Beit Shemesh from the Inside

Ami Magazine, though just one year old, has repeatedly proven itself up to the task of presenting “the other side of the story” against an uninformed and often hostile non-Orthodox media. Among the best examples is surely this week’s essay on “Beit Shemesh in Turmoil” by Sam Sokol, an American charedi resident of the city. While I strongly recommend getting a copy, the following quotation corrects the record in a number of critical ways:

As a resident of Beit Shemesh, it is hard for me to maintain my composure and objectivity when reporting on the extremism problem in Ramat Beit Shemesh Beit. While the entire country howls against the Charedim for their complicity in the threats and violence against little girls, and the Prime Minister calls for the law to be applied in defense of these innocent schoolchildren, I seethe when I think of all the American black-hatters who have risked their personal safety and taken time out of their schedules to defend the children with their own physical presence. Indeed, this is not a Charedi issue at all, but an issue of Jewish terrorism practiced by a local fringe group. Though they do not bear arms, their strong-arm tactics have effectively terrorized a peace-loving city, and have made the entire Charedi world look bad…

I think of all the local residents, Charedi and non-Charedi, who have protested, repeatedly and vociferously, over the past year, requesting that the municipality and the police do something about this disgraceful situation. How can it be that in a Jewish state, the police are unwilling to arrest thugs and batlanim who have nothing better to do with their days than to call young girls on their way to learn Torah “shiksos” and “prutzos“?

These men are not Charedim in the true sense of the word. Indeed they represent everything that the Charedi community deplores, and even hates.

So why does the media bay for the blood of the Charedim, especially when this is a criminal matter, and many local residents fault the police for allowing these people to terrorize the community without restraint? The dispute in Beit Shemesh has undoubtedly been used by the secular media as a means to besmirch the entire Charedi world…

Part of the blame, many among the moderate Charedi element in Beit Shemesh agree, lies with the official response to such criminality, on behalf of the official communal leadership.

Some observers contend that despite the claims of the extremists that they represent the Torah and the from community, few people have been willing, heretofore, to come out publicly and condemn the group. What some in the outside community have forgotten is that the extremists operate by terror; like all terrorists, they have thoroughly cowed their host community…

The role played by searching courageous members of the Charedi community in protesting the violence and protecting the girls has been largely ignored, as is the police complicity in the violence, by virtue of their inaction. Why? Maybe because it doesn’t fit into the narrative being played out on television screens across Israel: the big, bad Charedim versus the National Religious.

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29 comments to Beit Shemesh from the Inside

  • cvmay

    “lies with the official response to such criminality, on behalf of the official communal leadership”

    So its the fault of the Mayor of Bet Shemesh for his inactions?
    My cousins who have attended rallies in support of the Orot School and have a ’round robin’ system of protection outside of the school so that girls can walk unharmed to and fro have mentioned little if any support from anyone except Parents of the School and volunteers from the Scheinfeld community so thank you Sam for being one of the ones out there.

  • Tal Benschar

    Let me repeat what I posted on a previous thread. The most incisive comment on the situation I heard was from a well-known Brooklyn politician (I believe it was Dov Hikind), who said that in Brooklyn no Orthodox Jew or Chassid ever even thinks about spitting on someone or harassing someone because they are immodestly dressed and if they did, they would be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

    Some of the groups in Brooklyn are no less extreme in their hashkafos than the groups in Beth Shemesh, and in fact many have close hashkafic relationships. There are separate buses operated between Monsey and parts of Brooklyn, and those same groups do not post pictures of women in their publications. Yet somehow their Brooklyn cousins manage to behave within the law. Why?

    Short answer is Eimas ha Malkhus . In America, the law is applied swiftly, fairly and severely, and such lawless behavior is not tolerated. The notion that a condemnation by the Agudah, R. Elyashiv or any other mainstream Charedi rav or rabbinic group is a substitute for Eimas ha Malkhus is utterly specious, especially considering that the groups who perpetrate these outrages have utter contempt for the mainstream Charedi groups.

