Out There: Locking the door

"Locking the door, I always thought, was just a given."

Painting by Pepe Fainberg (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Painting by Pepe Fainberg
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Many are the disagreements, misunderstandings and differences of opinion – okay, fights – I have had over the years with my kids about things that to me seem so clear, simple and logical.
I have fought with each of them at different stages of their lives about cleaning the dishes, reading in English, going to shul, making their beds, coming home by curfew time.
On each of these issues I was generally able – at some point – to see things from their perspective. Though I didn’t agree, I could well understand why they didn’t want to wash dishes, or do house chores, or read in English, or go to shul, or even why they would want to stay out way past the nighttime curfew we used to impose on them.
But there is one issue that has been a constant source of friction that, for the life of me, I could never see from their point of view: their objection to the simple act of locking the door and taking the key.
Locking the door, I always thought, was just a given.
You eat, you sleep, you shower, you brush your teeth, you do your work, you make sure to turn off the burner on the stove, and you lock the door. Those are just some of the basic things you do in life, the obvious things. No need for explanations.
No room for arguments. Who would argue over such a thing? It would be like arguing whether you need to wear pants. Locking the door keeps the bad people out, and the good people safe.
AS A kid growing up in the 1970s – in as safe an American town as Denver, Colorado – my parents instilled in me the habit of always locking the door. That’s just what you did when you left the house, and even when you were in the house. What if someone walked into the house while you were in the basement, or when you were taking a shower, or when you were taking a shower in the basement? But here, with my kids, I found myself often flabbergasted by arguments we frequently had about this. Granted, we live in Ma’aleh Adumim, a relatively small community with a small-town feel – and not in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, with their higher crime rates. But still.
Over the years I have had the following conversation with each of my four kids before they went out for the night, to return only after I went to bed:
Me: Don’t forget your key.
Kid: Just leave the door open. I don’t want to take a key.
Me: Do it anyway.
Kid: It’s uncomfortable.
Me: Give me a break.
Kid: Don’t be so paranoid.
In the odd view of my children, my insistence that the doors be locked – certainly when no one is home, and also at night even when people are home, but happen to be sleeping – is a holdover from some trauma I must have suffered in the violent “old country.”
In their eyes, this is yet another of my peculiar Americanisms, a sign of my being an uptight Ashkenazi, someone unable to just go with the flow – zorem in the vernacular. In their world view, native-born Israelis keep their doors unlocked.
Maybe not when people are not at home, but certainly when they are inside. Americans, on the other hand, always lock them, some nutty habit developed because of the crime waves in the America of their youth.
FOR THE kids, locking the door is part of a galut (Diaspora) mentality that I have never shaken, even though I’ve been in Israel for most of my life. Keeping the door open, for my children, is on par with what they feel is their inherent right to hitchhike. We are a free people in our own land, and all those overprotective customs – not taking rides from strangers, locking doors – are what Jews had to do back then, over there. Not here.
Hitchhiking, not being “nuts about the door,” is for them a sign of independence, confidence. Obsessive precautions about day-to-day personal security are the trappings of the galut Jew. They are the confident new Israelis. They can handle themselves. No worries.
My protestations that not locking doors, and not hitchhiking in dangerous times, is not a sign of confidence but rather an unnecessary lack of caution, rings hollow in their young ears.
“We can’t live in fear,” they counter.
“Locking the door is not a sign of fear, just common sense,” I reply. And around and around it goes, ad infinitum.
These fights over the key would reach fever pitch when one of the kids would come home in the middle of the day, and the door would be locked, even though I was inside working, not even sleeping.
“Oh my gosh,” I can still hear the words of my youngest son reverberating in my head. “You really are nuts and paranoid. What’s going to happen? Is someone going to burst in and attack you?” “Never can tell,” I’d reply, to the roll of his eyes.
THAT WAS then. Now, however, amid the current wave of terror, there is a bit more understanding from the children about my door-locking predilections, because they too listen to the news, and they too heard the recent report from Kiryat Gat about a terrorist who ran into an apartment building looking for an open apartment door to enter and try to stab the residents.
They still might color me overly cautious and overly protective – even overly American – but now they humor me and lock the door when they leave, and don’t laugh as loudly when they come across the locked door even though I’m fully awake and going about my business on the inside.
They are young, and trusting. I am older, and less trusting – in fact, not trusting at all. Besides, I’m a newsman: swimming in the news, saturated by the news, listening and reading and reporting on all the bad news, all the time.
Locking the door gives me a feeling of control, a sense that I can – with one turn of the key – keep all that bad stuff outside.
Would that it were so easy.
A collection of the writer’s ‘Out There’ columns, French Fries in Pita, is available at www.herbkeinon.com and www.amazon.com.