We could hear the shrill accusation across the furniture store where Dan and I were shopping for his new apartment.
"I SAID YOU ARE ALL PIGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" The woman was in a rage, pointing her finger and screaming at the store manager as we sat together discussing the details of our transaction. "YOUR MOTHER WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO MARRY YOU OFF!!!"
Her voice sent scribbles up my spine. I wanted to get in her face. Only Jews curse like this. No, wait. That is not entirely true. Bedouin Arabs also do.
The manager ignored her as she continued to rant and rave, epithets flying as we walked toward the back of the store to examine another sofa. Rabbi Lipsker, the Chief Rabbi of Arad, was standing with another man, talking quietly throughout all the noise. I greeted him warmly – his brother Eli had been my adopted big brother when I was in college, my life in total chaos and my brain spinning with conflict. Eli had helped me straighten my life out.
"How are you, Rabbi Lipsker?" I said politely. "I want to push this woman’s face in."
He lifted his hands in a majestic gesture of tolerance. "What can you do? She is not well." The store manager nodded. Barely a minute before, he had told me the same. "We can’t lock her up, after all," he had said. "She is ill, poor woman. You are new to Arad. You will get to know her. She wanders around the town, stopping into our store, the banks, the supermarket."
I turned to Dan. "This is how you know we are living in a Jewish country. Consider this situation, and play it in New York. Or London if you like," I added, mindful of Dan’s loyalties.
"She would certainly have been put away in either city," he agreed.
We looked at another sofa and a children’s bedroom set.
The woman continued to spew curses at people in the store. She aimed a particularly nasty one at the Russian sales lady, who tried to shoo her out of the store quietly. No dice. And I got the feeling that if the manager had not been there, the sales lady would not have been nearly as gentle in her remonstrances. The Soviets did not teach tolerance.
We went back to the front of the store, Dan to get his checkbook and me to look at a catalogue of children’s bedroom sets. The woman had planted herself defiantly on an easy chair, glaring at everyone and daring the manager to throw her out.
GO AHEAD!! KILL ME!!! I DON’T CARE!! I DON’T WANT TO LIVE ANYWAY!!"
It was that last that suddenly brought me to my senses. Something really was wrong, something so sad and terrible that this woman did not want to live. I felt bad for wanting to beat her up. "What kind of a social worker are you?" I berated myself. "Where is your compassion?" I promised myself to do better next time. I was hoping there would not be a next time.
By the time Dan got back, I was thoroughly chastened. He had no idea what had subdued me. The woman was still there, albeit somewhat quieter. Another couple of rounds, one more screaming match with the Russian sales lady, a final stern reminder from the manager, and at last she had enough. Tossing her head, she swept out of the store, threats trailing into the wind.
The manager smiled. The Russian sales lady went back to her customers. Dan and I looked at each other, then got up to go.
Just another day in the south of Israel.