Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Nexus of Evil

In the Jerusalem summer of my youth I rambled from Abu Tor down to the Jaffa Gate into the Old City, to the left through the Arab shouk, to the right onto a little street whose name I now can’t conjure that took me past the magnificent Dome of the Rock, and then down again to the Wailing Wall, liberated not so long before from the hands of the vicious little Jordanian king.

I took the bus from Kiryat haYovel on Mount Herzl, where my sister lived, with its flimsy apartment buildings thrown up hurriedly in the 1950s to provide shelter for some of the hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing the murderous pogroms and expulsion campaigns that had erupted against them across the nominally post-Nazi Arab world with the declaration of the Jewish State, down to Rehavia, to the fantastic, book-laden, haute-kulturni apartment of Gershom and Fania Scholem—in exchange for the cakes and tea with which Fania plied me, I supplied gossip, which she collected, as she collected young people, and which Scholem, as they both called him, inhaled with all the ardor of a boundless genius and the world’s greatest scholar of Kabbalah and mysticism (sorry, red-stringed Hollywood dupes)—and from there to the old station where I caught the train to Haifa and shared a car with a raucous family of Indian Jews (I hadn’t even known there were Indian Jews, such was my ignorance).

From the shaded, flowered loveliness of the King David Hotel, whose very walls and air crackled (and do so still) with the life story of the tiny great country (for good and ill), I walked to the packed, filthy old central bus station, whence I was carried, in a fabulous, mad, crush of impatient, disorderly Israelis, onto the bus for Tel Aviv, then tumbled out with them all into that seaside city—with its anti-Biblical facades eroded by sea air and sand and diesel fuel, and pock-marked by bullet-holes put there by Arab snipers and their infatuated British defenders in their 1948 siege—then rushed, and crushed, back again to the glorious, sun-bleached, ancient Jerusalemite stones.

I wandered all these places, by bus and on foot, loving the fine dust collecting like mist in my hair, in the crooks of my arms, on my eyelashes, in my ears, in the wrinkles of my blouse, on the straps of my sandals. It was Jerusalem dust, and if I knew embarrassingly little about Judaism, the religion of my people, I knew plenty about Zionism, the religion of my family, and I rejoiced to be covered in its dust.

But all that innocent joy in dust and Zion was marred by the looming, leering, familiarity of vendors in the Arab shouk—all of them male—inching ever closer, closer—because I wasn’t covered—if I stopped to look at their wares, or staring at me if I didn’t, until I flinched away, and the sounds of their shouts “Yallah! Hamoudi! Come back please, baby!” followed me down the narrow alleyways that stank of the dead, fly-covered sheep swinging from hooks in the food stalls; and marred, too, less frighteningly but more shockingly, by the grotesque sight of Haredi men flinging themselves against buildings and throwing their hands over their eyes in order not to look at me as I passed in my summer dresses, and the repulsive experience of feeling those same creatures pressed up against me, clammy with intent, whenever a crowded bus gave them the chance.

I was no feminist; I laughed with pleasure at the catcalls that to the bawling ladies of the women’s movement were so odious—the barbed poison arrows of the patriarchal master-class of rapists, or whatever it was they called men—and felt scorn for those same sobbing chicks when they preached the superiority of primitive cultures—the ones in which the men did in fact harm and enslave their women. And I’d learned, as every New York girl must do, how to stomp on the feet of the pervs on the subway, and how to hurt them with my umbrella.

But those Arab men scared me, and those Haredi men disgusted me, and they do so still today: Unlike the appreciative, hooting construction workers and neighborhood winos who were beaten so tragically into cowering submission by the tribe of women’s-movement Amazons that took over and defenestrated most of Western civ, some of these men seem to have sprung directly from a pre-Abrahamic tribalism that sees women as sinning temptresses, to be avoided, blamed, maligned, attacked, spat upon, raped, and, in the case of the Arabs, anyway, destroyed in the acts of child sacrifice that are politely known as “honor killings.”  

In the post-Intifada, post-disengagement, post-Arafat, post-Cast-Lead, post-Obamic-settlement-freeze-obsession, post-hopeless-“peace-process” period of Islamofascist ascendancy, the Arab Quarter shimmers with hostility, and the words echoing in the alleyways are as likely to be “Go to hell, Amriki Jew!”—if any Amriki Jew venture there—as “Wait, hammoudi, for you, only $10!” But the quality of the woman-hatred of some is unchanged.

And all these years later some Haredim traverse the city in their own buses, with the men sitting in front and the women sitting in back, lest someone be tempted to look in someone else’s direction and something . . . explosive . . . happen.  

The effort to avoid the legion snares of secularism and modernity have driven these two groups even further into a primitivism that looks worrisomely interchangeable; like their counterparts on the “Palestinian” side, young Haredi men are already hurling stones at Israeli soldiers. How long before the nexus is complete, and Haredi women are strapping bombs to the torsos of their sons and sending them off to martyr themselves at IDF checkpoints or sidewalk cafes or pizza parlors?


  1. You don't understand Judaism nor Islam. If you did you wouldn't compare them because there is no comparison at all. Whatever wrong you claim some otherwise observant Jewish men have done toward women you are also guilty of reaching as low a level as did they. In much of the Muslim world women have their genitalia partially or completely cut off without anesthesia, have their labia majora sewn shut except for a small hole at the bottom, are stoned to death if they report being raped without having four male witnesses to testify to the rape, are forced to cover themselves with sheets and face coverings with screens, cannot drive, cannot work, cannot go out without a male relative escort, cannot testify in court, can be beaten and raped daily by their husbands with no recourse, are beaten on the street with pipes and boards by enforcers who deem them not covered enough, are literally melted with acid, their faces and necks melted into their torso, their eyes blinded because they reject a marital match, and more. And you're going to compare that to actual observant Jews practicing the Judaism that teaches that its the woman who is the foundation stone of the home, who is sung to and about every Friday night, who is supposed to be honored more than her husband honors himself, who her husband is obligated to support, love, cherish, and respect? You may just be completely out of your mind!

  2. To kall4less:

    I am well aware of the heinous acts perpetrated against women in the Arab world, and what’s more I have written about this subject often. Nowhere in this post did I compare “some otherwise observant Jewish men” to the practitioners of that primitive misogyny. You are the one who has done that. But surely you can’t possibly mean to tell me that Israel’s Haredi population, and particularly strictest sects, are not as anti-Zionist as the most inimical Arabs, and have not made common cause with them publicly—and in so doing closed their eyes to that barbarity in order to hold spiritual hands with the enemies of the Jewish state? You may not find that worrisome, or see a direct line from there to worse, much worse, but I do.

  3. please do not exaggerate. the Haredi who act so atrociously are a minority within a minority. The most extreme are definitely also anti Zionist, perhaps also anti women (although I am not sure of that either). A small minority that doesn't reflect on the majority.

    The thing about separate sitting in the buses is also exaggerated. In Mexico and Japan women ask for separate sitting; in Israel , in reality , both sexes want it. Yes it is a bit extreme and is not mandated by Halacha (Jewish law). When done in a non coercive way it is fine, but otherwise by law it is illegal in Israel.