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July 29, 2014 / 2 Av, 5774
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Only In Israel: The Donkey And The Car

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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.

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