It’s Not All Ferguson
There are more pleasant things to contemplate than an 11:30PM visit by the police department on the first night of Sukkos. This one, however, rewrote the script – and added to our Yom Tov.
While most of us were still in our Sukkah behind our house, someone heard the doorbell ring inside. At the door was an LAPD officer who inquired whether we knew of a neighbor who owned a bakery. The store had been broken into and the cash register looted. He asked some passersby if they knew who was in charge of the establishment, and somehow arrived at our door.
We quickly figured out that he meant someone two doors down, who managed a bagel restaurant, and told the officer that he probably hadn’t answered the door because he was likely sitting in a sukkah behind his own house. The officer politely asked if we could get his attention; we led him through our house to the back yard where we were able to bring the two together. The manager conveyed that because it was a Jewish holiday, he could do nothing at all to deal with the situation – including making any phone calls – for the next two days.
Here is where it gets interesting. The rest of us half expected that the officer would get irritated at him, or threaten him, or walk away in disgust. Instead, he calmly started speaking to us about alternative ways to address the issue. He would see to it that some officers would improvise a board-up, if we could point him to some supplies. We happened to have some plywood panels on the side of the house. They had been left there by a roofer who had replaced the entire roof a few years ago, and we had simply forgotten to remove them. From time to time we noticed them, and silently wondered what we were ever going to do with them. Hashgacha works in strange ways.
We directed him as well to tools and nails, and he called for a unit of two officers to come and take over. Those two arrived, and quickly discovered that they could not fit the lumber into the black-and-white. So they asked to borrow the Suburban my Detroit son had rented for his stay in LA. (I asked them whom to contact if they simply disappeared with the vehicle. Like, could we really call the police? So I asked them if they preferred the Crips or the Bloods as my backup…) They left for the store, armed with supplies and some home-made baked goods supplied by my wife. No doughnuts, but they liked the cookies.
Because of the way the doorframe of the store was formed, it wasn’t an easy job, they later told us. But they found a way to jury-rig a solution. We waited up for them. All of the officers involved were polite and understanding to a fault. They knew something about it being Yom Tov, and showed no trace of irritation at the strange practices of Orthodox Jews who wouldn’t tend to their own problems in an emergency situation.
We waited up for them to return. My son asked them to explain the exemplary service. One of them said that there were a number of break-ins that evening. It would take hours for a board-up service to arrive, and they figured that if they took care of this incident more quickly, there were more important ways they could be of service to the community!
I wish that this kind of interaction had been recorded, rather than the kinds that garner the media attention.
We asked the officers for their names when they returned sometime after 1AM. After Yom Tov, I dashed off a note of thanks to the Deputy Police Chief, whom I’ve interacted with on more than one occasion.
We salute the three officers as models of unexpectedly helpful service. More citizens need to know about stories like these that go unreported. They are a better reflection of a police department that does a great job training and delivering officers who are a source of pride to the force. We must remember that this kind of interaction is far more typical of the performance of the people who put their lives on the line to protect us, than the high-profile stories of those who, under pressure or for other reasons, fail to uphold the standards they are taught.
Our seforim note the contrast between midrashim regarding the nature of Sukkos. On the one hand, the sukkah is treated as a substitute for a sentence of galus that might have been pronounced upon us in the days of judgment that precede the holiday. On the other hand, Sukkos is a reminder of the magnificence of Divine Providence through the Clouds of Glory that enveloped us on the way to Eretz Yisrael. At least one sefer I saw recently tries to harmonize the two. Even when we deserve galus, Hashem’s hashgachah ensures that we are able to survive it, sometimes relatively comfortably.
The assistance we so often receive from fellow-citizens of this great country is part of that Divine chesed in this stage of our long galus.
P.S. I only learned later the identities of the passersby whom the officers who responded to the break-in asked about the manager of the establishment. Not everyone walking in the street late at night would have had that information. It happened that the first people who looked to the officers that they might know about a kosher establishment were my son and daughter-in-law, who were returning from my sukkah to their home! This was a nice extra dollop of Hashgacha to the story.
There’s a Yiddish expression “Vi ah yovon in Sukkeh, ” meaning something totally incongruous. How wonderful indeed to encounter exceptional people who allow the tzelem Elokim to shine through.
If I am not mistaken, I think it was the Lubavitcher Rebbe who called the United States a compassionate nation. I think that Rabbi Adlerstein’s encounter with those policemen are a good example of that. Here are a couple of other examples of that: A local public library deliberately changed its weekly closed day from Sunday to Saturday in order to accommodate the high percentage of Orthodox Jews that make up its clientele. The largely gentile supermarket I shop at has a special section where they serve ready-to-eat kosher food. When I encounter such things, I say to myself, “Only in America can such incredible things happen!”
I have often wondered where the United States stands when it comes to its Jews. After all, Jews have felt comfortable elsewhere over the centuries. In the Roman Empire, it was considered so fashionable to become Jewish, that 10% of its population were converts to Judaism, which is an extremely high percentage for such a phenomena. Perhaps the greatest Torah scholars who ever lived, lived in the Golden Age of Spain back in the Middle Ages. Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi not only wrote the Kuzari there, but also wrote romantic poetry for secular audiences as well. In Germany, Jews called Berlin the New Jerusalem. Yet life for Jews in such places ultimately ended in the worst of tragedies.
Is this the ultimate fate for us Jews here in America as well, or are things different here, because this nation was founded by Puritan Christians who were so focused on returning Christianity to Torah teachings, that they even referred to themselves as Old Testament Christians? Does it matter that Thomas Jefferson wanted this country’s official seal to be a picture of our Jewish ancestors crossing the Reed Sea? Does it make a significant difference that when Americans conquered more and more of the continental United States, driving out the American Indians, that they compared themselves to the time when Jews who had been in the Sinai Desert, had taken over the land of Israel, driving out the seven barbaric nations who had been living there? Does it matter that virtually every Presidential inauguration, has involved our Presidents never invoking the specifically Christian G-d, but virtually always invoking the G-d of our Torah? Is it more than an accident that Presidents such as the great Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson often used strong Biblically imagery in their speeches? Does it matter that the President one might least expect it from, namely Richard Nixon, saved Israel during the Yom Kippur war by sending them even more emergency war planes than they had asked for?
I do not of course have any powers of prophecy, nor the gift of hindsight, to know the answers to these questions. Meanwhile, all I can say is, that it is my hope that America as a whole never forgets the promise that G-d made to Abraham back in the Book of Genesis, namely that “Those who bless the Jews will be blessed, and those who curse the Jews, G-d will curse.” At least as things stand now, may G-d continue to bless this great nation.
What a beautiful story! We are the children of Avrohom Avinu who is one of the Uspizin! How can we have Avrohom Avinu come as our guest on Succos? Every Orthodox Jewish family must be like our forefather and welcome Jews who are not Orthodox for Succos! Otherwise our Zaide will not recognize us! Our we really his children? Jews who are not Orthodox have Neshamos too!
I am glad you had a positive interaction with these officers from the LAPD and glad they were willing and able to help your friend. I am even glad that you shared the story!
But I do wonder on what basis you say that this interaction is a “better reflection of a police department that does a great job training and delivering officers who are a source of pride to the force. We must remember that this kind of interaction is far more typical of the performance of the people who put their lives on the line to protect us, than the high-profile stories of those who, under pressure or for other reasons, fail to uphold the standards they are taught.”
One anecdote cannot outweigh other anecdotes without some sort of additional evidence…