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Vos is Chag Atzmo'us?

Tonight is Yom Ha'Atzma'ut - Israel's 75th Independence Day.

In preparation for the day, my daughters went and bought window flags, bunting, and blue-and-white ribbons, with which they lavishly decorated our car. It was beautiful.


And then...my wife realized she had an appointment in K'nei HaBosem. For those who are unaware of the geopolitics of Beit Shemesh, K'nei HaBosem is a very Haredi neighborhood. The kind of neighborhood where...let's just say they have a reputation for not having the most comfortable relationship with the State of Israel.


Not wanting to risk parking the car outside her appointment, she asked me to come along and drop her off. I did so, and decided to avoid any potential confrontations by parking on a road far from any buildings. And while I was there, I got out to take a couple of photos.


So there I was, hanging out in the late afternoon, enjoying the fresh air and beautiful view, when a cluster of three little boys approached me. I guess they were around eight or nine years old.

"Why did you park here?" asked the littlest one, who was apparently also the boldest.

"I'm waiting for someone," I replied with a smile.

"Nice car!" he said, without any trace of irony. "Where did you get the flags?"

"I have no idea," I said. "My daughters did this."

"Can I have a flag, please?"

"..."

Okay, that caught me by surprise. After a few moments' hesitation, I came back with an argument. "Why? What do you want with them?"

"Stam. They're nice."

"Won't you get into trouble?"

"Why? We live in medinat Yisrael! Not America, not Poland, not Russia."

"Um...okay...but I will have to check with my daughters, because they put a lot of work into this."

So, I picked up the phone to my daughter and explained the situation.

She thought about it a few seconds. "Okay, give them the flags. But take a photo."

So, I turned back to the boys and said, "Okay, I'll give you the flags, on condition I can take a photo of you holding them."

At this, they suddenly looked a bit less enthusiastic. "I'm not prepared to do that," said one.

"I'm going to go ask for permission," said the littlest one, and he bolted off.

"I don't want to get your faces," I said. "Just your backs will be fine."

The two remaining boys conferred in Yiddish for a moment, then noticed that a small crowd of their peers was gathering around. They selected two even smaller boys, and got them to hold the flags.


Ahem. Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby present to you, the upcoming Photo of the Year 2023.


Copyright (c) Shaul Behr 2023. Sharing permitted with atribution.

Anyway, having earned their flags, the boys sprinted off with their trophies. But I wasn't done yet. There were now about ten other boys, all gathered around me and clamoring for flags.

"I'm sorry, I don't have any more flags!" I said.

"Yes you do," said one, pointing to the bunting on the front of the car.

Around this time, the boy who had run off for permission returned, crying out, "The Vizhnitzer Rebbe said it's assur (prohibited) for me to be in the photo!"

"Okay," I said, "I don't want you to do anything your rebbe said you shouldn't do."

"Can I have those flags on the front, then?" he said. "Because I stood the test!"

"You win," I said, and I undid the bunting and handed it to him.

Then a couple of older boys, about barmitzva age, came jogging down to me. They handed me back one of my flags.

"We took this back from that boy," said one. Obviously, they thought the flags had been stolen from my car.

"It's okay," I said, "I gave them the flags."

"But they're just going to burn them," he said.

"Maybe. But I don't think so. And if they do..." I just shrugged.

So I gave the flag back to the boy to whom I'd given it in the first place.


Then ensued some fun and lively discussion about Yom Ha'Atzma'ut, and the State of Israel. We spoke about hakarat hatov (gratitude), and thanking God for the fact that we are free to live in Eretz Yisrael and be Torah Jews without persecution. Some of them were scornful of any observance of the day ("Where is Chag Atzma'ut written in the Torah?" "Which gedolim hold by Yom Ha'Atzma'ut?" "What kind of mitzvah is a mangal (BBQ)?") But they were totally respectful to me, and I answered the best I could, keeping a big smile on my face, until the time came for me to go pick up my wife. I had the feeling I could have come back with a crate full of flags, and they would have been snatched up like candy by these boys.


So many takeaways from this story. For one: stereotypes are rubbish. These were the cutest kids, with good manners, inquisitive and totally open to having a friendly and lively discussion with me, even if we didn't agree on everything. The media plays up the negative aspects, because it's clickbait. And yes, there are extremists out there. But don't judge an entire sector by their worst five percent. That would make you part of the worst five percent of your own group.


Chag atzma'ut sameach! And may God grant peace in Israel!





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