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
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
"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'
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
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
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
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
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
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.