By Rabbi Bentzion Elisha
I wasn’t planning to write about this since I initially figured this was solely a private matter. After replaying it in my mind and talking about it with friends and family, I realized that it is should be shared with others too, since it wasn’t about my family and me personally, but rather it happened to us because we are Jewish, making it relevant to any Jew.
Yesterday was Purim, on which we drove all around Crown Heights, our neighborhood, delivering Shaloch Manos for several hours. Our kids, needless to say, were restless and exhausted of the long ‘ride’, even though they had many fun stops at their teachers and several family friends.
However today, Shushan Purim, the ride is to New Jersey, to spend Shabbos with family, is long for an entirely different reason.
The 45 minutes it should of taken us, are stretching out mercilessly because of the severely congested traffic.
‘Why aren’t we moving?’ is becoming the common complaint that not only our children are voicing but we too, their parents.
This is Erev Shabbos after all, and we have to get there before Shabbos…
Meanwhile, the music is playing Pesach songs from the Seder night, and the Shaloch Manos from yesterday are being consumed in a rare exhibit of health watch abandon.
Purim is just once a year after all, and in just a couple of hours, even Shushan Purim will go on a yearlong vacation.
As we sing Ma Nishtana, Dayenu and other Seder hits, psychologically at least, Purim is over and Pesach was next.
We cross the Manhattan Bridge into Manhattan from Brooklyn, while the Pesach music just gets us more and more into the spirit of the exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the Red sea.
When we finally cross the river, we are disappointed to find that the Canal Street entrance is blocked off. We usually take Canal to the West Side Highway up to the George Washington bridge into New Jersey.
We are trying to get onto it, however, the small streets just don’t seem to let us.
When we need to make a right turn to get onto Canal St, we see ‘no right turn’ signs, and when we need to make a left turn to get on Canal street, we see ‘no left turn’ signs.
All other alternatives to get to the West Side highway are equally clogged and hopeless. If only we could somehow get on Canal.
I never saw Manhattans’ traffic so slow, we are literally inching our way forward very very slowly in half circles.
With every car flow allowance, the traffic is being directed by the police, it seems like only a few cars are allowed to go and then the police stops the rest of the cars in a futile endless manner that keep us from moving on our way.
I can’t help but beep my horn inspired by my constant time checks.
Whereas the kids are just anxious, we, the parents, are concerned if we will make it to our destination. Making Shabbos on leftover Shaloch Manos on the side of the road doesn’t seem so appealing.
Oy Vey! It’s already 5pm. Had it not been for this stagnant traffic, we would have been at our hosts by now. We call our N.J. family, our hosts, who calm our fears and promise us that surely we will make it since we have just enough time.
Looking at the stuck streets doesn’t help inspire me much, however I keep trying not knowing what lay ahead for us.
After going in and out of Canal Street in a high frequency wave like manner through both SoHo and the Tribeca streets, we are getting closer. On a very busy 6th avenue, driving north we approach Canal St. again.
Oh, Canal St. Oh! I see you.
Yes, finally we will make it. My hope resurrected, I near Canal as slow as a snail on wheels.
As we finally get to Canal we are greeted by a ‘no left turn’ sign!
Oh no, another half circle ahead I think to myself as we just pass Canal and are stopped by the traffic just past it on 6th avenue.
The upscale SoHo neighborhood impresses with its beautiful tall buildings all around us.
We are on the middle lane. The left lane is reserved for buses and is empty. To the left of us is a triangular street island on the middle of which is a police van. On the sidewalk of the island, just by us, there are about fifteen teenagers hanging out. This group of kids is made up of both boys and girls.
As we are sandwiched between the cars in front and behind us, I hear something thrown onto the car from the left side. A pebble perhaps.
I look at the teenagers who are looking right back at me. I lower the window against my wife’s advise and calmly ask ‘ Why would you do something like that for?’.
A girl from the group stoically looks at me coldly.
‘Huh. Just move on. Yeah, just get going.’ She hisses while staring me down.
‘Close the window. Close it right now!’ my wife demands of me.
I close it and look at her shrugging my shoulders.
All of a sudden, taken by complete surprise, a smashing sound shocks our family.
The sound of breaking glass is followed by a blend of children crying hysterically and my horn blowing. I sound the horn on the car to call attention to the area and ward of these ‘all American’ teenagers.
