Thursday, October 3, 2019

Why are you shouting?

Why are you shouting?

Even though I live in the country that brazenly calls itself israel, I do my best to avoid Israelis. The term to me does not include Charedi (i.e. ultra-)Orthodox Jews but rather the men with shaved heads who yell as often as they breathe.  It's not everyone but it's such a large percentage that one best stay away from all of them. It's no fun having poison with your morning coffee.

But sometimes one has no choice, particularly when it comes to transportation or healthcare. Two days ago, I traveled to Jerusalem and was treated to hot tempered yelling by the bus drivers in both directions. 

Many Israeli bus drivers are like Seinfeld's soup Nazi. (The Ethiopian drivers are a notable exception.) Be careful how you put the card in the machine. Not too slow, not too fast, not when he's doing something with it even though he doesn't appear to be. If the machine doesn't work, that's obviously your fault. Approach the counter very slowly. One bowl of Jambalaya please. 

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Today, I traveled to the hospital. I had to take two buses and was shouted at each time. Then I was treated to some more hair trigger impatience by some of the staff at the hospital. One of the patients shouted furiously at the nurses, who shouted back. Last time there, the surgeon who was examining me shouted at someone who called him on the phone. I am inclined to ask such people, why are you shouting?

Last week I visited the national insurance office. Again, I was yelled at by nearly everyone I spoke to. I had a queue number in hand and when my number was called I approached the relevant clerk. For 10 minutes she didn't look up. Remembering that in this insane country one must be assertive, I said simply, may I enter?

Her head popped up and in a rage she shouted at me the most hypocritical thing that any Israeli can shout at any living thing: "Savlanut!" "Patience!"

The famous critic of israel Norman Finkelstein says, "Israel is a mean place." He stretches out the word 'mean' when he says it. "a meeeaaaan place." I guess he's been there. You even see it at the hospital; although I must admit the hospital is a bit more civilized.

These people aren't just loud. They are angry and they are angry at you. They project a toxic shame that can kill you if you don't stop to realize that you don't deserve this treatment even if you made a mistake. 

But the real fun came on the ride home from the hospital. I put my card in the machine, but it didn't seem to work. The RavKav as they call it is not all it's cracked up to be. Few things in the country that erroneously calls itself israel are. Very often, the machines struggle to read the cards. One has to bend the card back and forth for the info to be picked up. So much for that incredible Israeli technology.

On the rides that don't issue receipts, it can get confusing. For example, on the Jerusalem light rail, the card readers don't issue a receipt at all and one wonders, did it work? Same with many of the intra-city trips as well as inter-city trips where the machine isn't working and the bus pulls over so that men who are even scarier than the bus drivers can board and use hand held readers. I can't figure out the rule and the drivers have no interest in explaining it. They'd much rather take a bite out of your head for even daring to ask. Oftentimes, it seems, the machine just isn't issuing receipts and the driver waves you on.

The problem is the fare enforcers. These are people who are even scarier than the guys who board with the hand held readers. They demand your card and swipe to see if you paid. Look out if you didn't. You will receive a ticket and a large swath of verbal abuse and humiliation, even by israeli standards. You didn't pay? We got you, you filthy, lying criminal who obviously seeks to drive the state into the sea. 

Guess what happened to me? I boarded the bus, stuck my card in the machine, didn't hear anything, bent it forward and back, heard some kind of beep, but didn't get a receipt. Nevertheless, the driver waved me on impatiently.

You always have to be careful when somebody acts casual in this society. They are casual until they are not. They go from exhorting you to not bother with the details to crucifying you in a Tel Aviv second. 

Sure enough, we drove a few stops and then came the fare enforcer. Picture the stereotypical gruff, stone-faced, arrogant israeli. He was tall and burly too. He reminded me of a grizzle bear -- not when the bear frolics in the water but when he is in a violent rage. 

"You didn't pay!"

"I did. Can your machine read my card?" It appeared that it couldn't.

"You didn't pay!" Louder this time.

"I did pay."

"Give me your ID."

Everyone is watching of course. I have feared this moment, having seen it happen to others, and have always been very careful to hold onto my receipts. Numerous times I sat in fear whenever the machine didn't give me one. 

"Where do you live?" Israelis are big on interrogation. They learn this in the army.

I told him where dutifully, not wanting to create a bigger scene than he had already created.

"Why didn't you pay?"

"I did."

"You didn't," he said with total confidence, like a man who is in the habit of defining reality. 

I wanted to say to him, I took three trips already today. I paid each time. Why would I not pay now? I took two trips yesterday. I paid each time. There's money on my card. 

But my Hebrew isn't good and I suspect any comment in my defense would have just triggered more full throated shouting. If you ever want to see heavy weight shouting, come to the country that deceptively calls itself israel. These people are like bull horns. They are nuts. I once heard comedian Don Rickles talk about Frank Sinatra's hair trigger temper. Rickles shook his head as if reliving a painful memory. This whole country is like that, at least the secular part is. 

