Part two of a series on poverty in Israel; to read part one, click here.
Ephraim Guttman illustrates both the face of poverty in Israel and a solution. Dressed in the uniform of the ultra-Orthodox — the requisite black suit and white shirt, which makes no concession to the scorching summer heat — he does not appear destitute in the classic sense. But like most men in his community, he was utterly unprepared for the modern workplace when he married two years ago at 18, with only a rudimentary education beyond the religious curriculum of a Jerusalem yeshiva.
While Israel is eagerly joining the elite club of developed nations, and luxury buildings rise above the modest Bauhaus landscape that once defined Tel Aviv, and while stock offerings and real estate prices and the number of start-ups continue to soar, economic and social inequalities are growing, too, threatening the Jewish state’s civic fabric and its ability to prosper and defend itself. No longer a nation of struggling immigrants and refugees, Israel’s economic challenges are driven by the persistent non-employment in two key populations, Arab Israelis and Haredi men like Guttman.
That these two groups share a sort of ignoble bond is a deep irony of Israeli society. Their structural poverty is caused or enabled by long-standing government policy: By subsidizing Haredi men who study instead of work, and exempting them from military service, successive Israeli governments have created huge incentives toward non-employment that are only now beginning to be dismantled. Meanwhile, the gross public disinvestment in Arab communities has left those residents nearly four times more likely than their Jewish counterparts to live in poverty.
But, interestingly, creative grassroots efforts to address these problems also have much in common. “The culture of dependency cuts across populations, and they all face discrimination in the workplace,” says Chaviva Eisler, who oversees an employment center supported by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Jerusalem. “So you have to work with the population you are serving to build interventions that are culturally and religiously appropriate.”
Eisler comes from the Orthodox world herself, and she has seen the evolution from, in her words, “a society of earners to a society of learners.” It was not always so in Israel, and still isn’t the case in many communities around the world. A recent study found that only 18% of Haredi men in London sit in yeshiva all day, compared to about 67% in Israel. Why? British welfare policy encourages work. Traditional Jewish education there includes nonreligious studies. And there is no mandatory military service to flee, so entering the work force is more palatable.
So Eisler’s center, Mafteach, has much to overcome. Since the ultra-Orthodox in Israel don’t feel comfortable using government employment centers, Mafteach deliberately acknowledges the Haredi lifestyle: Men and women are trained separately, and clients are placed in jobs with a shomer Shabbat schedule. The staff works closely with rabbinic leadership, encouraging them to support men working outside the home. Dignity is at stake here, and social status. Guttman consulted with his rav before taking a job in a matzo factory, and then another job managing a produce market; the young man was told he could work as long as he studied one hour every day.
There are many obstacles placed before Arabs seeking to enter the Israeli workforce — poor skills from under-resourced education; lack of access to jobs; pure discrimination — but culture is also an impediment, particularly for women. “We try to convince husbands to let their wives out of their homes,” explains Mohammed Namneh, project director in the JDC’s Tevet employment initiative in Jerusalem. His program employs a kind of gentle peer pressure, with group discussions for reluctant husbands, and visits from those men who have already made the leap. Women must be assuaged, as well: “We tell the women, ‘You don’t have to take your scarf off to do this job.’ We don’t go against the cultural taboos, never.”
And, much like Eisler’s attempts to utilize rabbinic leadership, Namneh strives to convince imams to talk about shared responsibility in the home and the Islamic tradition that considers work a kind of worship. “We focus on work as a value, work as something that can improve the family situation,” he says. “And once they see the first salary, they get satisfied.”
Clearly, grassroots interventions alone will not satisfactorily address this problem. When the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported that poverty in Israel is more widespread than in any of the 30 nations in this elite global club, it noted that “tackling the causes of such entrenched and wide inequalities as exist in Israel will not be easy. It will require a sustained effort across a broad range of policy areas.” Among them: better enforcement of labor laws and anti-discrimination policies, and serious investment in education and welfare-to-work programs.
But government policy in any democracy depends in part on the will of the people. The Haredi and Arab communities in Israel are too often isolated as the “other” by a largely secular society with little patience for the stringencies of ultra-Orthodoxy, and by a largely Jewish citizenry with little sympathy for the Arabs in its midst. And yet these two substantial, growing minorities may hold the key to Israel’s economic future.