  • Dovid

    Yes, the media has made unfair use of this episode, and it is, quite frankly, sickening. But are you saying that the Israeli charedi establishment has done all it could to rein on this problem, and – just as importantly – to make it perfectly clear that these thugs do not represent them? Yasher koiach (and I mean that very sincerely) to all those charedim who protested the violence and worked to protect the Orot children. But where are the official pronouncements by major charedi figures? All those names that we see on pashkevilim protesting concerts and all kinds of things – where are they?

    We can complain about the media all we want, but we should instead be using it to sound the voice of true Torah Judaism. Rav Ovadia shelit”a issued a statement condemning the violence and last night’s despicable “Holocaust” rally, and it was featured as the top story on ynet. Why aren’t the Ashkenazi charedi leaders doing the same?

  • Samuel Sokol

    Just a correction. I am not haredi but hard”al.

    I would like to add that I wish neither to whitewash the haredi role nor to vilify the community. We have to try and be objective here. The haredi community does bear some guilt for their silence but at the same time should not be treated as a unified bloc that supports violence. The haredi media as well has hidden the true extent of the kanna’us problem from the community, blaming the secular Israeli media for conducting what they perceive to be an unjustified witch hunt. Perspective is needed to get past the haredi apologetics and the secular condemnations. Any objective assessment will most likely end up upsetting both haredim and chilonim.

    Sam Sokol

  • Natan Slifkin

    As a resident of Ramat Bet Shemesh for ten years, who has been monitoring this situation closely, it seems to me that this article is misleading.

    At the rallies to express solidarity to Orot, attended by hundreds if not thousands of national-religious people, I did not see a single Charedi person present.

    Not one Charedi rav in Bet Shemesh or Ramat Bet Shemesh was willing to co-sign a letter of protest against the zealots that was signed by all the national-religious rabbis – nor to write their own letter.

    The only “courageous members of the Charedi community” to have “protested the violence and protected the girls” are a tiny handful of Anglos and Israelis who are so much on the fringe of charedi society that most charedim wouldn’t even consider them to be part of their community.

    Much more representative is the local mainstream charedi newspaper Chadash, owned by one of the mayor’s colleagues, which has never reported any of the scores of incidents of charedi extremist violence over the years, and only screams about the “persecution” of charedim.

  • Nachum Boehm

    Many of us are still waiting for the Eida Chareidus Toldos Ahron Rebbe, and the Litvishe Gedolim to publicly deplore these “extremists” (and take other measures against them). Until they do so, I’m afraid they can be seen as complicit with the extremists.

  • Ezzie

    Sam is a good guy and friend who went to OJ with me, and who is a hard-working journalist. He is also NOT charedi.

  • Menachem Lipkin

    While Shmuel lives in Ramat Alef and can certainly claim to be a resident of Bet Shemesh, he does not live near the “action” nor has been out there on any sort of regular basis. It’s true that a handful of American black-hatters have been strong supporters both online and in person, and we can’t express how much appreciation we have for each and every one, to say that “this is not a Chareidi issue at all” misses a big piece of the puzzle.

    While policing is a big part of this, it’s not just a law enforcement issue. (Though thankfully, the enormous amount of media attention HAS created the political will to encourage the police to do more). There is much the Chareidi leadership in Bet Shemesh could have done to address, even mitigate this problem, but they were no where to be found.

    Early on in this saga, the Rav of the leading American black shul in RBS proactively decided NOT to get involved on any level. He even refused to sign a letter circulated by a leading Chardal Rabbi in Bet Shemesh which was carefully worded to be non controversial, addressing only the issue of the extremists’ behavior toward the children. (In fact, and unfortunately, NO Chareidi Rabbis signed that letter.) Many of this Rabbi’s shul and community members were furious at him for his decision not even to speak out. Furthermore, we know that there are so-called “mainstream” Chareidi Rabbis who have instigated their followers to come to the school and yell at the kids.

    There are very few people, certainly in our community and even in the media, who are claiming that the extremists “represent the Torah and the frum community”. However, it is certainly fair to ask what it is within Chareidi ideology that could spawn hundreds, if not thousands, of such extremists.

    While it might be psychologically comforting for a “Black hatter” living in America to place this abhorrent behavior in one neat little non-Chareidi bucket, the truth, as usual, is a little more complex.