The rear window of our van was smashed with a big hole in the center of it. It looks like they threw a rock, a big rock. This window is situated right behind me, the driver. This window is adjacent to our 2 month old baby’s car seat with him inside it.
Immediately after the blowing of the horn I go to the back of the car and inspect our baby.
He is covered with broken glass and as I remove him from the car seat chunks of pieces of glass fall off from him.
His only exposed part of the body is his face, but thank G-d, he wasn’t bleeding, he wasn’t harmed, miraculously. After removing a piece of glass close to his eye, I give him to my wife to hold while I check our other children, who are all in the van with us, hysterical.
My kids in the backseat are crying and talking at the same time. The most alarming comment I hear is ‘My face. I felt glass bounce off of my face.’
I inspect each kids face for any harm and again, with each one, I thank G-d that they are physically ok, as far as I can tell.
I jump out of the van and run towards the parked police van, which is only about 20 feet from our van this whole time, yelling at the top of my lungs ‘These people just threw a rock at our car’ I point to the fleeing kids who aren’t even running, they are coolly walking away from the scene.
To my utter amazement, besides the fact that the police didn’t come to the scene as they heard the big crashing window, the police officer didn’t even get out of his vehicle. He had his door open and just had one leg out. I repeated my scream loudly, but nevertheless he didn’t budge.
From behind me, my wife clutching our baby, approaches them closer than I did, and yells at them to catch the kids, who under the police’s nose, just threw a rock, smashing the window by a newborn baby.
Some people around ask about the welfare of the baby. Some bystanders advise me to get the van number of the police so I could complain about them. The kids are freaking out and my wife’s and my emotions are running high.
Meanwhile, the police officers catch the group.
The time is ticking, and Shabbos is getting closer and closer. Completely (thankfully) ignorant of any police protocol, I explain to the officer that our Sabbath is coming and we must be on our way. The lady police officer convinces me to identify the perpetrator. She insists it’ll only be a moment and that it’s important that I do so.
I walk with her explaining I didn’t see exactly who threw the rock. ‘Just come for one minute’ she persists.
The male officer has the group cornered by the underground subway station, between the teller and the wall. Quite a few heads keep turning at the sight of this occurrence.
As I approach them, some of the groups faces express an unsaid feeling of ‘Oh no, here he is.’
The cop asks me to identify the pepetrator. I tell him the truth, ‘I didn’t see exactly who smashed the window. But this is the girl that I had the word exchange with.’ I said as I pointed the girl out. She was wearing a distinct blue scarf.
‘Without you seeing who did it I can’t arrest anyone,’ The cop said.
‘But, I will get their information.’ he states.
I ask for his name but he doesn’t have any papers to write on. The police papers on him he can’t give me, he says.
I said, Time is of the essence. Shabbos is nearing and we must go.
As I walk briskly back to the car I converse to the lady police officer and get her name which she writes on some slip of paper I find in my wallet. At one point as I tell her what happened, she just exclaims’ These kids are just animals!’
As we prepare to rush out, it occurs to me to ask my children if they saw who threw the rock.
One of my daughters through the tears says the same girl that spoke back to me said ‘I’m going to smash the Jews’ car’. It was that girl she said.
As the second police officer joins us by our van I tell him that my daughter saw who it was.
‘It was the girl with the blue scarf’ I tell him.
‘There were two girls with a blue scarf’ he answers me.
I only saw one.
‘There were only three girls in the group, can’t we call them back some other time and I’ll identify her.” I ask.
‘There were five girls and it would be incredibly difficult to actually get someone arrested at a later date,’ he retorts with an attempted sincere sly smile.
I get a feeling that he is trying to brush this incident under the rug.
He continues to talk about the futility of pursuing this incident as he sympathizes with us that even the insurance will not cover the window, but I don’t trust him.
The lady cop just looks down while the male officer smooth talks us. ‘This is horrible. I’ve got kids these ages too you know’ he says.
‘Are you going to file a complaint or something’ I ask.
I could file a report, but that would take a few minutes…’ He replies.
‘No, we have to run, the Sabbath is coming…” I answer.
‘Maybe you could give me your name since you have the names of the group you actually caught,’ I ask.