As Haaretz columnist Aluf Benn noted recently: “If Israel managed to reach its current standard of living without them, one can only imagine where we could go with the added talent and motivation that is not currently being tapped…. If we open our doors to them and give them opportunities, we will all benefit. And if we continue to shut ourselves off, we will all crash.”
Preceding editorial from The Forward reprinted with permission
NEW YORK (Press Release) — The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) strongly condemned the stabbing of a New York City taxi driver in an apparent anti-Muslim hate crime, calling the attack especially disturbing amid the current atmosphere of elevated anti-Muslim sentiment surrounding the Ground Zero controversy.
Michael Enright is accused of stabbing Ahmed H. Sharif after entering his cab and asking the driver if he was Muslim. According to police, the suspect also referenced military checkpoints and uttered an Arabic phrase before attacking Sharif with a knife. Enright is charged with attempted murder and assault as a hate crime.
Ron Meier, ADL New York Regional Director, issued the following statement:
“The attack on Ahmed Sharif was a brutal hate crime and we condemn it in the strongest terms. No person should ever be targeted because of their religion or ethnicity, and there is no justification for singling out Muslims.
“It is especially disturbing that this attack occurred amid an atmosphere of elevated anti-Muslim sentiment surrounding the Ground Zero controversy. No matter the passions stirred up by an issue, resorting to anti-Muslim bigotry and violence is unacceptable.
“New York is a diverse city of equally diverse opinions, but we must not allow these differences to overshadow the basic tenets of mutual respect and human dignity. We applaud the NYPD for bringing bias crime charges in this case, and urge that the suspect be prosecuted to the full extent allowed under the state’s hate crime law.”
Preceding provided by Anti-Defamation League
By Dorothea Shefer-Vanson
MEVASSERET ZION, Israel — When I first moved to Israel, some forty years ago, there was one supermarket in Jerusalem, and perhaps a few more in Tel Aviv. My housekeeping requirements as a student were not very great, and I seem to remember my forays to the supermarket as rare occasions, requiring little more to be purchased than bread, milk and eggs. I lived on black coffee and chocolate biscuits, and ate proper meals only at the weekends, when kind relatives invited me for Friday night supper or Shabbat lunch.
After I got married and set up a household of my own things became more complicated. The corner grocery was the source of most of our purchases, and the procedure of going shopping was an arduous task. My limited Hebrew and the elderly shop-keeper’s non-existent English meant that I had to have a dictionary at hand or point to the items on the shelves, then watch with bated breath as he perched on a rickety step-ladder to get the items down for me. Then he would add up the cost, using pencil and paper, and before paying him I would do the same, or pretend to do so.
Much to my surprise, my husband insisted on buying all our fruit and vegetables, as well as basic foodstuffs such as rice, in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market. My surprise was doubtless confounded by the contrast with my father, whose only foray into shops was to buy flowers for my mother every Friday on his way home from the office. The idea of a man going shopping, and doing so in an open-air market to boot, was totally alien to me. My husband enjoyed this event, which evidently represented something of a weekly hunting expedition for him. I suspect that he would also indulge in a portion of falafel or a plate of humus at one or another of the well-known local eateries
My ignorance of male behavioural norms in the Middle East was understandable, considering my background. How could a girl brought up in London and born to parents originating from Germany be expected to know that in this part of the world women were traditionally expected to remain at home, while the outside world was a male preserve? And the open-air market was a male club, as it were, with cafes and restaurants where men would meet and exchange information, mainly about football and politics. To this day, incidentally, most of Jerusalem’s money-changers are to be found in or near the Mahaneh Yehuda market, although it is no longer largely a male preserve.
While women are no longer confined to the home, many men still choose to do the household shopping in the market. I have even been informed by an authoritative source that women don’t know how to choose good fruit and vegetables. It is true that in order to choose a watermelon one should pick it up, place it on one’s shoulder and knock it to test for the right resonance, and that is something for which strong biceps are required. It seems, however, that choosing tomatoes or cucumbers that are just right for a salad is also considered a masculine skill.
Be that as it may, the corner grocery stores have almost all disappeared, and these days a plethora of air-conditioned supermarkets and shopping malls vie for the patronage of shoppers, be they male or female. Even the open-air markets have been spruced up. Shopping in Israel is a very different experience today.
