I bid goodbye to my friend Josh at Kikar Shabbat. We had expected some riots, but there were none and we both turned toward home, let down by the seemingly non-violence of the Charedim. I walked toward the Beis Yisroel neighborhood and he towards Nachlaot. When I got to the alleyway I had memorized as my turnoff (based on the Tuna Beigel bumper sticker plastered across the street sign), I noticed a throng of Charedi boys walking quickly down the block seeming excited about something, but I decided to continue down the block. It was only 11:30 at night and I was planning on going to bed early, but my curiosity got the best of me.
I continued down Mea Shearim street until it narrowed and the garbage seemed to come out of nowhere, piles of filth everywhere cemented into the ground by an awful lot of water. I wondered if this was the quality of street cleaning in Charedi neighborhoods, merely to pour water on the street in hopes of some miracle on par with the splitting of the red sea and all of the sudden the garbage would wash itself away.
Then I saw them, at first it was clusters of younger streimel-wearing fellows, in groups of three or four gesturing towards the end of the street. I smelled smoke and saw plumes of it in the streetlights and then at this random intersection was a full-out throng of kids pushing a burning mini-dumpster down the street towards the flashing lights of police cars.
I watched these kids cheering and gesturing wildly and pushing the dumpster to the police waiting at the end of the street, then everyone started running and so, like any normal guy with a huge Jewfro and a 30-pound backpack would do, I started running with the boys away from whatever unseen horrors would be taking place if I had stayed still. Suddenly I found myself alone and noticed the throng which was so scared a moment ago was moving back in. More people had joined in and I once again cursed myself for not speaking Yiddish.
Then I heard a rumble and before I could understand what was flying, besides for peyos, this truck started moving down the street and kids of all ages started throwing bottles and whatever they could their hands on at it, while others ran like mad. I figured the big ugly truck was going to stop and a bunch of Israeli police officers would jump out. I hid behind a wall in the entrance of a building just in time to see and mighty strong jet of water squirt down the street, small tidal waves complete with last night’s suppers, random cardboard boxes and plastic bags floating along in the stream of water gurgling back down the street. Then I saw them spraying the balconies and roofs, I wondered about all the people trying to sleep.
A young Chassid came over and asked me in a British accent what I thought about the whole thing,. I told him I thought it was the pre-melave malka party and that it was just a bunch of kids with nothing better to do on a Saturday night. I also told him that I didn’t notice anyone over 30 at the gathering. He agreed, he said that it wasn’t called for, but it did provide some good entertainment and I added that it’s a good way to work off the cholent of that day.
I had thought by leaving Jerusalem for shabbos I would have missed the riots, but apparently it was peaceful this time, a group of 7,000 davened together. Besides, you can’t burn your dumpsters on Saturday night, heterim for stone throwing at cars is one thing but heterim for fire are kind of hard to find and when you do find them they can get pricey.
Another little group of English speaking Chassids asked me what I thought about it, I told them the same thing but they weren’t buying it. I told them I understood that they were trying to out a new line of kiruv because Chabad was too secular and that dumpster-burning seemed to be helping people learn about the beauty of shabbos by showing how unified the community can be when you have shabbos to hold on to. They told me that Israel isn’t a Jewish country and the people breaking shabbos obviously weren’t Jewish, I didn’t want to get all philosophical, but I pointed out that if they really weren’t Jewish, they were rioting for nothing and other than conducting genocide on cats in dumpsters they really weren’t accomplishing anything.
After the burning dumpster and water cannon affair some other Charedi kids got the bright idea to wheel one of those huge dumpsters that support entire cat populations and can take the garbage of several Charedi families. This big dumpster was on fire and they were rolling the thing from upper Mea Shearim down the street to the cheers and disdain of many. Lots of the older crowd was walking away. I think the water cannon is so scary because what on earth do you tell your wife if your most expensive possession, your streimel, gets ruined in a protest?
I watched from a distance as poisonous gasses shot out from underneath the pile of plastic and the entire thing was engulfed in a huge inferno. I should mention that at this point I had secretly started filming the whole event. I was scared of the Charedim getting nasty with me but I really wanted some footage, albeit dark and shaky footage. They wheeled the dumpster down to the corner and several times we ran like mad. I wondered if this is what happened during 9/11 only they were running away from much worse.
Some of you may be thinking that by me just being there I was showing support, but I was merely watching the madness with extreme curiosity. Some may even call me a ghetto journalist in the sense that I have no credentials but I am just a social critic with no goals. Journalist without a cause maybe?
But this does lead to the philosophical question of the week: If these people want to stop the violence they have to listen to the Charedi demands and close the parking lot on shabbos, but if they listen that sends a message to everyone that violence pays and that is a terrible message especially in such a volatile place as Israel.
On the other hand, the only way to actually stop the violence would be to start physically hurting people. Should that be done, I heard more then one person say that the only way to deal with violence is to start shooting these Charedim, but when the government starts killing its own people that’s a great way to bring on a revolution, and I am deathly scared of a government run by Orthodox Jews.
Seems that the Israelis may want to start thinking of a security fence around the Haredi neighborhoods…