Sometimes, as a parent, there comes a time when you have to step up and be the hero, even if you have to make it up as you go along and hope that you’ll figure it out when you get there, or that there’s some massive hashgacha pratis that shows that Hashem, as our parent, has our backs as well.
For me, that time came recently on a Friday night, when my wife and I were bentching our kids, and our daughter looked out the back window and said, “Um… Someone’s stealing our bikes.” And I, who was between kids and had my youngest standing in front of me, basically leaped over him and out the front door, leaving him traumatized.
You can’t please all your kids.
Apparently, the robberies in our town (Passaic) generally happen on Shabbos. We’ve been robbed once before, about 10 years ago according to the very public diary I keep in the form of this column, and it was also on a Shabbos. Someone had broken our car window and stolen some kitchen items that were waiting to go to the mikvah, total estimated value about 30 bucks. It cost $200 to replace the window.
And it’s not just us. Every story we hear about these things happening in Passaic seems to have occurred on Shabbos. The non-Jews here hold of Shabbos.
That said, I was glad that this wasn’t the Shabbos that our friends from Brooklyn came to see if Passaic was a good place for them to move to.
“It’s pretty good.”
“Someone’s stealing your bikes.”
“Oh. Excuse me while I run down the street screaming.”
“No problem. We live in Brooklyn; this is a normal Friday night for us.”
But I’m not sure these gentiles knew it was Shabbos. We’d made early Shabbos, and it wasn’t even dark yet. It was still light enough to steal bikes. I guess the thieves in our town make early Shabbos too.
My wife, who has not yet noticed this Shabbos pattern, always tells the kids not to leave anything in a part of the backyard that is visible from the street. If people can see it, they might steal it. This may be why our non-Jewish neighbor, Herschel (long story), who is also our Saturday gentile, built a fence around his backyard – because for his house, which is on the corner, everything is visible. He doesn’t want his patio furniture getting stolen by a bunch of 12-year-olds so that the has to leap over whichever Yidden he’s doing melachos for and chase them down the block, as they chug along as fast as they could, pushing his barbecue on two wheels.
Unfortunately, our kids don’t have a lot of options of where to store their bikes, because our garage door hasn’t worked properly in years. It used to be an electric door, but now the way you open it is you call Totty, and he lifts it open, because the door is too heavy for anyone else. The kids keep saying that we should get it fixed, like they’re the ones who thought of that, and it is on our very long list of home improvements, but I don’t believe for one second that doing so will get them to put their bikes in the garage. They don’t even take the time to use their bike locks. Which is why I was worried when I heard that our bikes were getting stolen.
See, one of the downsides to never putting your bikes away is that they seem to break down faster. Just a few weeks earlier, we’d bought our son Daniel a new bike when he picked up his old one after Pesach and realized that all that time that he’d left it sitting under the snow had not been kind to the bike. And just a few days ago, we’d bought our son Heshy a bike, because he’d frequently come home from yeshiva in a bad mood, saying that he needed a new one because sometimes the chain pops off when he’s riding it. And then he has to put down his knapsack and get down on the ground and fix it, and then he has to come home and wash his hands, which is something he should be doing anyway.
So as soon as we got him his bike, Heshy started trying to construct a temporary shelter in the backyard for the two new bikes, using pieces of the old fence that Herschel had torn down to build his new one, covered in black garbage bags, with the garbage bags being held down by upside-down skateboards. It’s a work in progress. But still no one’s locking them.
Point is, these bikes are brand-new and not easily replaceable, so I didn’t stop to ask which bikes were stolen or even how many bikes – I just darted out the front door as fast as I could, because the kids who took the bikes were faster than we were. They were on bikes.
Also, there were three of them.
So I tore down the block, not having any real plan of what I would do if I caught up to them, like a dog chasing a car. I wouldn’t have known what to do if this had happened during the week, let alone on Shabbos.
My wife followed me out the door, wearing one slipper, yelling after them as they started to pick up speed. I wasn’t yelling, because I was trying to save my breath for running. And for whatever it is I was going to do when I caught up to them. I wasn’t even sure which specific kid I was aiming for.
I know what my original plan was. My original plan was to try to get out the front door before the kids got past our bushes and onto the bikes. But once it was too late for that, I wasn’t going to sit around and try to come up with a Plan B. I figured I’d think on the run.
It’s okay; I don’t run very fast.
But it turned out that Hashem had a plan. And apparently, I was part of it. As the last of the three teens was crossing the intersection, he looked back at us, and just then the chain on his bike came off and he went flying onto the pavement.
Okay, so it turns out that Heshy had been riding around on his old bike earlier that day, because he realized that as long as he kept it under a certain speed, the chain didn’t pop off. And then he’d left that bike in front of the garage for Shabbos – in view of the street. And that was the one bike that had gotten stolen. And this thief, in this haste to get away from the crazy people running after him and yelling, which he had not foreseen in any way, sped up just enough for the chain to quit on him.
So anyway, the guy got up, ran back to the bike, looked down at it, looked back at us like he was deciding whether he’d have enough time to fix it, and then limped off behind his friends, with my wife still yelling after him, some variation of, “That’s what you get!”
TIP FOR NOT BEING ROBBED: Make sure to keep one bike more visible than the others, and make sure it’s basically unrideable, but not in a way that’s immediately obvious. Like make sure that when someone starts riding, the tire pops off and starts rolling down the road alongside him. Or that the seat comes off if you apply any weight to it. Or that one pedal sometimes suddenly snaps off without warning. You want to teach these kids a lesson, because their parents sure aren’t.
Now before you say we were crazy for taking off after the thieves, I should point out that these are not seasoned professionals. These are kids who snuck into a backyard in broad daylight for a bike. And didn’t even stay long enough to notice that there were better bikes about ten feet away from them, under a piece of fence and a garbage bag. And skateboards.
In fact, our neighbors, who came outside in time to see me victoriously wheeling an obviously broken bike out of the intersection, didn’t even immediately notice the thieves. They came outside because of the noise, to see me running down the block with my wife running right behind me in one slipper, yelling. It looked like we were having some kind of marital issue.
“Hey! Come bac--Oh, that’s what you get!”
I, meanwhile, was wondering why we bothered. I’d wanted to throw out this bike. The guy was doing us a favor. We didn’t know that. If he would have just knocked, we probably would have let him have it.
But as soon as everyone realized what that had all been about, Herschel, who is also a fireman, jumped into his car and tore away, hoping to do whatever firemen do in these situations. (He probably didn’t know either.) We didn’t ask him to, but I guess this was as close to hinting to a Saturday gentile as you can get: “Oh, I think that by running and yelling, they’re saying that their bikes were stolen.”
“Actually, it was one bike, and we got it ba—He’s gone.”
And now my wife is saying, “You know, maybe we should look into getting security cameras.” Yeah, let’s add that to the list. Our prime theft deterrent, we’ve always felt until now, is that our house is the dinkiest one on the block. But that doesn’t protect our backyard. The only form of theft protection we have back there is a garage that doesn’t open, and the fact that nothing in there is worth the hernia you get from opening it. Well, that and the broken bike that we’re keeping as bait.
By Mordechai Schmutter