Two windows on haredim

In the morning they gave us water. That same night they almost killed me.

By ARYEH DEAN COHEN
May 28, 2007 20:40
4 minute read.
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It was a wonderful Shavuot. Our 11-year-old daughter walked to the Western Wall for the first time, we delighted in the throngs who gathered at the site and made us really feel a part of Klal Yisrael, and we made use of the extensive hospitality offered by the haredi community to those making aliya baregel (pilgrimage). Indeed, we were struck again by the extent of the refreshments and other items offered along the way to both observant and secular walkers passing along the capital's Rehov Shmuel Hanavi. It was a window onto a world of good deeds that too often gets overlooked by the non-haredi Jerusalem public. But some 18 hours later, the holiday's good cheer turned to fear and frustration for us. A rock thrown at our car while we drove to work down a street in a haredi neighborhood - already a good 20 minutes after the holiday had ended - smashed our side window. It had been thrown by small children who, the previous Saturday night, had attempted to damage our car with a rope strung across the very same street. Astonishingly, a colleague of ours reported a similar attempt with a rope on his car earlier that same Saturday night. He'd been less fortunate, his vehicle actually "bouncing off" the dangerous trap laid on Rehov Yirmiyahu, one of its tires punctured. As the last glass shards tinkled out of our car, we shook our heads in disbelief, thanked the heavens that we had not been hurt, and drove away from the scene. TOO OFTEN, it seems, we hear people berating the haredim for no good reason. This time, as we shared the hot story with our colleagues, it was no different. "They all should die," said one. Still a bit shaky from the assault, we nonetheless took time to remind him that the haredi community, like any other, is made up of individuals. I pointed out that it was wrong for me - even in my anger as the victim of a random act of violence that could have easily cost me my life or injured others - to tar them all with the same brush. That said, and after four hours spent the next day filling out police reports and getting the car window glass replaced, we had some second thoughts. There was residual anger - the police report clearly stated we were victims of "endangerment." Someone had tried to hurt us for no good reason, and there was simply no denying that. I even caught myself giving mean glances to haredim as they walked by, as if perhaps it had been their kid who'd tossed the rock at my car. Despite my belief that no one should be stereotyped, it was equally clear that such acts of violence - the diametric opposite of the kindness shown my family and other Shavuot walkers earlier in the day at the haredi rest tent and across the city - only cultivate the kind of hatred exemplified by my colleague's initial remarks. AFTER ALL, having gained the right to close off roads in their communities during Shabbat and holidays - inconveniencing many motorists - what possible justification can haredim have for attacking cars after those barriers have been removed? Moreover, did any of the youngsters threatening cars on the road ever read or hear "Love your neighbor as yourself," "Do not put a stumbling block before the blind," or any of the other exhortations that could be used to explain why such dangerous behavior is the antithesis of what our haredi hosts on Shmuel Hanavi had in mind with their acts of kindness earlier that day? Filling out the complaint form with an observant police officer, we both noted the irony in the fact that the youngsters had victimized me, an observant person who doesn't drive on Shabbat or holidays. But that shouldn't even be an issue. No one needs to feel they are risking their lives by driving down streets in haredi neighborhoods which have already been open to traffic by their residents. Nor should haredi leaders tolerate their youngsters posing potentially lethal threats to motorists driving down roads on Shabbat that their parents have agreed to keep open in exchange for closing others. A rope strung across a road can kill, not to mention a thrown stone. HAREDI LEADERS need to decide which window onto their public they want opened to non-haredi Jerusalem residents: one that focuses on their many acts of charity and goodness, or one that forces us to focus on acts of intolerance and violence. That decision will go a long way toward shaping attitudes and preventing the stereotyping of haredim by some like my colleague as intolerant and often violent types who take government money and don't give anything back. Shavuot marks the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people, but we are taught that derech eretz kadma latorah - exhibiting proper behavior toward one's fellow man is even more important than Torah study. It's something the principals of the schools and the rabbis of the synagogues surrounding that haredi street might well quote to these dangerous youngsters.

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