Shefer-Vanson, a freelance writer and translator based in Mevasseret Zion, can be reached at email@example.com This article initially appeared in the AJR Journal, published by the Association of Jewish Refugees in the United Kingdom.
By Ira Sharkansky
JERUSALEM– The Ground Zero Mosque as its opponents call it, or Cordoba House according to its promoters, has become a mirror of politics in the United States and elsewhere, and not always the best of those politics. Bottom feeders in New York see strong opposition as their best road to a nomination. Some who claim a posture of high principle do not go beyond the slogans of religious freedom or property rights to the problem that there are no rights without limits.
Relevant here is the counter slogan against those who would call fire in a crowded theater. A song in the style of American country music shows that the issue has gone far beyond New York City. Europeans are chiming in to focus on American naivite, and urging the sane to do something like their own campaigns against large mosques proposed for city centers.
Somewhere is a report that the project has only been able to raise $18,000. Insofar as the total cost is estimated at $100 million, the issue of money has been a prominent topic of speculation. The promoter has not ruled out relying on money from Saudi Arabia or some other Middle Eastern source. That raises the possibility that it may come from some of the pockets that paid for 9-11, making that tragic event into a project of urban renewal that will produce a Muslim icon in lower Manhattan instead of the World Trade Center.
Trust is an element in the controversy.
Important to those supporting the project is the notion of Islam as a religion that deserves protection in the fabrics of American society and politics. Some have signed on to the concept of Abrahamic religions to replace Judeo-Christian as the inclusive adjective for the United States. The word has an attractive ring, but I am not aware of how many Muslims subscribe to something that considers their faith as only one among equals. Also, Abrahamic religions does not include Hindus and others who may be as well represented as Muslims among immigrants who came to the United States since the 1960s.
Opponents do not deny that Islam is a religion, but they assert that it is associated with a political agenda, ancient and modern violence, and aspirations to dominate wherever it can. The principal promoter of the mosque, Feisal Abdul Rauf, has caused problems for those who admire him by refusing to speak clearly about funding, or to condemn Islamic groups widely identified as terrorist, like Hamas and Hizbollah.
Rauf has sought to convey an Islam that is not aggressive toward others, but skeptics doubt that his sentiments will assure that the lessons taught over the years in the community center, and the sermons offered in the mosque will overcome other themes that have been more prominent in Islam.
Accommodationists have endorsed the rights of the Muslims to create something like Cordoba House, without putting it on what many view as the sacred location of Ground Zero. President Obama backed off from an endorsement offered at a Ramadan ceremony to express his concerns about the wisdom of that location. The archbishop of New York indicated that he had no strong feelings about the project, but that it was his “major prayer” that a compromise could be reached.
He refered to the actions of Pope John Paul II in ordering Catholic nuns to relocate a convent from the location of the Auschwitz death camp in response to protests from Jewish leaders. According to the archbishop, “He’s the one who said, ‘Let’s keep the idea, and maybe move the address’ . . . It worked there; might work here.”
Intrade is a pari-mutual internet site that accepts bets and adjusts the odds about a large number of public events. On the subject of “Construction of ‘Ground Zero mosque’ to commence before midnight ET 30 Jun 2011,” the odds shifted during August from showing a bit over 60 percent positive probability to only 20 percent positive probability.
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University
TEHERAN (WJC)–Iran has said it was prepared to sell weapons to the Lebanon should the government in Beirut seek help to equip its military. On Tuesday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had proposed to the unity government of Prime Minister Hariri to formally seek military assistance from Tehran, the Iranian news agency IRNA reported.
In Teheran, Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said that Lebanon “is our friend, and its army is also our friend” and if there was a demand [for arms], “we are ready to help that country and conduct weapons transactions with it.” Nasrallah, whose movement is backed by Iran and Syria, vowed in a televised speech Hezbollah could help secure the aid for the Lebanon’s army, which is still seen as under-equipped compared to the Shiite paramilitary group.
“I vow that Hezbollah will work fervently and capitalize on its friendship with Iran to ensure it helps arm the Lebanese military in any way it can,” Nasrallah said. His call came following a US freeze in military aid to Lebanon in the wake of deadly border clashes between Lebanese and Israeli troops four weeks ago.
