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October 1, 2014 / 7 Tishri, 5775
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Only In Israel: The Donkey And The Car

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The incessant loud knocking on the door startled me from my brief reverie. My husband had left to attend a chassanah in Yerushalayim just moments earlier, the kids were comfortably tucked into bed, and I was spending a quiet evening at home tackling sundry neglected tasks. The sudden pounding and muffled voices soon interrupted my plans for the lonely hours that beckoned. I hurried to answer the door while drying my hands on a kitchen towel haphazardly draped over my shoulder.

On my doorstep stood two of my husband’s favorite, albeit most mischievous, teenage students. They tripped all over themselves and each other trying to explain why they had come so unexpectedly and with such an unmistakable sense of urgency. I could not begin to understand their garbled shouts. Finally, they calmed down enough to relay the reason for their impromptu visit.

“Please, Rebbetzin,” implored round-cheeked Manny breathlessly. “We need you to give us the rabbi’s driver’s license and ID card. He just hit a donkey, and the police want his documents right now.”

“Come on, Manny,” I responded, smiling broadly. “You can do better than that.”

These two jokesters had played plenty of pranks in the past, and their credibility was below nil. Besides, this scenario was so ridiculously contrived that I was not about to fall for it. I gave myself a figurative pat on the back, priding myself for not being swayed by the proverbial “boy who cried wolf.”

Except, as it turned out, it was true. Every single incredible word!

My husband had been on his way out of our small, sleepy town en route to the wedding of a young man he had known when he was growing up in the U.S. The boy had endured a difficult upbringing, withstanding many challenges and disappointments, and was now, Baruch Hashem, about to get married and embark on a new chapter in his life. Although my husband’s schedule was already full-to-overflowing with family and work-related obligations, he decided that he wanted to participate in this long-awaited simcha. So off he went.

When he reached the town exit, he caught sight of the aforementioned two bachurim thumbing a ride at the trempiada (hitchhiking spot). He invited them to join him, and the threesome proceeded to drive through the adjacent Arab village. It was a moonless night, and there were no streetlights to light their way. The car’s headlights illuminated but a severely limited patch of the road ahead made visibility minimal at best. Suddenly a dark apparition appeared just ahead of them, followed almost immediately by a loud thud and an unidentified large object crashing onto the hood and windshield. The shaken driver and passengers had no idea what had hit them or, to be more accurate, what they had inadvertently hit.

Pandemonium ensued and the police were summoned. It turned out that my husband had indeed hit a donkey – with an Arab riding astride it. Neither the animal nor its rider wore reflectors of any kind, and my husband was unable to see them until their too-close encounter. The donkey had not survived the crash, and the Arab had sustained a slight injury to his leg.

By then, it was unfortunately too late to make the chassanah. So my husband and his passengers returned to town, still somewhat incredulous at all that had transpired since they began their journey. At the same time, they were extremely grateful to HaKadosh Baruch Hu that they had suffered no harm.

My better half felt terrible about missing his friend’s wedding but, Baruch Hashem, was able to somewhat compensate by attending and being the featured speaker at the main Sheva Berachos.

A few months later, my husband was summoned to court to appear before a judge for his part in the accident.

The courtroom was hot and stuffy. My husband mopped his brow yet again and slumped even lower in the hard wooden seat. He had been sitting in this uncomfortable position for what seemed like hours and was beginning to feel like he had been born and had spent his entire life in this very room.

Worse yet, although he was very upbeat by nature, he found his mood growing progressively more depressed with each case that came before the presiding judge. He could not envision the eventual Yom Hadin to be more intimidating.

One by one the litigants came before the judge, and one by one she lashed out at them before pronouncing an exorbitant fine – or worse. Then one by one they left the stifling courtroom, abject and dejected.

He could not say that he had not been forewarned – quite the contrary. Ever since he had unintentionally hit a donkey and a rider a few months earlier, friends and neighbors had sounded the alarm. And as his court date approached, anyone and everyone who had ever had the misfortune to be summoned to that courtroom told him what awaited him. The scenarios that had played out before him all morning, act by pitiful act, served to confirm and reinforce all that he had heard. His prospects appeared bleak indeed.

According to all reports, there were two judges who routinely heard cases in that Jerusalem courthouse. One was a male, whom everyone proclaimed to be fair and evenhanded; the other, a female, was known to be the opposite. Each litigant was assigned to one or the other, and my usually lucky husband was assigned to the latter. His fate was virtually sealed before the verdict was even announced.

Sitting in this judge’s courtroom all morning, my husband awaited his doom. Very few people remained in the room at that point; my husband’s trial was finally approaching.

Just when he had mentally resolved to face the inevitable and finally get it over with, there was an unexpected flurry of activity in the front of the room. A bailiff hurried in and discreetly whispered something in the judge’s ear. She turned the proverbial “white as a sheet,” quickly rose from her perch and unceremoniously stormed out of the room. A brief announcement was made in Hebrew:

“Due to unforeseen family circumstances, the judge is unfortunately compelled to leave early,” it began. But before the communal moan had reached its crescendo, the yeshuah arrived. “All remaining cases on the judge’s docket for today will be heard in the courtroom across the hall.”

So my husband’s case was presented to the sympathetic male judge after all. Not surprisingly, he was fined a minimal amount and told to drive more carefully in the future.

But the story did not end there.

Some time later, we decided to sell our first car and replace it with a larger one to accommodate our growing family. But first we had to pay off all the outstanding fines we had accrued over the years. Unfortunately, that was easier said than done.

One of the car’s rear lights had previously burned out, and my husband was subsequently stopped by a cop and fined for the infraction. He insisted that he should have first been issued a warning, but the maxim “You can’t fight City Hall” applies exponentially in Israel. Instead of rescinding the fine, the police department doubled, tripled and quadrupled it – until it was quite significant. Still, my husband stood on principle and refused to pay. This decision remained until we decided to sell the car.

My husband headed to the police department to see if reason would prevail and a compromise could be reached. When he got there, he was in for an incredible surprise. Somehow, two of the digits on his driver’s license were reversed in the police records, so once again he was only required to pay a minor fine, and (to his mind at least) justice was served.

And yes, the story continues.

While my husband was companionably chatting with the policemen and paying the radically reduced fine, one of the cops began peppering him with questions about the car. Eventually, he looked at it – and bought it!

Now, the epilogue:

Over a quarter of a century has passed since these very memorable incidents. Much has happened in the interim, both in our family and to the other main characters. Here’s a brief recap:

The chassan settled in Yerushalayim and raised a fine frum family. We were recently thrilled to attend the chuppah of his oldest son.

Manny, one of my husband’s prankster students, is now the father of 10 and a respected pulpit rabbi who has been mekarev scores of boys not unlike his younger self. We hear he still has that infectious sense of humor and the telltale twinkle in his eyes.

As for us, we have traveled the globe extensively but are, Baruch Hashem, once again privileged to make our home in the holiest place on earth. And although we have owned many cars, vans and an SUV over the years, we shall never forget the adventures of our very first vehicle – a nondescript white Peugeot 305.

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