‘It won’t matter if you get my name. You won’t be filing a report with me,’ he quickly answers.
His answer seems strange to me making no sense, since he has the info of the teens, it seems most appropriate to link that to the report I will make, or perhaps later some investigation could take place based on the names and numbers he collected.
The nice demeanor of the officers doesn’t offer any solace since he is insinuating from various angles, shockingly, that nothing will be done to reprimand these teens, not even talk to their parents about what happened.
‘You have 10 days to file a report sir’ the cop tells me before we go.
‘It’s the 1st precinct , just a couple of blocks from here.’
‘Maybe you should put the baby back in the car seat’ the cop suggests.
I look at the baby seat covered with glass, the broken window with the gaping hole in the middle of it looming just inches away, threatening to break further.
‘I don’t think that’s a good idea’ I quip back.
I give the baby to one of the girls to hold momentarily, before my wife moves to the back of the vehicle and shields the backseat from the window by placing a jacket in between.
The intensity of these moments creates a mood so thick with emotion it can almost be palpable. (It stays with us for the next couple of days.)
The kids are whimpering still, as we leave Canal and 6th ave, trying to escape SoHo.
Our hosts call us and we explain to them that unfortunately, we will not be able to make it to New Jersey this Shabbos.
Maybe we should go to some Shluchim in Manhatten, they suggest. The deadlock in traffic discourages any such idea. We are heading back to Brooklyn.
It’s around 5:30pm now. Candle lighting time is around 5:38pm. The pressure is on.
We are making our way back through the fancy streets of SoHo not unnoticed.
‘People are looking at us. People are pointing at our car.’ One of my kids notices.
For some unknown reason, I feel embarrassment and shame of being victimized.
My wife keeps each kid repeating again and again what happened to us to release any trauma, and then we start processing the event together.
The kids are stunned by the fact that these teenagers did what they did, but the proximity in time of the window crashing and Purim make each one of us connect the two making their relevance almost obvious.
‘Why did they break our window Mommy?’
‘The young people saw Abba in the front seat, and he obviously looks like a religious Jew.
They don’t like the Jews I suppose,’ my wife answers.
‘So Abba is like Mordechai and these bad people are like Haman,’ one our kids simply states.
‘Yes. These people are like Haman who wanted to hurt the Jews, nevertheless, Hashem made a miracle for us and nobody was hurt. We just had a personal Purim miracle. Thank you Hashem!
The police didn’t punish these people, but Hashem will punish them! Or even better, Hashem will make them do Teshuvah!’
The dialogue continues, but the unique comparison between the Purim story and our incident show uncanny parallels. We personalize the story of Purim to this event to our children, and funnily enough, everything fits.
In our Purimesque experience, I was Mordechai, the Jew who Haman hated for not bowing down to him. I rolled down the window asking ‘why are doing that, when they threw the initial little pebble. The destructive teens were the evil Haman ( one person threw the rock, however the rest kept quite and hid their friend’s identity, agreeing with their actions) who threw a rock at our passenger window endangering the lives of our baby and children, G-d forbid. My wife was Esther. Esther was the heroine whose actions helped save the Jews from Hamans’ plans and help capture and punish him. My wife’s screams finally propelled the cops to chase down and capture the youth. The cops were Achashverush, the authority in the present area.
Just like the attempts of Haman to eradicate Jews was miraculously annulled, so too in our personal Purim story, the potentially threatening rock and shattered glass, miraculously, harmed no one.
In the heat of the moment, looking through the shattered window glass, I could see right into the hearts of these teens whose masks gave way in a moment of true baseless hatred.
Right there, in an the most unexpected place, SoHo, one of Manhattans’ best neighborhoods, under the glitzy billboards and trendy architecture, we were introduced to some of the fruits of this place. Young kids who have been striped of even basic morality and the ability to distinguish right and wrong.
I did nothing to provoke them. Even when I rolled down my window, I didn’t raise my voice, I didn’t get angry.
The girl didn’t seem angry either, she just seemed indifferent and cold. These kids were dressed in regular American clothes. They weren’t religious extremists or part of a hate group as far as I know. They were just ordinary urban New York kids, nevertheless, their evil coldness reeked of Amalek.