  • Etana Hecht

    R’ Menken,

    Please, for the sake of journalistic integrity, find and post numerous examples of the secular Israeli media ‘besmirching’ Chareidim as a whole. Having been very involved in this process from the beginning, as well as being the best friend of Hadassa Margolese (correct spelling here, as opposed to the article you quoted) and accompanying her to the majority of her interviews the past week, one thing I’ve noticed is that, contrary to what you’re claiming, the media has actually been extra careful to differentiate between Kitzonim and Chareidim. That’s not to say the Chareidi community doesn’t need to take a good, long, introspective look at their ideology and education that can produce hundreds (yes, hundreds) of grown men who think it’s ok to harass little girls, but for the most part the criticism towards “charedi spitters” have been pointedly specified as a fringe group, and any criticism towards the mainstream chareidi community is in the shape of taking to task the leaders of said community for not coming out as a whole way earlier, thereby lessening the abusive power of the Kitzonim. How, you may ask, would it make a difference for moderate chareidi Rabbis to speak out against a group that could care less what they think? Because if every Rav in RBS A (and many in RBS had done so, every time anyone from any of those neighborhoods saw a grown man spitting, throwing things or sexually harassing girls or women (by calling them sluts, etc) they would have picked up the phone and called the police, as instructed by their Rabbis, resulting in some jail time, bail, and large fines.

    By this point, Chareidim in Israel are SO hypersensitive to anti-chareidi sentiment that I’ve noticed on many forums that as soon as the word “chareidi” comes up, people shout “anti-chareidi!”. It’s almost as though they already perceive the word “chareidi” as an insult if it’s coming from non-chareidim!

    [Too late, Mrs. Hecht; I already did. — YM ]

  • Chareidi Leumi

    >I seethe when I think of all the American black-hatters who have risked their personal safety and taken time out of their schedules to defend the children with their own physical presence

    This is simply not true!! I have personally been at Orot several times to help protect the girls and a black hat is a rare sight indeed (at least on the side that is protecting the girls).

    This post is just pro-chareidi propoganda.

    Fact. The people of beit shemesh have been terrorised for years by these crazy group
    Fact. The mainstream leadership has not done a thing to condemn these people or curtail their criminal activity.
    Fact. The mainstream chareidi leadership have time and again REFUSED to join in united protests against these fanatics.

    You can try and distract everyone with claims of this being an anti-chareidi crusade. But in fact, the mainstream chareidi world is complicit in the actions of these fanatic hooligans and has shown time and again that their support their goals if not their tactics.

  • L. Oberstein

    In Baltimore there was once a phenomenon of block busting. In Israel there is chareidi creep in Beit Shemesh. First of all, the town was not supposed to be majority religious but that is the way it turned out.There was a lack of suitable buildings for schools . Now, the majority of children are chareidi. The rest of the population justifiably feels that there is an agenda to change the city. This has been going on for years, first there was a shopping center that couldn’t open because it wasn’t modest enough, then there was harassment of people eating at a pizza store. It didn’t start yesterday. The chareidim want this school building for their use, they don’t want other Jews to be visible in their neighborhood,even on the border. The mayor has coddled the extremists, he has ignored the plight of the National Religious. Only now, does he belatedly show up to show his concern.
    My question to all your readers in RBS is, does this portray a future where there will be two cities. My son lives in Modiin and there are no chareidim in his neighborhood. Nearby is Modiin Illit, there are no national religious there. The only time they mix is when the chareidim come to the park in Modiin (because they don’t have one) and the datiim shop in Kiryat Sefer once in a while. Is that the future of Israel?

  • Etana Hecht

    Sorry, I looked through each and every link you just posted, and the only one that seemed to generalize the Haredi community was the one with MK Tzipi Hotovely. The rest did not at all paint all Hareidim with one brush, and tomorrow I can bring hundreds more that clearly separated the actual actions into sikrikim vs, chareidim, even if they still (rightfully) took the chareidi community and leadership to task for staying silent for so long. (Even though they somehow managed to find the time and energy to come out publicly against everything from strawberries to concerts to Mishpacha magazine.)

  • cvmay

    “The notion that a condemnation by the Agudah, R. Elyashiv or any other mainstream Charedi rav or rabbinic group is a substitute for Eimas ha Malkhus is utterly specious, especially considering that the groups who perpetrate these outrages have utter contempt for the mainstream Charedi group”.