I also wanted to tell the fare enforcer how honest I am. I am not any kind of righteous man but I don't steal ever. I am so careful about that. I won't even read books at the bookstore. 

But the thing is, nothing I could possibly say would matter. This was such an abnormal and pathological scene.  It's not abnormal for the country that shouldn't be called israel, but it's abnormal for anywhere else. It was his big chance to abuse somebody.

Here's how the exchange might have transpired in Tennessee. 

"Sir, I realize you might have paid, but the machine is showing otherwise. I am sorry I have to ticket you, but maybe get your card replaced so you don't have to go through this again. Have a good day sir."

I would say the encounter I did have was the exact opposite of the one I just imagined, one that could very well happen in many parts of the world. I have witnessed pleasant encounters like that, pleasant despite the difficult circumstances. 

But not in israel. Why not?

The Gemara says that Jews can be identified by three traits: humility, modesty, and compassion. 

Rabbi Shimon Schwab, Rabbi Avigdor Miller, and many other rabbis have commented that Zionism is the opposite of Judaism.

"truth compels us to state unequivocally that most certainly Zionist is not at all identical with Judaism that in fact it is diametrically opposed to it." Rabbi Shimon Schwab

Rabbi Miller called Zionism the "antithesis of Judaism."

Judaism is a religion of humility before God, of self-disciplined conduct, of kindness to others, of spiritual rather than materialistic pursuits. These are not the goals in the anti-religious, materialistic, militaristic, hyped up, crazed Zionist state. 

So therefore, it is logical to expect that Zionism will produce people who don't act like Jews. Take this fare enforcer for example. He was arrogant, heartless, and immodest. A product of Zionism.

Later in the day, I went to the bus company office to get a new card. I tried to complain to the young woman there about my faulty card (not the first time I have done that) and the ticket I received, but she wasn't interested in hearing it at all. Her smart phone got all her attention. She was like a stone faced soldier. Judging by her age she likely was recently in the military so essentially she was a soldier. And by the way, she was showing about 3 inches of cleavage. She was incredibly immodest. And this was in a Charedi neighborhood, more evidence that immodest women don't get harassed in Charedi neighborhoods despite what the newspapers tell you. This young woman goes to one every day and feels comfortable dressing like that.

And what about all the other shouters, and shovers, and humiliaters in the country that shouldn't be called israel? 

A few weeks ago I had a wild encounter with one of them at the car rental place. I had taken a trip to one of the separate gender beaches that aliyah (move to the land of Israel) salesmen talk about when pretending that the country accommodates Charedim. But this beach, like the other two I have visited, consists of a tiny stretch of dirty beach, maybe 75 meters, that is crammed with men even as more than a 1000 meters of spacious beach front is used by Chilonim (non-religious people). Even more amazingly, the Chiloni lifeguards, who were shouting constantly at the swimmers via a bullhorn, did not sit in front of the Charedi swimmers but about 100 meters away in an area that very well could have been used by the Charedim but strangely was off limits to them. 

After the trip, I drove to the car rental place and pulled up to the drop off area in the garage. A young attendant wanted me to back up so he could pull out a car. I started to back up but saw that the only open area was around a 20 meter bend. I would have to back up into a narrow passage way, turn left, and then back up another 20 meters. 

I tried to do this but got stuck. Drove forward, reversed. It wasn't going well. I drive maybe once a year and don't get much practice in going in reverse or parking. Plus, a health condition makes it difficult for me to turn around and look behind me. I feared that I was going to scrape against another car. So in a moment of daring, I got out of the car and asked the attendant if he could park the car, explaining as best I could in my faulty Hebrew that I feared damaging the car.

He began to shout. 

I haven't figured out yet how to respond to Israeli shouting. I don't like the feeling of losing control but need I be a punching bag?

It had been a long day, so I shouted back.

He became a pit bull. Imagine the foam covered teeth of a pit bull. Now imagine it two inches from your face. It was psychotic. This was a young guy, probably no more than a year after completing his army service. The closer to the army experience they are, the worse they are.

We shouted back and forth and eventually another guy came and parked the car. Then he made me wait and wait and wait as he took pictures of it. Israelis know all the tricks of how to inconvenience people. They are experts at aggression, passive aggression, every kind of aggression. 

But as the second guy was photographing the car, the crazy guy started racing a different car around the garage, intentionally driving close to my legs. The chamber echoed with the screech of wheels as he raced passed me several times. It was clearly an effort to intimidate.

I decided not to report him as I felt sort of bad for him actually. Plus, would that do any good in a country where behavior like this is standard? 

