Kenneth Ryesky
Kenneth Ryesky

We are all being watched

Some managers of a certain airline which will not be named (but which is popularly known as the flagship airline of Israel) have been boasting to their friends that they saved their company money on food expenses; they procured prepackaged airline meals from a new caterer whose expenses (and therefore, sales prices) are lower because there is no kosher supervision in the caterer’s food preparation facility.  And to get the food onto the airplane, they printed up their own kosher supervision labels which exactly resembled the labels used by the previous meal supplier, and affixed those labels to the prepackaged meals.

{Actually, the preceding paragraph emphatically is not true (to the best of my knowledge, at least); it is intended as a provocative, hyperbolic, outrage-inducing opener to this blog posting.  Dear reader, following an excursus or two we shall eventually return to this and resolve the discord created; meanwhile, keep it on the rear burner over a low flame, and stay agitated and apprehensive.}.

In my pre-Aliyah law practice, I volunteered as a Small Claims Arbitrator in the New York City Civil Court.  As noted 45 years ago, “The arbitrators are volunteer members of the New York Bar who, with little recognition, give of their time in the evening to assist the Small Claims Court in disposing of a voluminous caseload. They are capable, diligent and dedicated.”

On one occasion, shortly after arriving for an arbitration session an individual having no connection to any of the cases that would come before me that evening struck up a conversation with me.  He had wandered into the courtroom to which I had been assigned that evening (which, coincidentally, was regularly used during the day by a Judge who had been my law school classmate).  He approached the bench where I was sitting and asked me if I was a Judge.

I explained to him that I was not a judge, but an Arbitrator who would decide the Small Claims cases assigned to me.  When he asked me how I got the job, I explained that I, like the other Small Claims Arbitrators, was an attorney who was volunteering my time and effort.

“If they are not paying you, then why do you do it?” he asked me.

“There is now talk about bringing a mandatory pro bono requirement for New York attorneys, just like they have done in New Jersey,” I replied.   “Several judges have characterized arbing Small Claims cases as ‘pro bono’ work and if I am ever compelled to do pro bono work I want it to be something that gives me satisfaction and enjoyment!”

“So it gives you a feeling of power?” he accusingly asked me.

“Well, there is a power element involved,” I replied, “but that is not my primary motivation.  I do it because the work is very interesting and enjoyable; my powers here are very limited.”

I then swiveled the chair around and gestured my open hand towards the “In G‑d We Trust” legend on the wall behind the bench, and said to the man, “And what’s more, I am being watched!”

The man remained incredulous over the fact that I was performing a vital court function on an unpaid volunteer basis until the litigants started arriving in the courtroom, at which time he walked out.  The reason for his presence in the courthouse remains obscure.

A few years later, in 2012, after Hurricane Sandy hit Long Island and caused grievous damage (including dropping a 7-meter-high tree onto my wife’s car), freelance insurance adjustors from all over converged upon Long Island.  When the adjustor for my homeowner’s insurance claim visited me, I showed him what Sandy had done to my house (my wife’s car was covered by a different policy, and a different adjustor had already made his visit for that damage claim).

While doing the walk-through and compiling a listing of all the items of damage, the homeowner’s adjustor asked me if I had any food spoilage from the power outage.  I answered in the negative, because (A) as Sandy was making her way from Florida, I had filled up our freezer and two refrigerators with orange juice and other liquids so that they would have plenty of heat sink, (B) we limited our accessions to the freezer and refrigerators, and (C) our electrical outage lasted only about a day (our back-fence neighbors were without power for more than six days).

The adjustor said to me, “You know, you are entitled to $200 for spoiled food from the power outage.”

“I know,” I answered, “but none of our food was spoiled.”

“If you claim it, I am sure that they won’t ask you any questions,” the adjustor continued.

“Look,” I replied, “I am handling cases worth millions of dollars to my clients.  I am not going to let my word go bad for two hundred!”

“Okay,” said the adjustor, “have it your way.  But you are passing up an easy two-hundred.”

“I know,” I said, “but I am being watched!”

As previously blog posted by me on these pages:

“I have significant reservations about using terms such as “Haredi” or “ultra-orthodox” because men who wear black hats but who submit false claims for government funds, bribe government officials  (including bribes to cover for insurance fires in which responding firefighters are injured), commit tax fraud, and/or cheat on their wives are not more religious than I, and using such terms only perpetuates The Big Lie that they are.”

