Sex Segregation Gone Mad

Update – 7/10/2015: Presumably after seeing the attention this story got, the person whom I had this conversation with called and left a message saying that the call was a prank. I’m leaving it up with this disclaimer because I find the fact that many parts of this story, particularly the extreme sexism and racism, are plausible very telling. 

Author’s note: I wouldn’t ordinarily post something like this on my blog. I try to keep this blog away from anything that could potentially be used to bash any group without offering any constructive criticism. The reason I’m posting this is not to imply that this is at all the norm. As noted below, this was the first time in the history of our driving school that such a thing happened. That said, the fact that such a thing could happen indicates that we’ve reached a point in our obsession with tznius (modesty) and sex segregation that can create the feelings expressed by the customer. 

“I had a problem with my road test yesterday, one you scheduled for me.”
“Ok,” I replied. “What happened?”
“When I came there to the road test site, a woman got into the car.”
“I didn’t want to be in the car with a woman, so I asked her if there were any men I could take the test with, and she said there weren’t any available.”
“So I asked to speak to her supervisor, and she said that he wasn’t available.”
By this point my right eyebrow was already working its way up toward my hairline.

“I asked her if she had a towel,” he continued, as if the words coming out of his mouth made perfect sense, “I wanted to put it up between us as a mechitza (partition used to separate the sexes). She gave me a funny look.”
At this point I’d covered the receiver with my hand, and was failing miserably at controlling my giggles.
“She looked at me funny, and said that she wouldn’t be able to see me. That was the point, I told her. She gave me a dirty look and told me I couldn’t take the test.”
I fought back the laughter as I blurted, “Hold on a second, please,” and put the customer on hold.

I ran over to my boss’ desk, laughing uncontrollably, face beet red, tears already forming around my eyes. My boss saw me laughing and started laughing himself. He motioned with his hand, asking what had happened. We’ve gotten enough weird calls in the past that he knew something was up.

After about a minute I regained my composure enough to tell him what I’d just heard, punctuated by more giggles of course. “Can you please do me a favor and talk to this guy?” I asked him, “I don’t think I can control myself.”
“Sorry,” my boss replied through his own belly laughs, “you take care of this.”
He ran into the front office to tell the secretary what had happened, closing the door behind him.

I composed myself and lifted the receiver.

“It’s the three weeks, you know, you shouldn’t have the music on the phone.”
“Huh?” I replied, not quite sure what he was referring to.
“The music when I was just on hold. It’s the three weeks; you should change that.”
“That’s a good point,” I replied. I hadn’t considered that.
B’kitzur (in short),” he continued, “I want a refund. She didn’t let me take the test.”
“Hold on, please, let me ask my boss.”

I put the receiver down again and went into the front office. My boss was telling the secretaries about the phone call. I interrupted him to finish the story, laughing as I told it. I told my boss that the customer wanted a refund, and he said absolutely not.
“Tell him they only have men in Monticello,” My boss said. They don’t, but why not make him drive.

“Hello?” I said, picking up the receiver, “I’m sorry, but we won’t be able to give you a refund.”
“Why not?” he demanded, “It isn’t right that I should have to take a road test with an isha (woman) and a tumadikeh goy (unclean non-Jew) that I should have to sit in a car with a tumadikeh goy!”
Flustered at hearing such vehemence against someone whose only crime is not being Jewish I said, “You live in a goyishe country. Do you cross the street every time you see a goy (non-Jew) coming toward you?
“No, but in the street I can look down at the sidewalk, I don’t have to see them.”
“Well,” I said patiently, although I was reaching the end of my tether, “We live in a goyishe (non-Jewish) country, and if you want to get a license in this country, you’re gonna have to take a road test with a goy who might also be a woman.”
“You don’t understand,” he replied, “she was so anti-Semitic! She looked at me like I was crazy, just because I’m Jewish and I needed a man to give me the test!”
I’d been patient, but this was pushing it. I have very little tolerance for people crying ‘anti-Semitism’ when it plainly isn’t. “No,” I shouted, “it wasn’t anti-Semitism. She had literally never heard anyone ask for that before, and found the request strange! You are the only person who has ever, in the history of this driving school or any other, who has asked a road test examiner if they could have a man replace them! It’s not even yichud (a law prohibiting two people of the opposite sex who are not married or immediately related from being alone together) at all! It’s an open car, with clear windows, driving around in a busy city! Ask your rav (rabbi), there’s absolutely no problem with it! All the rest of our students are just as frum (religiously observant) as you are, and none of them have ever had a problem with this! It’s not anti-Semitism; it’s just you!”
“The problem is you, and your whole driving school,” he shouted, “you’re all choteh umachti es harabim (one who not only sins, but drives others to sin)!”

