I received a strongly worded message from my brother to hurry up and post something new so that Goldstone would no longer be the opening salvo on my blog. Ironically he made that request because he didn't like the article; I, on the other hand, only chose to oblige him because I didn't want to give Goldstone any more air time.
Okay, time for a new story.
Generally speaking cities such as New York, Paris, London, Las Vegas, Rio are the first ones that come to mind under the heading: Cities That Never Sleep. That's precisely why the nocturnal Bnei Brak is such a find. I live 20 minutes away and I didn't know about that BB until two weeks ago. Nothing like being a surprised tourist in your own country!
The entire unexpected adventure began two weeks ago on a Monday night when my friend suggested that we go to BB in search of something we couldn't find in Ra'anana. We had to go that night because Pesach preparation was starting to bear down on us and it was a now or never situation. So, at 9:30 p.m. I found myself standing on a corner in my neighbourhood waiting for two of my friends to pick me up. I was still in my yoga clothes -- and a cover-up skirt -- because I knew we were headed to Bnei Brak.
For those of you who don't know, Bnei Brak is a city located on Israel's central Mediterranean coastal plain, just east of Tel Aviv. It is one of Israel's centers of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. It is also one of the poorest and most densely populated cities in Israel, which in my mind comes hand-in-hand with being ultra orthodox. But that's a story for another day.
It is also a great place for bargain shopping because poor people who spend their days studying Torah instead of working -- and having families of at least six children who they can't feed -- don't have lots of money to spend, but they still need lots of stuff to be ultra-orthodox Jews.
We arrived at almost 10 p.m. and that's when I got the first shock. The streets were packed with people and traffic resembled Tel Aviv at rush hour.
After breaking several traffic laws (which is de rigeur there) we found a parking spot. We hopped out of the car and my friend who initiated this mini-road trip took one look at her two passengers and said: "Oy, I should have told you to dress appropriately."
We looked at her slightly baffled since we are both religious women (albeit Modern Orthodox) and we were both in appropriately long skirts (yes, with yoga pants underneath) and my other yoga panted friend had her head covered. "No," said friend #1 quasi jokingly, "I am going to have to walk ahead of you. You are going to stick out like sore thumbs because you aren't wearing THE uniform." (The uniform she was speaking of was a long skirt, a long sleeved shirt, sensible shoes and preferably a wig.)
At that point I promptly took my large scarf and wrapped it around my head. The two of them burst into laughter as I asked in heavily accented English if anyone knew the way to Bethlehem. I was looking for a manger. In fact, I looked like I had just arrived directly from the sound stage of Lawrence of Arabia. But there was no avoiding it -- I was covered.
Our first stop was an ad hoc business operated out of the apartment of the business owner. Apparently there are thousands of these little businesses throughout BB -- probably all off the records.
The business was run out of the livingroom where the business owner (a woman; men don't work much in BB) and her daughters sat on the edge of the sofa assessing us -- apparently two of us did stick out because we weren't in uniform. Friend #2 had to go to the washroom but after the cold glaring reception we received, she didn't have the nerve to ask.
That home business didn't have what we wanted, so we left.
Once outside we decided to hit the official retail areas. By that point I had reorganized my scarf away from the Beduoin look into a more traditional Modern Jewish woman look. My travelling partners were silently relieved.
The main shopping streets in BB are like the wild West. There are no rules. People are crossing the six-lane main street wherever it suits them and regardless of oncoming traffic. Cars are turning here and there even where traffic signs clearly state that it is forbidden. Flocks of young children are out on their own -- no adults in sight.
At one point we saw a baby carriage sitting unattended on a sidewalk in front of a store. We went into a children's wear store where we found clothes that were being sold in Ra'anana for twice the price. After 30 minutes of tsk-tsking over the arbitrary price differences we left the store -- and that damn baby carriage (with accompanying baby) was still sitting there unattended. Correct me if I am wrong, but in most places people go to jail for leaving their babies lying around without supervision. Lucky I wasn't in the market for a baby -- that one was such easy pickings.
Oh, did I mention that Friend #2 still needed a toilet? Well, she did. So we started asking around for a public toilet. We approached one of the few approachable men on the streets of BB -- a man wearing a knitted kippah, but not dressed in the all-black uniform of men in BB -- because protocol states that the uniformed men do NOT speak to women that they are not related to. He told us there was a toilet across the street.
In true BB fashion we headed across the street -- not at the crosswalk and not waiting for the light to change in our favour because there really is no such thing. When we arrived in the small courtyard to which we had been directed we realized that we were outside a synagogue and that the men who study there all day (and apparently all night) were staring at us with suspicion and disdain.
Since I am not intimidated by such stares I went ahead and asked where the toilet was located. Talk about giving someone an opening. These men started in on us in hebrew saying that is was only a toilet for men and that it wasn't appropriately modest for us to be there. Cut to the chase: my friend still needed a toilet.
We finally found one in the store we had just left. Well, it was sort of a toilet. I wouldn't normally subject my delicate derriere to such a place, but desperate times called for desperate measures. We all went to the washroom (and I use that term loosely.)
We headed out of the store again, only to find that damn baby and its carriage in its seemingly official spot. And now that we were getting used to the baby being there, we stopped and took pictures of ourselves with it. Why not? It was obviously there for some reason -- must have been a tourist attraction.
The events of the evening carried on for another few minutes. You really don't need all the details. Many people stared at us and our unusual non-uniforms that were obviously religous, but not BB religious. We laughed, sucked up our surroundings and finally left.
What is important is that there -- in the middle of Israel -- was a piece of Jewish history being played out in real time 2011. These are a few of the people Mr. Goldstone was ready to sell down the river. I hope he never needs a baby at 11:00 p.m. at night. And I hope I managed to get another jab in, against him. Sorry Peter.