Wednesday, November 02, 2005
One of the Jewish buildings I visit on occasion is is by unfortunate necessity fairly heavily fortified. This yomtov I was practically unmasked by a security officer, warned to look out for a misfit, who almost took me out. I had to pick up something from inside and, passing by in the evening, decided to make an unscheduled stop to get it. As I approached the door a guard stepped out of the shadows and stood looking at me. I greeted him with a ‘Hi’ and walked on. He followed me up the path and stood a few steps before the door slightly hesitantly, then, as I fumbled with the number lock in the dark, he called me over.
“Good evening Sir. Where are you going?”
“Do you belong here?”
In any other circumstances his question could have been the subject of an entire blog. I was more concentrated on the message though than his poor choice of words and I did not take him up on it. And by the way I do strongly suggest the local constabulary have a brainstorm one evening on what the appropriate terminology is in establishing how any particular Chassid fits into the kinetic kaleidoscope of black they happen to be monitoring because the way they put their questions can sometimes be cringeworthy.
“Do you know the number for the door?”
“Can you open it for me please?”
“Because I do not have the authority to let you in.”
“I just want to see if you know it.”
“If you would have just stayed where you were you would have seen if I got in?”
My glib logicism did not impress him and he insisted on being shown that I knew the number. I did that and went inside.
He was still there when I came back out, chatting to a colleague on the street who was sitting in a car. He got out as I approached and more or less accosted me, in a friendly sort of way, as I made to pass him.
“Hi.” I said.
“Good evening Sir. Can I speak with you a moment?”
My supper was going to be of the late variety I could see and resigned myself. After the preliminary few minutes of giving my name and address and speaking Hebrew, to show I could, and silently thanking whoever convinced the Muslims to circumcise their males and thus spare me the ignominy of having to differentiate myself, we established that I was not an Arab terrorist dressed up as a Chassid but a bona fide, true-blue man-in-black.
In return for my teaching him a few insider ways of recognising one of us I got me some information of my own. It turns out the guard had had his alarm bells switched on by my atypical behaviour. “Chassidim,” he told me “do not look strangers in the eye, they avoid eye contact with me. They also don’t greet me like an equal but like a child greets a policeman. Your laid-back ‘Hi’ does not fit the profile.”
I had a very long talk with him and I do not know at what stage it stopped being his interrogation of me (if it ever did) and became my interrogation of his of me. I learned a lot from it though and I now know why I always get such special treatment in the airport and why the Israelis take so long in letting me through. I don’t fit the accepted profile for a Hiller and I now know why.