June 17, 2024
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June 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The hot Jerusalem sun bounced off the window of the Gal-Paz record shop and burned through my shirt. Ignoring the heat, I stood outside the store reveling in the Erev Shabbos atmosphere of the Geulah neighborhood while my husband paid for our purchases inside. The tantalizing aroma of simmering gefilte fish and just baked challah soon proved to be too much for my diet. I snuck another delicious ruggelah from its waxed bag and munched while I observed the wonderful mix of individuals all around me. “What a scene,” I thought, as I gazed at the blend of foreign tourists shopping for treasures. I chuckled as I moved out of the path of a group of haredi children darting down the block, tzitis and peyos flying. All the while neighborhood residents balancing bulging shopping bags filled with food rushed past, snaking their way around city buses and taxis. Miraculously, the entire crowd managed to navigate the narrow thoroughfares safely.

Soon, purchases in hand, we too were making our way around the corner to Meah Shearim, to pick up one last item, a beautiful painting of the Old City that we had left for framing earlier in the week.

“Look,” I motioned to my husband. On the corner. A Chabad Mitzvah Mobile. It’s hard to believe that even in this area there is a need for kiruv. Look how they’re showing those young soldiers how to put on tefillin. Where else can you find so many different types of Jews smiling at each other?”

The art store in Meah Shearim was mobbed, but the charming Hasidic proprietress welcomed us like long lost friends.

Shalom Aleichem. I’m so glad to see you both. I have your painting all wrapped up. Wait until your daughter sees what you’ve bought for her. She’ll just love it. I’m positive. You just have to look at that picture and you can feel the shechinah of Yerushalayim in every stone.”

We couldn’t have been more dissimilar, she and I. She, in her long black skirt and modest top, her dark sheitel covered with a pill-box hat, her face shiny clean and devoid of makeup, I dressed in my knee-length denim skirt, pink T-shirt and Israeli sandalim. Yet, despite her halting English and my hesitant Hebrew, we had easily bonded over art and family. As we left her store with the painting, we wished each other a warm “Guten Shabbos” and a heartfelt “Gut gebensht yur” and headed out once more into the sunshine.

As we strolled, I strained to make out the words of a faint disembodied voice echoing from a megaphone somewhere in the distance. “Is someone making some sort of announcement?” I wondered. I couldn’t quite decipher the words but the speaker sounded loud and angry. As the sound grew closer I was able to hear the word “tsnius” being repeated over and over.

Then they came into view. There were three of them, a small line of bearded young men walking side by side, all dressed in black. The man in the middle was taller than his companions and he was the one brandishing the megaphone. They strode down the middle of the street intent on their mission, oblivious to the horns of the drivers on either side of them. No one was getting in their way.

Before I could comprehend what was happening, the man with the megaphone sighted us. He stopped and pointed at me, screaming the words “shiksah, shiksah.” For emphasis, he then pointed to my husband and added something in Yiddish about pritzus, repeating the words shiksah and pritzus loudly as he gestured.

I stood frozen at the insult, the blood rushing to my face. Everyone on the street stopped and stared at the spectacle. As my husband angrily started to rush over to the men to protest, I held his arm. “Don’t. Let’s just get out of here, please. Don’t start with them. Let’s just go. It doesn’t matter what they say.”

But of course it did matter. Our beautiful day was ruined. The convivial atmosphere of the Holy City of Jerusalem dispelled. True, the Tsnius Police did not throw stones at us or ruin our clothes with bleach as they sometimes do. Instead, they used their harsh words as weapons and they inflicted embarrassment and pain. Even worse, they damaged my relationship with my fellow Jews.

As we enter this season of the Yomim Noraim, I can’t help wondering whether I will be able to forgive their insult. Or will I become just like them, lumping everyone together in a haze of prejudice?

By Estelle Glass

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