Friday, December 02, 2005

It Must Mean Something, but I Don't Know What: A Study in Hoshavat Aveida [the Jewish commandment to return lost objects] in Three Acts

Act I

One week ago, I was sitting in a coach bus in the Pardes parking lot, along with about 20 other students and a few faculty members, waiting to leave for our trip to Tzippori and Hoshaya. Miraculously, we were running only about 15 minutes late -- for a Jewish group tour that's punctual -- but alas, a fellow student named Laura discovered just as we were about to leave that she had lost her purse. She could have sworn she left it with the pile of suitcases we'd left on the first floor of the building over the last hour. But now it wasn't on her person, it wasn't in her suitcases, and it wasn't in the school building. We all searched the bus but the purse was gone.

Finally, someone suggested that Laura call her own cell phone, which had been in the purse. She did, and a man answered. "Hello, do you have my purse?" she asked. The man did, he'd found it on the street, and he was offering to give it back. So on the way to Tzippori, the bus stopped in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Rehavia so Laura could meet this man outside his building and get her purse. It was a beautiful green satin thing with a sparkly decoration on it. Her phone, her credit cards, her IDs, and all her cash were still in it.

And so, much relieved, we all went on our way and had a terrific weekend. We were all so happy for Laura.

Act II

A few days later, on Wednesday evening, I stopped by a little booth on Emek Refaim street in which sits a shoe-repair guy. I have this old pair of black pumps from Payless that I wear all the time, and so I wanted to get the insoles and the heels replaced. But the guy wasn't there! The light was on, clearly showing the many many photos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe postering the back wall, and the little booth was open -- there were boxes of little shoe-polish containers sitting out on the counter, for sale -- so I figured he'd be back soon. "He really must have stepped out for just a second," I thought, "because otherwise it wouldn't be smart to leave all this shoe polish here where all these people walking by could just take it." So I waited.

About 15 seconds later, a car stopped right behind me and a man in his 20's got out of it. He picked up a tin of shoe polish and said "Is the store owner here?" I answered "Well, I don't know. I just got here a minute ago myself. I'm sure he's coming back soon."

The man looked around behind the booth, shrugged, and then went back to his car. He threw the container of shoe polish through the open back-seat window and started walking around the car to get back behind the wheel. He was stealing the shoe polish! Right in front of me! Oh my God! What a $*!#@& jerk!

Just then the store owner returned, and I pointed to the car and said "that guy just took something from you." So the guy, instead of getting into his car, comes back to the sidewalk and starts accusing me of lying. I said "I saw you! You took something!" (Unfortunately, I do not know how to say "shoe polish" in Hebrew.) He raises his arms to the side and says to the store owner: "Go ahead and search me if you want. I'm innocent! You won't find anything!"

I said "You put it in your car!" He walks back to the car and says "What a liar you are!"

I wanted to yell back at him: You mother-effing jerk! Thief! Scumbag! Pilfering shoe polish from an innocent man! You are giving up your share of the World to Come for some stupid shoe polish! What the hell! I hope you burn in hell, scumbag!

But since I do not know how to say most of those things in Hebrew, I was very frustratingly left with just yelling "What a thief you are!" before he drove away. What a time for my Hebrew to fail me! Damn damn damn!!!

There was a pause for a moment, and then the owner asked quietly "what did he take?" I pointed to the little cans of shoe polish and said "one of those . . . I'm happy it wasn't something more."

"Yes, thank God," he answered. "Well, what can you do? . . . and to think he wears a kippah too. It's too bad."

The store owner just shook his head and asked what he can do for me. I felt so violated on his behalf, and sad that there are petty thiefs out there like that.

Just then . . .


Another man walked by, holding up a red wallet. "Is this yours?" he asked me.

"Um, no."

"I just found this in front of the bus stop here," he said. Turning to the shoe-repair man, he said "Is this yours? No? Well, can I leave it here? Maybe someone will come back for it."

So he left the red wallet. I looked inside while the shoe-repair man studied my shoes, to see if there was a phone number inside. Just a student ID belonging to a girl who looked to be around 16 in her picture, a health-insurance card, and about 20 NIS. I offered to call information to track down the owner, but the guy said "Nah, people are dropping things here all the time. I bet she'll come back for it."

And you, the next day, when I went to pick up my (now good-as-new) shoes, she really had! Yay, teenage student who uses Meuchedet health insurance!

Strange that all three of these things happened within a few days of each other, and two of them within 5 minutes of each other . . . I feel like this is really spooky and I should learn something from it, but I have no idea what!

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