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Saturday, 4.30PM.

I’m in my office, trying to write. I know, I know: bad Jew, no cookie.

Seriously, I’m never quite at peace with myself when I work on Shabbes, but some weeks–more weeks than not, if I’m completely honest–the conflict I feel when I truck up to my office after candle-lighting on Friday, and for a few hours Saturday afternoon, isn’t quite as bad as the panic I feel over having more work than I can possibly get done in the other six days of the week.

I’m in my office, trying to write, and not doing a very good job of it–I finished a piece a bit after midnight, and it always takes me a day or two to transition between one thing and the next, so really I’m staring at the blinking cursor, wishing my officemate-of-the-moment wasn’t in so I could turn on some loud music, and feeling even guiltier than normal because if rationalize working on Shabbes by needing to get work done, then how the hell do I rationalize sitting at my desk on Shabbes and getting nothing done? So I install some new reference management software and fiddle with that for awhile, figuring that it needs to be done sooner or later and it beats staring at the blinking cursor of shame.

And then, it starts. Slowly, at first; in the distance, there’s the sound of something that might be voices, or might be a bus: a low, indistinct rumble.

It gets louder, more distinct. Takes on a rhythm. Definitely voices. Chanting.

Louder still, and the words become clear:

Shabbos, Shabbos, Shabbos.

I don’t know why my neighbours from Mea Shearim have taken to the streets against people driving on Shabbat this early in the year–it’s usually an activity reserved for the summer months, when there’s a much longer stretch of time to fill between lunch and havdalah. I’ve heard different things, of course: there’s a nearby parking lot that people have started using on the Sabbath; the light rail necessitated a shift in traffic from Yaffo to Ha Nevi’im and now you can hear the cars go by; they’re angered by the High Court decision that outlawed mehadrin (sex-segregated) buses. The latter makes the most sense, since the Saturday anti-auto demonstrations started up a few weeks after the court decision–and it appears there was some delay in news of the court’s decision reaching the community. But, really, all I or anyone else I’ve spoken to has is guesswork. All I know for sure is that for the last month, they’ve been there, every week, under my office window. And every week it seems there are more of them. Louder. Angrier.

Shabbos. Shabbos. Shabbos.

As I do every Saturday, I go stand at my office window. I don’t really understand why I do it–maybe my sense of guilt insists that I include myself in the condemnation they level at taxi drivers. Maybe I’m concerned for my students, mostly dark-skinned Christians in secular garb, obvious outsiders, who usually enter and leave via the door that the protesters tend to gather around (not that they’re targeting our door; it just happens to be on the spot of sidewalk where they end up standing). Maybe, deep down inside, even though I virtuously avoid cinematic violence and first-person-shooter video games (though I used to nurse a minor Nethack addiction), I’m just the sort of person who enjoys watching trainwrecks.

Shabbos. Shabbos. Shabbos.

There’s not a lot to see at the moment; as loud as the chanting has gotten, there’s still nobody on the bit of street visible from our window. My officemate-of-the-moment comes and stands next to me, peering out at the empty street. She turns to me in confusion: “Is it them again?” Yes, I say. Listen to what they are chanting.

Shabbos. Shabbos. Shabbos.

At that moment, someone comes into view: a man, wearing a striped polo shirt, holding the hand of a young girl in a denim skirt and a pink top. Their sleeves are short. Her legs are bare. Their hair and skin are dark. They look like they belong in the landscape of Jerusalem, but clearly not in Mea Shearim. They walk quickly–just short of running; they glance behind them. Fascination? Fear? I ask my officemate whether she remembered to warn our students about Saturday afternoons. She nods. “I felt ashamed, when I told them, because I had to speak poorly of other people. And they asked why, and I couldn’t give them an answer.”

Shabbos. Shabbos. Shabbos.

Later, I will tell her that there’s a difference between speaking poorly of other people, or their beliefs, and speaking out against their actions. Later still, I will sit with some of my students who, at this very moment, are just outside my sight, in a taxi cab being escorted by police cars through the crowd that’s now just beginning to trickle into view. I will try to explain to them that it’s about the integrity of the neighbourhood, about where the borders are, not about forcing everyone else to live up to the same level of strict observance. They will keep asking questions about why “the Jews” are angry at them. I will simultaneously despair–have I accomplished anything in the classroom?–and breathe relief because as long as it’s “the Jews” and not “you”, I’m not being held responsible for the crowd. My mind will wander; I will remember the young boy who looked just like the picture of Asher Lev on top of the stack of books on my desk. I will try to imagine Asher Lev shaking his tiny fist at a soldier, and I will fail. My stomach will twist a little with my own shame.

Shabbos. Shabbos. Shabbos.

But now, we watch the owners of the voices as they emerge from behind the building that’s been blocking them from our sight. First, a group of grown men, running around the corner and down the alleyway. The nose of a police car. Then, finally, the main crowd comes into view. My officemate doesn’t turn her face away from the window, though her fist tightens a bit at her side, her frown deepens. “My God,” she says. “They’re children. They’re all children.”

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