Monday, May 08, 2006

Mixed Seating Saved My Life


As in, my G-d-breath would have blown her goodbye kisses and bid her farewells to the lunk of flesh that had housed her, with inconsistent nourishment provided, for 23 years, had I not sat next to a woman.

OK, my wife. But this is a right-wing Charedi blog, so for mixed seating purposes, she's a woman.

It was the first Pesach after our marriage. My wife was 4 months pregnant with our first kid. Life as a young Kollel couple living in a 'Dirah' in Kerem B'Yavneh was about what you'd expect - small Kollel stipend, mid-size [ he might read this ] check from the shver, pinching Agorot. (When we returned home after that Pesach, we found that the cockroaches that would occasionally drop in had starved to death. Should give you an idea.)

We were in Yerushalayim for Pesach, and we decided to take one of the many busses leaving on Chol HaMoed down to Me'aras HaMachpelah. These were specially organized tour busses that were to carry all stripes of long-Peyosed people to the Me'ara. I wasn't one of those types, but I suspect most of the people on the bus knew that I wasn't the one who normally gets the stares.
Pleasant enough ride.

(I won't describe the looks some of the Hamas'nik Arabs lining the shops on either side of the street gave us as we walked down from the bus stop to the Me'ara. The blend of malice and lust in their eyes is too stomach-churning to do justice to.)

It was enthralling to see the throngs of Yidden davening at Kivrei Avos that Pesach, and we davened that our future son, BeSha'ah Tovah, follow in the footsteps of the Bechir HaAvos, Yaakov, whom we knew was going to be his namesake.

For the journey back, we decided to get on a chartered bus that was carrying Chassidish families back to Bnei Berak. A few other people, who seriously stuck out in that crowd, were going to get off in Kiryat Arba, and my wife and I (who semi-stuck out in some non-descript-far-from-Bnei Berakish outfit, and a black velvet yarmulke with a short-jacket-suit and-tie, respectively) were going to alight just outside of Efrat, where my in-laws resided at the time.

You realize that this bus ride predates the Charedi counterpart of Rosa Parks (she's probably out there somewhere, getting some kind of Heter Horaah by some name or another, and she'll have her own blog soon too), and the men were sitting in the front, women in the back. The oysvurfs from Kiryat Arba could sit mixed in the middle of the bus until they got off.

It turned out that I had a spot with the men, but from the middle to the back was packed solid by the time we got on. So chivalrous Bari sat in the front, having gone through a fatigue-inducing day in the scorching heat of the Chevron sun, while pregnant Bariette stood. It was only a few short minutes ride to Kiryat Arba anyhow.

When the oysvurfs got off, I was faced with a dilemma. My wife came to the front (GASP!) and motioned to me that there were some seats available in the oysvurf section. Just in front of the rear doors. I'm sitting at a window seat, where I can rest my weary head, next to a nice Chassidishe middle-aged guy, and I hesitate. Should I align myself with the Srugies who sit mixed, and get the stares and glares, or gently tell my wife I'm staying put with the homeys, and she can sit by herself in the row right in front of the women only section, which, B'Dieved, is the women only section.

This being Shanah Rishonah, and feeling bad that my starting-to-show wife was standing for a bit, I went for the stares. Anyhow, I wasn't sure I'd get the stares, but I was sure my wife would prefer that I sat with her. Bari VeShema, Bari Adif.

"Slichah, Ani Rotzeh LaAvor Achorah".
Eyebrows raised a bit, but that's all.

Nu,nu. I'm Passul Le'Eidus by the Eidah Charedis. Could be worse.

Much worse.

As we rounded a bend on the road, passing by Beit Ummar (due north of Chevron), an explosion, and a wall of fire rose in the fourth row of the bus. Screams and pandemonium reigned supreme.
This was the first Intifada period, and busses were getting blown up at a sickening clip. Everyone on the bus thought that this was it. My wife tells me I let out a primal scream and turned, quicker than Bryant around his man, to get to the back doors (which were right behind me) and out of that inferno of a bus. My jacket got caught on a pole there - and I was very stuck. I thought I might get trampled.
All this took place in the first 7 tenths of a second after the explosion. After that, the driver realized that this was a Molotov cocktail that had smashed the window and landed on the lap of one of the Chassidishe teenagers in front. The kid's father smothered the flames quickly with his beketche, but he was still hurt pretty badly. Two other people were lightly injured.
The driver thought fast and did not stop nor open the doors, because who knew what kind of ambush, if any, the Yishmaelim had in store. He drove quicker than blazes to the next army checkpost. One very frightened teenaged girl forced the back doors open and jumped out, breaking her leg. The army picked her up,Baruch Hashem. That could have been a disaster for her.
Once we reached the checkpost, the driver let everyone off to catch their breath, and to let those in need of medical attention receive it. I gave my wife a big hug, and we looked at the bus to see what exactly had happened.
It turns out that the Molotov cocktail had gone through the window right where I had been sitting!
Meaning, where I was going to rest my head.
It would have hit my head, gashed it open, and exploded. Prognosis - poor. Very.
Which reminds me of what my great-uncle Rav Ahron Soloveitchik would say when asked what he thought of mixed seating at weddings:
"How do you tink I met Ella?"
(Being that this is a right-wing blog, you can figure out the caveat for yourself).


Anonymous poetic said...

perhaps the title should be changed to caring about your wife saved your life.

in addition to being a more accurate portrayal of the story, it has the added benefit of rhyming.

7:46 PM  
Blogger Bari said...

Both titles sound just as accurate to me. It wasn't like I bought her flowers and missed a doomed bus. I cared about her and sat next to her on a separate seating bus.

This title has some sneakiness to it that I kinda like.

Maybe we'll get your added benefit this way: "Mixed seating kept my ticker beating" :)

7:58 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

Wow. That's incredible...

10:47 PM  
Anonymous poetic said...

i am satisfied!

11:30 PM  
Blogger Rafi G said...

wow! From now I on I am only going to sit in mixed seating..

1:36 AM  
Blogger Bari said...

Rafi G,

I drew a somewhat different conclusion.

At weddings where my wife is sitting with people she knows, or "her crowd", she'd probably rather be able to talk about woman stuff without the men around. Ditto for the men.

If she's sitting separate with people who are not "her crowd", let her decide when we're leaving.

9:03 AM  
Blogger Nephtuli said...

Great post.

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Incredible story.

"At weddings where my wife is sitting with people she knows, or "her crowd", she'd probably rather be able to talk about woman stuff without the men around. Ditto for the men."

I never feel that way. (I don't mean to imply that your wife doesn't).

8:41 PM  
Blogger Bari said...

Thanks, Nephtuli.

My wife thanked me for posting this so she could reflect on the story a bit. It slipped out of her consciousness since then.

Anonymous - different strokes for different folks, I guess. How do your friends feel about it?

8:53 PM  
Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Bari: This being Shanah Rishonah... Just goes to show you that you should treat EVERY year like the first...

12:17 AM  
Blogger Bari said...

I'm with you on that, Jameel.

When's your next business trip? ;)

8:03 AM  
Blogger SephardiLady said...

Whoa! Gripping.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Bari said...

Thanks for stopping by, sephardilady.

Gripping, yeah. Like that pole. :)

8:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm thinking a certain Rosh would certainly have a "Rav Zvi Yehudah always..." story to add.

12:30 PM  

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