    One does not substitute for the other, a condemnation is necessary and the force of EIMAS haMalkhus is imperative.

    Mr. L. Oberstein. Is that the future of Israel? Unfortunately so. Many neighborhoods started out as mixed kehillas with Charedeim and National Religious examples are; Bayit Vegan, Ramat Eshkol, Ramot, Maalot Dafna, Bet Shemesh & areas in Rehovot, Netanya and Raanana yet it does not LAST and the reason is politics. The funds necessary to sustain a neighborhood is in the hands of the Mayor, Religious Council and political MKs. They monies are distributed according to the desires of the politicians. Will it go to a community center, park, medical center, school building, etc is decided by the leadership. That is why Rabbi Rosner from America who purchased land in Ramat Bet Shemesh can NOT get his community up and running. They are zoning him out since they do not want any other Dati Leumi or Chardal neighborhood. Why people can not mix and associate with each other peacefully seems to be a disease brought to Israel from the European shores.

  • Bob Miller

    CVmay wrote, “Why people can not mix and associate with each other peacefully seems to be a disease brought to Israel from the European shores.” Ironically, they sometimes mix more easily with agitators in their own camp than with upstanding citizens and leaders in the other camp. See who/what gets denounced most often.

  • Yehuda

    While the proportion of Charedim who spit on little girls may in fact be small, smaller still is the propotion of the Charedi Gedolim who have condemned the horrific behavior in their community.

    This oversight on the part of the leaders of the Charedi community mirrors the same indifference that resulted in the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash.

    In the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, the Gemora in Gittin blames the Rabbis for not acting against the host of the banquet. The rabbis rather than the host are to blame for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. Similarly, by failing to publicly denounce the behavior of their followers, most Charedim do in fact share the blame of these extremists.

    [paragraph deleted by Editors.]

    Call people apikorsim when they say the world is older than 6000 years old and don’t allow them to go to Yaakov Shwekey concerts, but when it comes to spitting on little girls, shut your mouth. Someone, explain the logic to me please. IY’H I should one day be zocheh to reach the madrega where I understand.

  • joel rich

    Hmmmm, IIRC the sanhedrin travelled from Jerusalem to the spot where a nameless dead psrson was found to declare as part of the eglah arufa process, our hands did not shed this blood. The Talmud (sotah 38b) questions who wouda thunk the sandedrin killed him? rather the statement refers to not crating a society that would put him in a position that he could be killed. Sounds like a good model to me.
    KT

  • Yaakov Menken

    I’m sure Mrs. Hecht can bring many examples of news sources that don’t generalize, but the example of generalization that I had in mind when I linked to my previous article wasn’t MK Hotovely, but the Forward. If you read down to paragraph 8, the article didn’t generalize — but the header did. More people read headlines than interior paragraphs.

    I’m sure there are people who believe that because the Gedolim didn’t condemn the Rabin assassination, they obviously endorsed what Amir did if not his methods. I have serious trouble believing the Edah HaCharedis “endorsed” the obscene Nazi demonstration after Shabbos — every time the Edah endorsed a demonstration in Kikar Shabbat, you got tens of thousands of people, even in 1990. Today I’d expect upwards of 40,000 if the Edah called for a demonstration.

  • Esther

    Over at American Thinker there’s a pathetic post with lovely comments about Haredim stoning (yes, stoning) little girls. Ironically, the comments from goyim there make much more sense than those of our wayward brothers.

  • Etana Hecht

    Ok, now I’m just confused. The title of the post you refer to is “American Enclave Stands Up To Extremists”. Where is the generalization and Charedi bashing there?

    To be clear, even if it’s not the case here, if the media DOES use the word “charedi” instead of extremist, it’s mostly still added terms like “fringe group” or similar. These people identify Charedi, therefore the media is just calling them by the name with which they identify. The onus is on the Charedim who do NOT want to be associated with them to call them out, and separate themselves, as the DL Rabbanim did to Yigal Amir after the Rabin assasination. (And that was just one man! How much more so is it needed here, where the group that’s gone astray numbers in the hundreds!)

