“There’s a volatile situation here and we can’t allow anyone to enter”
We lived in the northeast section of Philadelphia for five years. My husband was enrolled in a nearby medical school. We had just a few Jewish neighbors on the noisy, busy street where we lived. The rest of our neighbors were mostly Irish and Russian blue-collar workers.
The last year we were there, the city turned against us like a rabid dog. For the first time in my sheltered, suburban life I experienced real American anti-Semitism — silent and passive-aggressive. Someone scratched the whole side of our car with a key. Our tires were slashed twice. My husband was walking back to our house once after an interview, when a passerby in a car threw eggs at him. As luck would have it, he had another interview scheduled for the next day. I spent that whole night cleaning the broken eggshells and splattered yolks from his only suit, angrily muttering and spitting poison.
The worst incident occurred one clear October morning as I was yanking my kids to the car, already late for some appointment. I had lifted up my two-year-old, Yosef, to put him in his car seat when I noticed something glittering. There were tiny bits of glass all over the seat! Someone had smashed the window. What I felt was even worse was that they had completely cleared the window frame of any debris to make the missing window less noticeable. I could have put him down on the seat and his legs would have been completely torn up. Thank G-d I noticed!
I was filled with primordial rage. Who wanted to hurt my son? Why? I wanted to rip the head and limbs off whoever did this. I felt like the Incredible Hulk, ready to flip over the little car in frustration and anger. I cleared out the glass and dropped the car off at the garage to have the window replaced.
Two weeks later, the car was ready. Since my husband was very busy then — studying for his boards and working at his medical school’s hospital — my father-in-law offered to drive me to the garage to pick up the car. He came a little early, and his mouth was tight as he walked in.
“There’s something going on outside,” he said, pointing to the window. There were a number of police cars parked across the street. I saw a few more speed by, parking on the wrong side of the street. Officers jumped out.
My father-in-law declared, “We need to leave now!”
“But I’m wearing my slippers and I can’t find Michoel’s yarmulke,” I whined.
“It doesn’t matter, we’ll buy him a new one. Let’s go!”
I trusted my father-in-law’s instincts; he knew so much more than I did. I grabbed my purse and the kids and we ran down the steps toward the car. The officers were gathered on the corner, talking animatedly, a few had hands on the guns at their sides. We jumped in the car and sped off. I was glad to be leaving there and whatever was going on.
“It must be a domestic problem,” my father-in-law said. “The police take those things very seriously.”
We listened to the news to hear if they were reporting anything about it. They weren’t.
We picked up the car and the excitement of the afternoon was forgotten as I signed the receipt for $600, furious all over again for that crime. I could almost taste the resurrected anger and bitterness. I picked up a new yarmulke for Michoel at the Jewish bookstore, had a quick supper at the pizza shop, and headed for home, hardly listening to the new Avraham Fried tape — Chazak! — that was playing.
When I approached our street, I saw it was closed off. I turned the corner and tried to approach; the other road was also blocked. My corner was inaccessible from all directions! I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to go home, to get the kids ready for bed. But I couldn’t. I pulled my car over to the side and approached the young police officer standing by his car.
“Excuse me? I live on this street. Is there any way I can get to my house?”
“No, Ma’am,” was the reply. “There’s a volatile situation here and we can’t allow anyone to enter.”
He told me a man had been having a loud argument with his wife. Neighbors had called the police. When they arrived, the man pulled out a rifle and escaped through the back door. He ran from door to door, knocking. One woman answered the door and he pushed into her house, and took her and the members of her family hostage as the police surrounded the area. A SWAT team was called in.
There was now a standoff between the police and the panicking man with the rifle. It had been hours since it began. The officer was unable to tell me when I would be able to go home. I had no choice but to take the kids to my in-laws’ house to sleep.
On my way, I drove through Pennypack Park, the kids starting to doze off in the back. I passed through the dark, covered bridge, with the stone embedded on the wall that said “1807,” and past the weathered little cemetery. My mind was racing. I thought of the poor woman and her family being held hostage by a crazed man. They must be terrified! I wondered which apartment they were in. I wondered who the man was. If I had been home, he may even have knocked on my door! I would have been alone with my two kids. Had he tried to get into my house, I couldn’t have fought him off. Thank G-d, I wasn’t home. Why wasn’t I home again?
Oh, because I had gone to the garage.
Suddenly, the up-tempo song that had been playing on the tape deck ended. The momentary silence startled me. A new song began. It was slow.
“Modeh ani lifanecha, Hashem Elokai, v’Elokei avosai — I am grateful to You, Hashem, my G-d and the G-d of my fathers.”
“Al kol hachesed asher Asisa imadi. V’asher Atah asid laasos imi — For all the kindness that You have done for me and for all the kindness that You will do for me in the future.”
Swiftly, I thought of my anger.
The anger that had filled me so during the whole incident with the broken window.
I sensed its bitter aftertaste on my tongue again.
Now I could see that my anger was uncalled for, unjust. How could I be angry in this life, I thought, when G-d is watching over me? How can any of us be angry, when every now and again we are allowed to peek behind the curtain and see how even the most shattering of blows is administered with boundless love?
I began to cry so hard while I was driving that I had to pull over. I had a good, cleansing, grateful cry. And with that, I blew my nose, started the car again, and drove off toward my in-laws’ house so I could put my little boys to sleep.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 799)
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