Sunday, June 05, 2005

Fighting Spirits

I got into a fight with a goy on the underground last week. He was a shortish, white, cockney guy and his head was shaven clean; an adjective that could not be said to apply to his language. He was standing in the doorway of the fairly crowded train and reading his paper. Whenever anyone tried to pass or disturbed him in any way, a stream of highly colourful invective would flow under his breath. I was standing right next to him and the top corner of his paper kept on brushing against my face.

As I am not confrontational by nature I ignored it the first few times. It was at the end of a long day however and I was tired and hungry. At a certain point it became too much for even mine, so sweet a disposition. With all my bottled up irritation I pushed the paper away angrily. The guy looked round his paper equally angrily to see who had done it and said something inexcusable about my lineage. I took umbrage and suggested he do something anatomically impossible. The slanging match that ensued taxed my vocabulary to it very limits and continued for a few minutes, much the amusement, I suspect, of the prim crowd filling the carriage.

It ended when the train pulled into the station and he got off, whether because he was going to anyway, or to escape a volatile situation, I do not know. I was relieved of course and very gratified for the sympathetic glances bestowed upon me by my fellow travellers who were probably almost as relieved as I was. My Jewishness, when he mentioned it to describe me, was preceded by the usual participle verb. That was the only reference to it, despite my Chassidic dress making it an obvious fact.

When my heartbeat returned to normal and the adrenalin left my system I suddenly realised that what had just occurred was simply a clash of personalities. I had taken a dislike to a person standing next to me, for reasons known best to me, and he had responded in kind. More importantly, I realised that he had called me the procreating Jew because that is what he saw, not because he harbours any specific hatred towards Jews and I am almost embarrassed to admit that I went home feeling slightly elated and calmer than I have in a long time.

If we Chassidim are to be believed the world is headed for imminent disaster. Unlike us, the goyim in whose midst we live, have no family life. They throw out of the house, the measly one-point-five kids they do have, as soon as they are sixteen or pregnant. They have no real interests or responsibilities, a fact that can be proved by the fact they go on holidays for a week taking only a small bag of underwear and some jeans and t-shirts (apart from all those little goyishe things like toothbrushes and condoms, of course). They eat whatever they want whenever they want and sleep with whomever they want whenever they want. In short, their lives are sheer hell, and probably just as well, as that is where they are all headed, fast.

Ours, on the other hand, is a richly rewarding and perpetually buoyant travail twixt birth and earth. We have the privilege of being brought up by the wisdom, and within the stifling embrace, of not only our immediate and intermediate families, but also anybody else in the community who has an opinion. We are free to pursue our pastime of perusing the holy word whenever we like, unlike the goyim who have to keep breaking off what they are doing to drink beer, play football or watch TV.

Before spending the whole shabbes morning in shul we can soak in the warm, soapy (I hope that’s what it is) waters of the mikve, while the poor goyim, if they do decide to wash at all, have to do it all alone in their sterile home showers. We have lives full of purpose and meaning, so we can spend a whole week discussing what colour Bekishe our Rebbe wore to melave malka and what significance that has, while they have their heads and wardrobes filled with stupid fashions decided by some drunk goy in Paris (the capital city of fornication). We have a direct line to God, which is why when someone does us a favour we don’t have to stoop to the base “I owe you one” as the goyim do but offer a resolute Got zol dich batzulen (God will repay you) instead.

Biggest of all is the truism that they hate us for no reason. All these facts are relentlessly driven into us by those for whom doctors, taxi drivers and plumbers (in that order) are the only goyish contact. I am sure they would be shocked to learn that happy, fulfilled and worthy lives are not the strictest purview of Haredism, just as I am sure there would be hundred different interpretations for 'Halacha esav soneh leyaakov' (it is a law Esau hates Yaakov) if there were any Torranic desire for an alternative.

My goy and I could not click. We argued, just as I might have with some Bok in shul. He said whatever his hyped up brain suggested and I replied in kind. Two humans blowing steam. If the Halacha suggests he ought to hate me for being Jewish he seemed as impervious to it as I was, and that is the way it has to be.

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