  • mb

    “I have serious trouble believing the Edah HaCharedis “endorsed” the obscene Nazi demonstration after Shabbos —”

    I don’t either.
    However, I don’t believe they are particularly are aggrieved by it.

  • Dovid

    “I’m sure there are people who believe that because the Gedolim didn’t condemn the Rabin assassination, they obviously endorsed what Amir did if not his methods.”

    The dati leumi rabbinic leadership most certainly condemned the assassination, because it was done in the name of the ideology and community which they represent. The charedi leadership has, tragically, not done the same. The crimes in Bet Shemesh are being committed in the name of charedi Judaism. There is no denying it. And it behooves the charedi leadership to take a strong and unequivocal stand against it.

    It’s a terrible argument to say that the charedi leadership is silent because it’s so blatantly obvious that this group is not really charedi. If a group of outwardly charedi men held a press conference announcing that halacha requires celebrating Yom Haatzmaut, or that the Torah encourages women to serve in the IDF, I bet the charedi leadership would be very swift to condemn the announcement and distance themselves from such notions. Yet, when a bunch of ostensibly charedi hooligans terrorize schoolchildren in the name of tzenius, they’re silent. Sorry, but this is inexcusable.

  • Shmuli

    I cannot believe people think that Chareidi leading rabbis speaking out will help in this day and age. On the rare occasion that a ‘gadol’ speaks out, his words are either twisted or ignored. Many of the pashkevilim have nothing to do with the rabbis whose opinions they are meant to be publicizing.

    Apparently, Rav Elyashiv once stopped on Meah Shearim to read one of the posters. When questioned about it, he remarked, “I wanted to see what I’m supposed to have said today.”

    There is another story from the 70s, when Satmar Chassidim where rioting and burning garbage dumpsters and people went to the Satmar Rov zt”l to ask why he wasn’t stopping his Chassidim. He answered these are not my Chassidim, they don’t listen to me. My Chassidim were killed in the holocaust.

    Whilst these stories may not have actually happened, the fact that they are frequently told speaks volumes.

  • YM

    If a group of gang members, nominally secular, in Tel Aviv go on rampages and rob and assault, do we expect all of the “secular” leadership to condemn the gang members lest people think they represent secular Jews?

    There is a difference between Toldos Aharon, Dushinsky on one hand, and the Mir and Ponevich Yeshivos on the other. I cannot explain why Rav Eliashiv hasn’t condemned the sirikim, but MK Litzman and MK Yishai have. I don’t understand either why the National Religious world didn’t condemn the NRP for forming a government with Shinui and Kadima against the Charedim, although in that case the National Religious were paid back midah k’neged midah with that same government withdrawing from Gaza.

  • Dovid

    “If a group of gang members, nominally secular, in Tel Aviv go on rampages and rob and assault, do we expect all of the “secular” leadership to condemn the gang members lest people think they represent secular Jews?”

    No, because the gang members wouldn’t be doing it in the name of secularism. It’s much different when charedim misbehave in the name of Torah. And besides, if the charedim demand army exemption and support for yeshivos because their Torah learning is so important, the general Israeli public has the right to expect much more from them.

    “There is a difference between Toldos Aharon, Dushinsky on one hand, and the Mir and Ponevich Yeshivos on the other.”

    Of course there is, but the vast majority of people – meaning, secular Israelis and people around the world – cannot possibly be expected to know that. A strong, loud, clear, unified voice must be sounded, and it’s not.

    “I don’t understand either why the National Religious world didn’t condemn the NRP for forming a government with Shinui and Kadima against the Charedim.”

    Totally irrelevant. NRP – whose philosophy has always been (IIUC) to try to exert positive influence from within, rather than from without – joined the coalition in the hopes of controlling the damage Shinui would do, not to help it promote its agenda. Whether that was right or wrong could be debated, but this has nothing to do with charedi violence in the name of Torah.

  • Yisrael Asper

    Rabbi Natan Slifkin said:

    “As a resident of Ramat Bet Shemesh for ten years, who has been monitoring this situation closely, it seems to me that this article is misleading.

    At the rallies to express solidarity to Orot, attended by hundreds if not thousands of national-religious people, I did not see a single Charedi person present.