But then a few days later I started to worry that I somehow made religious Jews look bad with my shouting. Maybe he thought I was an American prima donna who couldn't be bothered to park a car. So I went to the office and asked the manager to explain to the parking attendants why I asked them to be the ones to back up the car. 

That's when the grilling began, the interrogation. What happened? When? Was it Tuesday? What time? Where were you? Which car?

Then feeling bad about my yelling, I let it slip that he yelled at me and I yelled back. 

He yelled at you? Which attendant? Was it this one, this one?

I stressed to them that I didn't want anyone to get in trouble. I wanted to smooth out the situation. But I could see that they didn't share my interest. They only wanted to know who the young man was so they could punish him.

I walked out thinking, this is the Israeli military, constant punishing of everyone. That is where they learn this.

Shouting and bullying comes from arrogance. Humble people don't berate others at the drop of a hat or bus card. Shouting is psychological violence.

Zionism has produced a country of arrogance. When a movement is based on rebellion against God, the result isn't going to be spiritual health. The result is going to be exactly what you see in the country that we should no longer refer to as israel.

Rebellion against God you ask? I refer you to Israeli historian Benny Morris:

“The war was definitely not a jihad or a religious war on the Israeli side. On the Israeli side, the Jewish population in Palestine, the yishuv, was 90% secular at the time. And the leadership of the yishuv was almost totally secular. The military leadership, the political leadership. It was a very secular society. You get an optical illusion when you look back from 2016 when Israel has become much more religious or a larger part, segment of its population is religious. But in 1948 the people who counted and actually the vast majority of the population was of course non-religious. In fact they were children, or actually the people themselves, who had rebelled against religion. This is what Zionism was all about, partly, against rebelling against the old world of their fathers, which was a religious world. They rebelled also against God. So they didn’t approach the war at all as a religious war, not the generals, not the politicians, not Ben-Gurion, not Sharet, not Allon, not Dayan. They were irreligious people. Maybe even they were anti-religious, so the religious people saw them.” (Israeli historian Benny Morris on “A New Look at the 1948 Arab-Israeli War,” Wilson Center, 43:15) 

You hear that you Christian Zionists? These are rebels against God that you are supporting.

After these incidents, it occurred to me, what if I had been an Arab? And what if I had encountered these abusive men in the West Bank? I am a Jew and an Israeli citizen so that is probably the limit of what they can do to me via their low level jobs. But what would happen in the West Bank, which the Israeli army subjects to a military rule that Benny Morris described as "brute force, repression and fear, collaboration and treachery, beatings and torture chambers, and daily intimidation, humiliation, and manipulation.” What would these disturbed individuals do when possessing real power over people?

I can picture the scene.  israeli soldier: "You threw a rock." Palestinian child: "I didn't do anything." 

israeli soldier: "You are coming with me."

The fare enforcer and the parking attendant decided that I was guilty of something terrible. This comes from early life training in the country that dares to be called israel, that all the Palestinians are our enemies. They are all out to get us and are all guilty. The soldiers practice this in the West Bank and take it back home with them when the army service is done. The result is palpable cynicism and misanthropy all over society.

All the fare enforcer knew really was that either my RavKav was unreadable or that payment for this one trip didn't appear on the obviously unreliable card that the bus company gave me and expected me to use. You know that he deals with faulty bus cards all the time. He didn't know if I had actually paid or tried to pay (which I did). He didn't care that the driver waved me on. 

But the fare enforcer thought he knew.

He reminded me of a German that I once encountered in a hotel near the Dead Sea. I was there with a close family friend who took me into a very large lounge. I sat down on an empty bench when suddenly there stood before me a young German.

"Get up, get up!" he barked in English.


"You are in my seat, get up!"

I got up slowly, looked him in the eye with disdain, and countered not too originally, "You want me to get up?"

"Get up, get up!" he continued, doing his best impersonation of a true to life Nazi, his grandfather in the 1940s. As I walked away I thought, so that's what it was like back then.

Years ago, this close family friend retired to that country that shouldn't call itself what it does call itself. A jolly, fun loving sort of fellow, he stayed about 3 years before returning to the USA. Reflecting later on those 3 years, he said uncharacteristically and simply, "those arrogant S.O.B.s."

At the time I didn't really grasp what he meant. I just noted the comment in my mind. I wondered how could a whole country of people be arrogant.

I don't wonder any more.

1 comment:

  1. This is a very cogent argument, and is written with a sincere eye to your frustrations. It should be spread to a wider audience, ash should your pre-selichos post. In my unsolicited opinion, if you would temper some of the language that plays into the hatred of our enemies- such as the analogies to Nazis ym'sh, your points could be used to awaken secular Israelis, and they - ironically- create a common ground between the "left" and the religious. Gmar Tov. Further, you need to factor-in the reality, that living in Tennessee has its own drawbacks.