We have a friend who absolutely loves visiting Israel. I mean loves! He can’t get enough of it. He marvels as he walks around and cries out, “Everything here is Jewish!! The air is Jewish air! The food is Jewish food! The national holidays are Jewish holidays! The doctors are Jewish doctors! The hospitals are Jewish hospitals! The grass is Jewish grass! The stones are Jewish stones! It’s amazing!” It truly is amazing. Even the policemen are Jewish policemen. This phenomenon lends itself to the most interesting exchanges.
About a year after we made aliyah, my mother who was visiting us fell and broke her wrist. She required surgery, which was scheduled to take place at Hadassah Hospital. As I drove to be with her, I turned up onto Strauss Street. This was in the days before the pedestrian mall, when you could still drive through the center of town in Yerushalayim. But while you were allowed to drive on Rechov Yaffo, unbeknownst to me, only taxis and buses were allowed to drive up Strauss. Apparently, I was not the only one not in the know about this particular rule, and a strategically positioned policewoman pulled over one car after another for the same moving violation. When I do something wrong, I’m usually not afraid to admit it. But in this case, I hadn’t a clue as to what I had done wrong. I asked the officer what the problem was. Why was I being pulled over? Being the Jewish policewoman that she was, she didn’t just answer that I drove on a street reserved for taxis and buses. She told me that I did an “aveira chamura!” - a serious sin! Can you imagine? I felt awful. Not only had I done something illegal, but it was a terrible sin as well! How would I atone? I know that Hashem welcomes our teshuvah at any time, but which of the “Al Cheits” that we klop on Yom Kippur covers moving violations?? And all of this on the day of my mother’s surgery, no less, when I should have been racking up mitzvos, not aveiros, in her merit. Just dreadful!
Another interaction that I had with a Jewish police officer was definitely a more pleasant experience. Once upon a time, the two main streets in the original Ramat Beit Shemesh mercaz (center) were open to two-way traffic. At some point, the city planner switched them to one-way streets. This was a positive development but one that took some getting used to. Once again, a well-placed police officer pulled over many baffled drivers who were not yet used to or even aware of the change. Yup - I was one of those. And as soon as I made the turn and he pulled me over, I instinctively slapped my forehead with my hand and said, “Uch! I know what I just did.” My gut response was, unfortunately, not the best one for me to verbalize out loud. The officer immediately quoted me as he wrote out my ticket. “She says she knows what she did.” I’ve never had much luck with fighting tickets but there was no way that brilliant remark of mine was going to help my case one iota. So, I presented the cop with the best defense I could think of: I gave him a halachah shiur. I explained that just because someone engages in an activity which he knows is not permissible, doesn’t mean that he is automatically guilty of intentionally violating the law. I gave the example of Shabbos, which even a secular Jewish policeman knows much about. An observant Jew might forget for a moment that it’s Shabbos and turn on a light. While he knows that doing so is prohibited, a short memory lapse is what causes this unfortunate occurrence. This is a far cry from someone who flippantly disregards halachah and purposely turns on the light. I explained that similarly, I knew in my head that making that turn was no longer legal. However, I was just habitually doing what I had done hundreds of times before! I wasn’t ignoring the law! The officer was intrigued. A Jewish officer with a yiddishe kup. He accepted my explanation and agreed that I didn’t deserve a ticket. The only problem was that he had already written out the ticket. He couldn’t cancel it, but he did add a comment explaining why it should be withdrawn after all. He said that hopefully they wouldn’t send me a ticket in the end. And they didn’t!
We also have Jewish robbers. Not such a good thing. There was a time many years ago that a certain young boy would enter the gardens on our block and steal little things like balls and toys. It was annoying, but also sad. One Friday afternoon, we caught him red-handed leaving my neighbor’s garden with a rope. We stopped him and called the police. Upon arrival, the police informed us that there was nothing they could do since the boy was underage. This was a very valuable nugget of information for the boy to hear. He learned that he could continue his offending behavior with no consequence. Years later, a group of teens threw rocks at my car as I was driving down their street. I got out my car to photograph them and perhaps even scare them just a tiny bit. When I caught up with the group, I was shocked to find none other than that little robber, who was now older and more mature than the last time I’d seen him. I told him that I recognized him as the boy who used to take things from the gardens on my block. He was totally unfazed by what I had said. Like a long-lost friend with whom he was so happy to be reunited, he gave me a huge smile, slapped me on the shoulder, and said, “That’s right! How have you been?”
Our friend is correct. Israel is indeed the Jewish land.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.