    Not one Charedi rav in Bet Shemesh or Ramat Bet Shemesh was willing to co-sign a letter of protest against the zealots that was signed by all the national-religious rabbis – nor to write their own letter.

    The only “courageous members of the Charedi community” to have “protested the violence and protected the girls” are a tiny handful of Anglos and Israelis who are so much on the fringe of charedi society that most charedim wouldn’t even consider them to be part of their community.

    Much more representative is the local mainstream charedi newspaper Chadash, owned by one of the mayor’s colleagues, which has never reported any of the scores of incidents of charedi extremist violence over the years, and only screams about the “persecution” of charedim.

    I disagree. Much more representative is the majority of Chareidim just like the majority of other Jews. They also are not signing petitions or protesting but still strongly condemn the violence. You may point out some dynamics that cause a more reserved reaction when it comes to signing and protesting. I will concede that. Think of the varied reactions when the National Religious were all called Rabin killers, or think if Israel would really be guilty of something major against the Arabs. We would be thinking, to what extent and in what manner should we protest or sign against it? But if it is known that in any event we do object, and will let it be known in less media friendly ways what we think should be done about the situation, it is hardly an ignoring of the situation.

    Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein pointed out about the extremists that they were driven out by the Chareidim and that the Chareidim have been vocal for police action. The basic reaction from all quarters amongst the Jews has been outrage. You want to argue nuance in how much? Fine. Point fingers about how better a reaction could be, but to say that the Chareidim are basically not outraged or trying to have something be done is false. Rabbi Adlerstein wrote: “As the numbers of Meah Shearim-grown extremists increased, they sought space in other communities. (It was not only a matter of space. They were repudiated by many in their own neighborhood, including the Edah Charedis, which was still unable to rein them in.) Large numbers settled upon the Beit Shemesh area. Their growing enclave in RBS-Bet gradually spread out, to the point that they found themselves in close proximity to existing neighborhoods of dati Leumi and conventional charedim. Ongoing clashes came to a head with the opening of a frum girls’ school on land the extremists coveted… Thousands came to Beit Shemesh to help stand up against the extremists. Groups of Knesset members are scheduling visits. Most remarkably, Haaretz reported that journalists were getting plenty of lip from charedim – but not to complain as usual about unbalanced treatment of their community. Rather, charedim were turning to them in person and by phone to implore them to keep the heat on through their coverage, so that the government will have no choice but to take firm action against the zealots who make life miserable for them as well. Haaretz even had to concede a difference between a minority population of out of control extremists and a “mainstream charedi” population.”

    You are reporting one angle, fine. Rabbi Menken and Rabbi Adlerstein were reporting another angle.

  • Eli

    Don’t worry Sam, the Haters will come after you soon as well. You and all the “American” black hatters. They only start with the Dati, then move on to Chardal, and the Americans last (if they don’t agree to live like Israeli Charadim).

    Give it a few years, after the will the battle & the National Religous are forced to move out.

    We are (some of) the Israeli Charadim. Resistance is Futile. You will be assimilated.

  • YM

    Dovid, the NRP made it POSSIBLE for Shinui to be included in the first Sharon government. If they had said no, they could have insisted that all the religious parties be included.

  • Moshe Hillson

    And to add to YM’s words, I remember the glee (or at least the “that shows them” attitude) of some (not all) of my Dati Leumi colleagues at work when Shinui ascended to power.
    I cannot help but tie this with the volcanic reaction of some commenters to R’ Doron Beckerman’s article “The G-d Haters Within Us”. Why did so many take that article as a personal accusation? It reminded me of the saying “The hat burns on the head of the thief”.
    Another saying is: If you are to the Left of me religiosly, you are a heretic.
    If you are to the Left of me religiosly, you are a fanatic.
    Intolerance runs in both directions.

  • Andrea Eller

    This is making the rounds.

    THE SHORT VORT – Tuesday, 8th of Teves 5772, January 3, 2012

    RABBI, DID YOU SEE THE PAPER?

    I pulled into the gas station just as I was thinking about what I should write or speak about on the fast day this Thursday – Asara B’Teves. What message of hope and inspiration could I offer on this, the first of the four fasts decreed because of Sinas Chinam (Baseless Hatred), and which climax with Tisha B’av? The fast is a bit difficult to relate to. One year a man admitted to me in shul that if I had not mentioned the fast in the Short Vort in the morning he would have forgotten to fast.

