A physical defense

The OZMA Self-Defense Project, which instructs participants on how to endure a disaster and its aftermath, is a response to worldwide anti-Semitism.

The word ‘quenelle,’ an anti-Semitic reference, is removed from ‘The Wall For Peace’ in Paris. (photo credit: REUTERS)
The word ‘quenelle,’ an anti-Semitic reference, is removed from ‘The Wall For Peace’ in Paris.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The shouts of pugnacious crowds, smashed glass, explosions, a plane flying overhead and sometimes rants of “@#$! Jew” rang out in the Jerusalem dance hall, while participants in the OZMA Crisis Management Project maneuvered blindfolded, attempting to protect themselves.
It was a mixed bag of 20-something French olim and several Jerusalem Post staff members at the Ginot Ha’ir Community Council in the German Colony’s Emek Refaim Street who were participating in the simulation, a response to recent attacks provoked by rising levels of anti-Semitism.
OZMA co-founder David Djaoui said the workshop is designed to train participants to predict, avoid and actively defend themselves against a crisis and its aftermath, particularly one motivated by anti-Semitism. Djaoui, himself an immigrant from France, believes violence towards Diaspora Jews will not involve targeting large hubs, but individuals – a man with a kippa or a girl with a Magen David necklace. With his partner Boaz Barr – a martial arts instructor who has trained Israeli and foreign security forces, and even action star Jean-Claude Van Damme – OZMA sets the goal of teaching individual Jews how to identify and defend themselves against an anti-Semitic attack.
Growing up in Los Angeles, I never felt a threat to my well-being because of my Jewishness, though in New York, a spate of “knock-out” attacks at the end of 2013 – when someone would run up to a unsuspecting victim and sucker-punch them, seen as particularly targeting Orthodox Jews – spurred Brooklyn rabbi Gary Moskowitz to put out a public service announcement via YouTube of key maneuvers to stop an attacker.
In Europe, and France in particular, violent attacks motivated by anti-Semitism are seen as on the rise. It has been two years since the murder of a rabbi and three children in Toulouse, and anti-Jewish sentiment is still felt there. In Ukraine, “Death to Jews” was scrawled on a synagogue in the beginning of 2014, and even in Australia, in the fall of 2013, hooligans at Sydney’s Bondi Beach mugged a group of Orthodox Jews who were walking home on Shabbat.
According to Anti-Defamation League statistics, American anti-Semitism has largely declined over the last 40 years, in comparison to France – where at least one in five Jews has been the victim of an anti-Semitic attack. Because of this gap – between my experiences living in the Diaspora and the French Jews who attended the event – I found it difficult to relate to many of the scenarios the Frenchman Djaoui and the Sabra Barr presented to us. But I did leave that day feeling confident I could cope with the stress of an emergency enough to endure it. I also walked away with a greater appreciation for what other Jews across the world still have to bear to just freely wear a kippa, light a hanukkia in their living- room window or not hide their Jewishness.
The Post first met Djaoui and Barr at a newsroom meeting at the end of 2013. Djaoui explained that OZMA’s self-defense system differs from martial arts, Krav Maga or kickboxing, because it shows its students how to manage the stress of a crisis by simulating it in an artificial setting. This exposes participants to what it feels like to face a maniac with a knife, or experience an explosion or an earthquake. OZMA’s approach is also holistic in that it offers preemptive tools to foresee and avoid danger, having the ability to cope in a disaster situation and first-response training, instructed by members of Magen David Adom.
However, Djaoui also said that OZMA was born out of a “moral calling somewhere” to answer a very Jewish problem. Its system is exportable for any public, to prepare them for a mass shooting or a terrorist attack. But OZMA’s target audience is Jewry outside Israel, particularly synagogues, Jewish day schools and also any danger posed to participants on Taglit-Birthright or MASA programs. Indeed, OZMA sparked the attention of Jewish Diaspora heads to the degree that World Forum of Russian-Speaking Jewry president Alexander Levin is a supporter, recently holding workshops in Brussels and Kiev.
In OZMA’s Jerusalem seminar, Djaoui said much of the same in his introduction, where he explained that OZMA would show us how to bring to the forefront all of our regularly occurring and unconscious reactions to a crisis, and better respond to them. He explained this with the backdrop of examples like the mugging at Bondi Beach, or coming across anti-Semitic graffiti smeared throughout a Jewish neighborhood.
Afterward, Djaoui and Barr instructed us on how to use our ears, be aware of our surroundings and our natural response to someone’s body language, to recognize if there is danger or not. We practiced through pictures and videos that depicted all types of gestures, from friendly ones to others that were precursors to attacks, sometimes anti-Semitic and sometimes not. A color code from white to yellow to orange to red was also taught, to assist us in classifying the threat level of an event. It ranged from the safety of being at home, to hearing and having to react to a gunshot.
Following this chalk talk, we practiced rapidly employing the color-code system before we split into pairs for the next exercise. In this series of games, we were acclimated to being blindfolded and reacting only to the sensations of sound and touch. For an hour, the intensity of these exercises increased from at first just disorienting us, to finally elevating our anxiety to almost match a disaster.
At first, one partner guided the blindfolded one around the room. With each switch between partners, the difficulty increased – until it culminated in a full-blown simulation of a catastrophe where we were all blindfolded. In this finale, we roamed around the dance hall in a defensive stance, ready to avoid, confront or escape from attackers. A traumatic soundtrack was background noise, while the OZMA staff shuffled around and squirted us with water. As we progressed into this 15-minute simulation, we were assaulted and had to escape from at first one attacker, then two, and even three.
At one point, my high-school wrestling instincts took over, as I thrust my hips out of the hold of one attacker, grabbed the wrists of another and eased him into a headlock. Although the whole situation was nerve-racking, all of the prior preparation aided me in eventually feeling calm despite the panic around me. Still, I couldn’t ignore the anti-Semitic barrage of curses in the activity’s soundtrack.
The morning concluded with a lesson in weapons of self-defense. We were given keychains of miniaturized batons and a dulled object that doubled as a knife. There was even an item that clips under the bill of a hat to conceal it. The room full of journalists was both intrigued and skeptical. Are they legal? It depends. Does it lead to looking for trouble? Their effect is meant to be more psychological. These weapons are confidence you can feel in your hand, the team encouraged.
The effect of these devices was apparent when we practiced using them on each other. The expressions of some of the participants suggested a pugnacious self-confidence, when they wielded their keychains at a fictitious attacker. But my partner, a female Post staff member, gained a sense of security knowing she could “stab” a mugger, or maybe even a rapist, in the gut – which would leave him unharmed, but scared nonetheless.
Djaoui and Barr then reiterated to first evaluate if someone is a threat or not. The session concluded by reminding us that OZMA provides the tools that can be used to avoid and protect – but if we do take on violence, there is a 90-percent chance one will be hurt. The challenge then is, will we be able to get back up?
I left the workshop drained but confident that I could handle the stress of a disaster. Still, I was unsettled by the anti-Semitic flavor of it all.
Then again, in one of the exercises, I asked my French oleh partner what anti-Semitism he faced growing up in Paris. He said that the kippa he proudly wears on his head in Jerusalem could never be worn publicly in Paris.