Transitioning from councilor-in-training to head counselor at summer camp wasn’t supposed to be difficult, especially since I had been a camper myself for five years. However, when I went from being a trainee to a head counselor I failed to take into account one small detail. I was working first session, and thus, would have a bunk of very young kids. I was now officially in charge of ten 11-year-olds. My most difficult camper, among many other things, had a rash in an inconvenient area, and I was told I must make sure he puts his ointment on it every night before bed. Due to common sense and camp rules there was only so much I could do to ensure the ointment was applied. One of the first nights this 7th grade pisher came out of the bathroom with empty hands and a perplexed look on his face. He told me he accidentally dropped his tube of ointment down the open drain in the bathroom floor. Right then and there it struck me just how helpless my little campers were and I thanked G-d that I had grown up to be self-sufficient and self-reliant.
Unfortunately, there are still times when feelings of helplessness and paralyzation wash over me like a lost little elementary-school child.
I so desperately did not want to write about the ever-growing media concern over Charedi extremism in Israel. For one, I do believe that the media has fueled this story’s fire. I got wrapped up in a book covering the three year ordeal of Gush Katif on Shabbat and came away realizing that no matter how much the media claims Charedim are splitting the country like never before, we have been far more viciously fractured. Secondly, I felt that I did not really have anything personal to add. Additionally, I do not love airing our Jewish dirty laundry in public. While I did feel strongly that the actions in Ramat Beit Shemesh last week were deplorable I did not have any delusions that this article will change anything.
But they just kept poking the bear.
I ride the bus home from work at midnight twice a week from Jerusalem to Givat Shmuel, which is across the freeway from the ultra-orthodox city of Bnei Brak. It is generally me and 50 segregated Charedi men and women. After being yelled at on Monday (for blocking the way for women to move to the back of the bus, Heaven-forbid she stand next to a seated Charedi man or dare I even say it, expect the man get up to allow her to sit), I boarded the bus Wednesday somewhat on-edge. There was a portly Charedi man walking up and down the aisles with plastic cups and a bottle of water offering everyone a drink. I exhaled and told myself, “See there are plenty of good people to be found in every sect of Judaism.” This was pitifully short-lived. As soon as the bus got on to the freeway I heard the voice of G-d. Or at least I initially thought it was. As it turned out, the portly water-man had brought his own portable speaker-system (the belt-clip ones tour guides use) and began delivering a dvar torah to the entire bus. At midnight. This went on for the entire 45 minutes.
This man, to me, became emblematic of the entire Charedi conundrum facing Israel today. He decided he knew what was best for the entire bus, and he will be damned if anyone disagrees because he can scream the loudest (though I did crank up Sir Paul McCartney to unearthly levels in my headphones in silent and effective protest). The utter selfishness displayed by the water-man outshone any good will he may have curried by passing out free drinks earlier. What’s worse is it also managed to outshine the few very kind men who offered to give me their seats as the drive went on. I walked off that bus feeling helpless and overwhelmed. Not in the personal sense, but in the national sense, and it was terrifying.
What do we do now as a nation? Who can we turn to for help? Will Charedi leaders, finally, after so many years, stand up and teach the next generation to do the right thing towards their fellow man? Will the minority extremists be drowned out by the more sensible and sensitive voices that lay in the weeds of their own community? I just don’t know and it horrifies me.
Though I do have some hope. In the end the odd-ball division head came to the bathroom with a head-torch (yes a flashlight for your head) and fished the cream out of the drain with an untwisted metal hanger. The kid may have been unable to help himself, but he was ultimately rescued by the kind and correct actions of others. I pray that Israel’s men in head-torches come soon, and I just wish I knew how to expedite their arrival.