    The attendant had just about finished filling up my car. I squirmed to retrieve my wallet from my pocket.

    “That will be $46 sir.”

    “Thanks so much. Here you go, happy new year to you and your family.”

    “Thanks. Wait. You’re the rabbi of that synagogue there on High Street no?”

    I hesitated; he didn’t look like anyone in shul. I asked “How did you know?”

    “I came by the synagogue the other day. I wanted to ask you something?”

    “Really? When?”

    “Yesterday afternoon. But I saw you were preaching and I didn’t want to disturb you. But now, since you’re here, I’d like to ask you something.”

    I’d never had my shiur (class) between Mincha and Maariv referred to as “preaching,” but….

    “Sure ask me whatever you want.”

    “Do you have a minute? May Ishow you something?”

    “Sure.”

    The fellow went to his booth and returned with page 19 of the the New York Post, December 28th. I saw the headline, “Attacks by ultra-Orthodox Shock Israel.”

    “Rabbi, did you see this? Is this true? Did this really happen?”

    I had to nod in the affirmative; I didn’t know of any denials.

    He looked down and then said, “This is pretty scary; no?”

    Again I nodded.

    He looked at me and said, “This is really scary; no?”

    His fear seemed beyond the typical expectation of a non-Jew’s reading such a thing.

    I said, “Hope you don’t mind my asking, but why are you so concerned about what’s going on in Israel?”

    This is what he said.

    “Rabbi, let me tell you something. I come from Pakistan. In my country there was no peace; there was always fighting and killing. Finally, my wife and I decided to move to America with our four kids. We settled in the Bronx; I was working 14 hours a day driving someone else’s taxi-cab. For a while things were better, but there were problems there as well. My kids were getting beat up and my wife was afraid to go shopping by herself.

    “I was desperate to find a way out for my family. I felt that we had gone from the frying pan of of Pakistan to the fire of the Bronx.

    “One day I had a fare from JFK to Boro Park, Brooklyn. I asked the man in the car what the meaning of his clothes was; he told me he was an Orthodox Jew.

    “I ended up telling him how my children are taunted and bothered for being Pakistani. He told me how his children walk together to school in the morning — that they have friends and they feel safe and secure. He told me how compared to other neighborhoods, the crime rate in his neighborhood was very low.

    “After I dropped him off, I parked my car and walked around his neighborhood. People were quiet and the children were happy. People seemed secure and at peace.

    “I came home and told my wife we should move to a Jewish neighborhood. There we would finally find peace. I looked into Boro Park, but it was too expensive for us.

    “Then my brother – he had come over with us from Pakistan — told me about an ad he’d seen in the local Pakistani paper about a gas station for sale in Passaic, New Jersey.

    “We went to see it and I saw that there was a synagogue near the station, and that there many Jews lived there. We decided to pool our resources and we bought the station. So we moved to Passaic to get away from the fights and the violence — from the constant confrontations which were so much a part of Pakistan and the Bronx. We settled in about three years ago and thank G-d, life has been good and peaceful.

    “Then last week I bought the newspaper… and I read this article…

    “Rabbi, I know from my days of driving Jewish people to Boro Park that you people look to Zion for direction. I know that you here want to live the way your people live in Israel. So please tell me, is what is going in Israel going to start here? Will little girls soon be afraid to walk to school here in Passaic as well?

    “Rabbi, I don’t want to move again. Will things be good for your people? If you guys are fighting among yourselves, then what hope is there for me and my family? That is why I am so scared.”

    I sighed, nodded again, and put the car in ‘drive.’ There were no more questions about what I should give over in shul about the importance of Asara B’Teves.

    NOTE: I believe this was written by Rabbi Eisenmann, Rov of “Ahavas Yisroel,” a shul in Passaic, NJ. My sincere apologies if he did not write this; I received this as an email, minus the writer’s name. I’m pretty sure Rabbi Eisenmann is the author of the weekly “The Short Vort,” which appears weekly in a Jewish circular. (I took the liberty of editing it, but for technical issues only.)