The attack was most unexpected and brought to life in a most illustrative manner an old Chasidic lesson:
There is an interesting Purim Halacha that states that if someone reads the Megillah backwards, meaning from the end to the beginning, he hasn’t fulfilled his obligation to hear the Megillah on Purim.
The Baal Shem Tov teaches, based on this Halacha that if someone thinks that the story of the Megillah is a story of some past events that has no relevance or contemporary bearing to ones life, hasn’t fulfilled the Mitzvah of ‘hearing’ the Megilah on Purim.
The shaken, wired and edgy feelings after the attack with its revealed Hashgacha Pratis, Divine Providence, made this Baal Shem Tov teaching reverberate in my mind and made me really see his teaching in the most intimate way. This Purim message just slapped me in the face with a hyper real state of mind.
Another powerful teaching that jumped into the forefront of my tense mind is from the Arizal based on words from the Megillah itself. On the verse ‘Hayamim Haele Nizkaim VeNaasim’, these days are commemorated and relived, manifest again. By commemorating and celebrating the holiday by performing it’s Mitzvos, we actually channel the holy energy inherent in them, drawing them right into our very lives.
The merit of the Mitzvos we performed on Purim surely aided in ‘drawing down’ our very own Purim miracle. However why did this happen to us, and not another Jewish family? Why did it happen at all?
A story from Rabbi Aryeh Levin, the Tzadik of Jerusalem, potentially answers this serious inquiry.
Rabbi Levin and his wife were very poor people who did not own many valuable possessions. Their most valuable objects were heirloom china dishes handed down from previous generations.
These dishes were stored on top of a wooden shelf nailed to a wall. One day, the shelf fell to the ground and with it, the precious dishes, which all broke into many pieces. At the time, Rabbi Levin’s wife was at their apartment. She immediately went out looking for her husband to inform him of the news. When she located him, she informed him that a great miracle that happened to them and she had him say Tehilim with her. Finally, she revealed to him of the great miracle, she told him that there was a terrible decree against their bodies, but instead, Hashem took it out on their dishes!
After it all, my wife and I feel sorry for these kids and see this occurrence as a dirty mark of failure of their educational system and culture. The violent and immoral movies, valueless TV shows, books, toxic music and games that these and countless others ingest daily just desensitize kids and adults alike making the craziest of actions (such as this very one) justifiable. (Other cops we spoke with after the crash, rationalized this event due to these teens being ‘bored’ or ‘unfocused’!)
From somewhere within, I suddenly recall an easy ‘remedy’ that has been prescribed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to counteract the G-dless mental space of modern ‘culture’, the establishment of one minute of prayer in all public schools. One minute to pray to the Creator of the universe, the Maker of all beings would surely reshape the perspective of millions, transforming the world over.
In contrast, the beauty of the Jewish school system’s content and the dissemination of the highest values expounded in Torah, make me very proud to be sending my children to these Mentch factories, that with Hashems’ help, will build people with a compassionate character and a gold heart.
On the following Monday I filed a police report by the 1st precinct . They labeled this crime against us as an act of ‘reckless endangerment & criminal mischief’. They didn’t label this act as a hate crime. This surprised me, since my daughter did hear the teenager say ‘I’m going to smash the Jews’ car’ just before the attack. Why would they strike our car and not the one in front or behind us? Was it really random? I don’t think so.
In addition, by the arrangement of a Crown Heights community activist, I spoke to a community affairs officer who promised to further investigate the incident.
I don’t know how proactive they will be and what they will actually do, if anything at all, but in order for me not to just sit with folded arms and do nothing, I documented the story to share with you.
I infinitely thank you Hashem for saving my family from any harm. I fear to think of other possible outcomes of this affair, Lo Aleino. May you Hashem continue to protect us.
I wrote this Megillah to publicize the miracle you made for us, our own private Purim miracle during a personal Purim story, within our Purim pogrom. In addition I’d like to thank You for reminding us that even though the Mitzvos of Purim that we performed are behind us, the lesson of Purim is not over yet.
The Purim story will only finish when the coldness of Amalek will be utterly eradicated through each and every one of us, finalized with the imminent arrival of Mashiach in the complete and final redemption, may it manifest this instant.
This story will be included in the upcoming book release ‘Mental Museum’, an anthology of contemporary short stories and articles written by Rabbi Bentzion Elisha, an award-winning photographer and writer based in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.