abuse, we cower, deflect, and make excuses. No one even got in Omar’s face to demand an apology, a how dare you? A PTSD stricken, half-witted, refugee who’s lucky to even be alive and living here, let alone elected to congress, but figured out pretty quickly who the easy targets for insults, threats, and abuse are. No one got in her face. No one. Ha’zman hi giah. Why wait for the moshiach or the age of Aquairius, when all we need is already here waiting for us to look into the mirror and say enough is enough, to begin the long, painful but liberating process of re-habilitating and re-conditioning ourselves to act with the selfless courage that speaks much louder than any op-ed, hash-tag, blog-post, petition, legislation, tweet, memorandum, letter to the editor or speech in front of the Capital steps. Then the Judeaphobic bigots will have to adjust. That’s how it goes. Let’s see. Suppose the Brooklyn attacker, in self-defense was taken out on a stretcher? What then? Who will be for me? It’s us or it’s no one, and the abuse will continue, like it or lump it, while the time has long been now, and we know it. Achshav. Here and now. Ha’zman hi giah.

About the Author
Robert is a life-long New Yorker, working actor, author and world traveler.
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