At which point I hung up on him.

You can’t make this stuff up, people.


Couples Counseling

There’s only so much you can talk about a topic before it starts to make you sick, before you want to just lock it away in some dark corner of your basement and pray you never have to see it again. Especially if you’ve devoted years to the subject. Or, perhaps, a lifetime. It starts to eat away at you, tearing off little pieces of your soul which leave you, borne on your tears. It’s how idealists become cynics, activists become bitter, and the passionate become apathetic. It’s how someone who, deep down, truly cares, comes to look at tragedy, at suffering, and simply walks away. It’s anger replaced by depression, drive replaced by defeat, dreams crushed by reality.

It’s why, since Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, and Naftali Fraenkel were kidnapped, I haven’t said a word to anyone about the tragedy. I joined in with everyone else saying tehillim, and praying for their safe return, and I have to say I did appreciate the unity we as a people managed to exhibit, if only for a week or two, but when they were found dead, I knew that was over. I cried when I saw the news, especially when I found out that they had been dead the entire time. It wasn’t just for our nation’s bereavement, and the incredible pain the parents of those boys would be experiencing, but for what was inevitably about to follow—Jew fighting Jew as bitterly as Israel would fight the Palestinians over how exactly Israel should fight the Palestinians, and whose “fault” the kidnappings were. And my people met my expectations. Within an hour, whatever unity we had, whatever common experience we’d shared was over. We were back to fighting.

I’ve been watching the arguments in shul (synagogue), and online, in stores, at my office, and I must give credit where credit is due. Hamas sure knows how to bring us to our knees. Their rockets don’t do much thanks to Iron Dome, and they’ll never get what they want through their relatively small terror attacks, but they’ve got us pegged. All they have to do is kill a few of us, and watch as we tear ourselves apart. They don’t have to blame us for forcing their hand, we’ll do that on our own, and we’ll do it better. They don’t have to worry about disseminating their propaganda, calling Israel illegal occupiers, or accusing Israel of apartheid—they know that the Jews, capable as we are, can do whatever they can do, and do it better. They know that they don’t have to waste time tearing our families and friendships apart physically, because we’ll do a much better job of it emotionally and spiritually.

But the crowning jewel in Hamas’ arsenal, a weapon so powerful it managed to drag me out of my silence and back onto my blog, is far and away the Niturei Karta (Lit. Guardians of the City; They are of the belief that the State of Israel has no right to exist until the Messiah comes and establishes it). I’ve read about them in news articles and magazines, and seen pictures of their infamous meetings with terror leaders in Palestine and Iran, but it was different seeing them up close, on my turf. I was driving by the UN, stopped at a stop sign, looked out of my window to the left, and there they were by the Sharansky Steps, two chassidim (Hassidic Jews), one waving a Palestinian flag, and the other a sign beseeching people to boycott the “Satanic” State of Israel.

That hurt. More than the hundreds of rockets I knew had fallen and the millions forced into bomb shelters, seeing them hurt me. I expect an enemy of Hamas. I expect them to try and hurt me. I don’t expect it of my fellow Jew. And yet, there they were. And in that moment, what made it hurt even more, was imagining a terrorist seeing that image and laughing with glee and triumph because he knew that he had managed to reach across the world and hurt more Jews without even trying, through a proxy that makes him even happier for the irony—A chassidic Jew.

And you know what? The two of them there was worse than a whole protest. I’ve been to protests. They’re fun. You go not only because you believe in the cause, but because your friends go; they’re there to support you. Protests feel lonely when they’re poorly attended, and you start to lose your resolve, and you feel silly standing there with your sign, shouting at passersby who at best don’t care and at worst hate you for your message. Seeing only two of them standing there told me that they believe so strongly in and are so committed to their message that they were willing to stand there alone delivering it. That takes a special kind of commitment—it not only drove the knife deeper, it twisted.

I know unity is a little too much to ask from the Jewish people. We’ve been fighting for as long as we’ve existed. It’s too much a part of who we are. What I can ask, though, is that we fight like a couple who love each other very much; they fight, but they never hit as hard as they could. They keep what hurts the most on the tip of their tongues but never let it out because, while fighting may be part and parcel of being in a couple, that doesn’t mean it has to hurt more than absolutely necessary. They fight in a way that makes it possible for them to still love each other in the morning. And I suppose that’s the best I can hope for the Jewish people—that we only fight like we love each other.