Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Tammuz 5759 - June 23, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Standing By Our Brother's Blood
by Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein

In the late afternoon this week, I stood behind my closed third floor window, looking down at the flames of a fire raging below me. The flames were leaping out of the huge, new garbage bin which the Jerusalem municipality had recently brought for the buildings in my neighborhood. The garbage bin had been bright, shiny green, and new, and now it was blackened and partially misshapen, with flames leaping out. This was the third or fourth time this has happened within a year.

Surrounding the garbage bin were several children running back and forth, throwing papers and bags into the fire. They obviously thought it was great fun and quite fascinating to watch the flames leap high above in reds and yellows while consuming everything that was being thrown into them.

I had called the fire department, but couldn't leave the house at the time. I don't know if the fire was started by a careless adult throwing his lit cigarette into the garbage bin (I doubt it) or by a mischievous child.

What I do know is that on a Sunday afternoon, religious children were laughing and playing and enjoying the fire and not at all upset at the concurrent destruction of public property.

"But children will be children!"? I wonder. Isn't Bovo Kamo and the laws of property usually one of the first topics taught in cheder? As R' Avigdor Miller says, the first basis for learning Torah is acquiring respect for and differentiating between what is mine and what is yours. Yet many young children don't seem to know that this applies to things bought with public funds as well as to what is privately yours or mine.

Are we, who live in Israel, less sensitive to the public chillul Hashem that such things cause because we are not worried about what the goyim will think, rarely having any around? Or in some sloppily twisted way, do we think that we don't have to worry about that here in Israel because the government and municipality workers are `only' Jews?

But do you know what bothered me the most as I stood there looking down out of my window at the flames below, unable to go downstairs and say anything to the children and knowing that I would not be heard from above?

It was the fact that there were adults who were walking by, yet they didn't do or say anything to the exulting, laughing children.

Nobody explained to the children how terrible it is to start a fire, whether by negligence or on purpose. And nobody explained to the children how possibly dangerous a fire can be. And not one person mentioned to the children how horrible it was that property, `even' if it was public, was being destroyed. Nor the fact that since almost everyone living in the city pays municipal taxes -- and it is this tax money that will have to replace the destroyed garbage bin -- that whoever set the fire is actually guilty of THEFT from every single person who pays those taxes. Which is a lot of people to steal from.

However, what I found most horrifying of all was that none of the many people who walked by that fire or who stayed to watch it for a few moments, not ONE of them showed dismay or disapproval of this act of vandalism!

No one even gave them a dirty look or an angry shake of the head. So why should the children think that what they were doing was wrong? And therefore, if those children themselves should ever see another child trying to start a fire, anywhere, why would they try to stop or dissuade him?

It makes me wonder what the expression, "Standing by the blood of your brother" really means, in all of its manifestations.

It also makes me wonder if perhaps, when we see Jewish children behaving inappropriately, it isn't our duty to kindly, compassionately, explain to them what is wrong in what they are doing, and to help them do, or at least to see, what is right.

Especially in case where the parents forgot to specifically mention it at home...

Because after all, wouldn't I want someone to do the same for me or my children?

NOTE: Lag B'Omer and the Pesach burning of chometz has passed. How many of us accompanied our children for the duration of these activities, or ensured that a competent adult was with them until the final ember was completely doused? How many of us prefaced their leaving the home with a reminder that one is not allowed to use private or public property indiscriminately in order to build a fire? And how many of us mentioned that fires should never be made under tree branches or near tree trunks because they could start a fire -- and, in addition to the fact that fires are dangerous, it is also wrong to destroy or injure a tree which Hashem made, which is a living thing, and which does not belong to any individual -- but to everyone?

How many of us?

Isn't it important?

Author of HAPPY HINTS FOR A SUCCESSFUL ALIYAH (Feldheim) and A CHILDREN'S TREASURY OF SEPHARDIC TALES (Artscroll), Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein writes for many publications in Israel, England, and the USA, and has edited TO DWELL IN THE PALACE (Feldheim), an anthology on life in Israel, among other books.


Your editor would like to tell the public of how such a situation WAS taken in hand by a few parents who DID care -- and who made a concerted effort to stop something like the above.

Kiryat Mattersdorf is situated on top of a valley with trees and shrubs. By summertime, it is filled with thorns that ignite easily with a burning match or two. At one time, many years ago, a few budding arsonists decided to set fires and see the action. The firemen had to be summoned several times a week and we concerned adults felt responsible for stopping this.

A few parents decided to take vigil. We went to the scene where many dozens of children were gathered to see the action -- and we began jotting down names and calling up parents afterwards. Our argument was that even if those children were in no way to blame for the fires, they had surely provided a cheering audience for the few who had. And this is what was causing the repeat performances.

We made dozens of phone calls and begged parents to forbid their children from going anywhere near those fires, even as spectators. After a while, this tactic worked. Both parents and children were made aware of the severity of the matter. Eventually, we did learn who had caused the fires.

It was by opening the parents' eyes to their individual responsibility for at least talking to their children, showing how wrong it all was, and keeping them away from the action that we were able to curb this terrible thing.


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