Turns out that many people in that insular-by-design social group are also uncomfortable with the term “ultra-orthodox”, but have far less of a problem with (and even prefer) the term “haredi,” a word derived from the Hebrew root “ח-ר-ד” and indicative of fear and trembling in a world created and controlled by an Almighty G‑d.

My own discomfort with the use of the term “haredi” essentially amounts to serious doubt as to whether those who purport themselves as such truly fear G‑d as much as they would have the world believe.  Such a concern was exemplified in the wake of the 2011 Kletzky affair in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park, in which the dismembered body of eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky was found, and the murderer turned out to be one Levi Aron, who had ties to the community.

A woman named Eva Rosenbluh reportedly remarked, “To me, he [Levi Aron] is not an Orthodox [Jew] because an Orthodox Jew wouldn’t do that.”  Turns out that this same Eva Rosenbluh had continued to collect her deceased father’s Social Security checks for nearly twenty years following his death.  Nearly two thousand years ago, Rabbi Yochanan Ben-Zakkai expressed concerns similar to mine when, from his deathbed, he admonished his students to fear G‑d as much as they feared man.  He then clarified to his puzzled students that whenever someone commits a transgression, their initial impulse is to hope that no person has seen them, but that they should be more concerned about being seen by G‑d Almighty.

Returning, dear reader, to the first paragraph of this blog post (which, I vehemently repeat, is totally fictitious; indeed, El Al has been known to question the kashrut of food carried onto its airplanes by individual passengers who have their own special dietary needs.

Had El Al employees of even the lowest rank actually been heard to boast of such falsification of kashrut hashgacha, there is little doubt that people who call themselves “haredi” would be indignantly up in arms calling for a boycott of the airline and threatening litigation.

Yet, there seems, amongst those who claim implicity if not explicitly to tremble in fear of G‑d, a communal condonation of falsification if not acceptance of it when it comes to airline passengers presenting falsified “proof” of negative COVID test results.  That one or two (or even ten or eleven) would do it is not, in and of itself, necessarily an indictment of the entire community; what is an indictment of the entire community is that the offenders seem to feel comfortable in openly boasting about their fraudulent activities.   Indeed, some high-profile, high-dollar amount document forgery schemes were known amongst the so-called “haredim” years before this CoronaVirus crisis ever began.

In all fairness, it must be acknowledged that secular Israelis are also doing their part to violate the COVID regulations and certainly prolong (and increase the lethality of) the lockdown.  But the so-called “haredim,” who, unlike the secular crowd, purports to stand and tremble in fear of the Omniscient Almighty, have at the very least allowed the public impression that they disproportionately perpetuate the CoronaVirus’s scourge upon the Israeli public.

The perceived if the not actual double standard of the Israeli government in enforcing its continually-changing lockdown regulations has only encouraged the people from insular communities such as Bnei Brak, Ramat Beit Shemesh, or Modi’in Ilit to continue to place the compliant population in danger by spreading the virus and by overburdening the healthcare system.  For its part, El Al continues to pander to the so-called “haredim” by tolerating their disruptive and unruly behavior on its flights, despite a court ruling that the behavior of such passengers ought not be tolerated; such wimpishness by El Al ‘s flight crew is alleged to have occurred on the recent rescue flight from New York and mere perceptions of such flight crew impotence can only further facilitate the disorderly conduct of a social group of people who now feel a sense of entitlement to disregard the rules.

Moreover, El Al flight with the alleged fraudsters originated in New York.  Accordingly, if indeed any passengers on that flight presented falsified documents of negative test COVID results then they would have committed the felony offense of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree.

Perhaps if the Israeli government, El Al, and the New York authorities would stop trying to please people who remain undeterred by the knowledge that their every move is being watched by a Higher Power and start invoking all of their legal remedies (and let us not forget common sense), then those violators might have real reason to tremble in fear of man, if not in fear of G‑d Himself.

About the Author
Born in Philadelphia, Kenneth lived on Long Island and made Aliyah to Israel. Professionally, he worked as a lawyer in the USA (including as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service), a college professor and an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense. He's also a writer and a traveler.
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