A US$ 100 million aid package for the Lebanon’s military was put on hold earlier this month by two leading members of the House of Representatives over concerns the weapons could be used to attack Israel, and that Hezbollah might have influence over the Lebanese army. Nasrallah’s movement is part of Hariri’s governing coalition.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the possibility of Iran selling arms to the Lebanon underscored “the importance both to our national security and the security of the region to continue with our security assistance to the Lebanese army”. He added that a review of the aid program to the Lebanon was under way and that “we hope to conclude that soon, and renew assistance.”
Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress
JERUSALEM (WJC)–A team of Israeli police officers will leave for Haiti to serve as part of a multinational force set up by the United Nations. It marks the first time Israelis will serve on a UN force. The 14 police officers attended a ceremony at the Western Wall on Monday ahead of their scheduled departure on early next week. The delegation constitutes the first-ever Israeli group to serve in active duty under the command of the United Nations. The police officers will remain in Haiti for an extended period of time.
“You are Israel’s true face,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon told the officers during a meeting Wednesday. “This mission will demonstrate to friends and foes alike that Israel is always willing to contribute and volunteer anywhere and at any time. It is important for people to see Israel beyond the conflict and to see that this is the real Israel. We are not only strong materially, but also strong in spirit.”
The head of the delegation, Meir Namir, said that the best police officers were mobilized to the task, some leaving behind pregnant women, children, and one even putting off his wedding.
Haiti was struck by a devastating earthquake in January 2010 which left more than 200,000 dead and approximately one million people homeless.. At the time, Israeli humanitarian workers assisted thousands of victims on the ground.
Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress
By Kathi Diamant
SAN DIEGO — Franz Kafka has gotten quite a bit of play lately. His photo has accompanied headlines in any number of newspapers, magazines, and network news websites in the past couple of months, most of which include one or more of the following words: treasure, trial, nightmare, snarled, tangled, vaults, masterpieces, secret, lost—and, lest we forget—Kafkaesque.
In the past few weeks, CBS News, Time Magazine, Salon, The New York Times, Washington Post, the Guardian, and Haaretz as well as dozens of other news outlets weighed in on the acrimonious fight over Franz Kafka’s papers in the Brod Collection. One of the most thoughtful was by Rodger Kamenetz in the Huffington Post. Coverage on the trial over the Brod Collection in Tel Aviv extends to The National, published daily in Abu Dhabi. Franz Kafka is the Arab world’s favorite Jewish writer. Who knew?
Most of the news reports have been correct, more or less. The AP story by Aaron Heller stated, “Aside from previously unknown versions of Kafka’s work, the trove could give more insight on Kafka’s personal life, including his relationship with his lover, Dora Diamant. It may include papers that Kafka gave to Diamant but were stolen by the German Gestapo from her Berlin apartment in 1933, later obtained by Brod after World War II.”
I am sad to report that the papers stolen by the Gestapo were not recovered by Max Brod after World War II. Since 1996, the Kafka Project at SDSU has led the international search for these papers, 20 notebooks and 35 letters written by Kafka in the last year of his life, which most Kafka experts agree, represent the real missing treasure, not whatever remains in the Brod Collection.
As the Director of the Kafka Project and someone who has followed the story of the Brod Collection closely since 2001, I am happy to share the straight scoop, with links to the best sources, as well as a quick cast list to the Kafkaesque drama unfolding in Tel Aviv:
Franz Kafka (whose literary leavings in the Brod collection are trapped in litigation) was a Jewish-Czech writer who died at the age of 40 in 1924, largely unpublished and unknown. After his death in 1924, with the posthumous publication of his novels, letters and diaries, Kafka rose to international fame as a literary genius, one of the founding fathers of magical realism and the modern novel. He is considered the most influential, profoundly misunderstood writers of our time. His most famous works are two unfinished novels, The Trial and The Castle and the short story, The Metamorphosis.
Kafka’s strange stories have earned their own adjective, Kafkaesque, to describe a world where mindless bureaucracy destroys the mind and body and numbs the soul.
Max Brod, Franz Kafka’s boyhood friend who became his literary executor, was also, like Kafka, a Jewish Czech lawyer and writer. Brod famously defied Kafka’s requests to burn his unpublished work, and instead gathered as much of it as he could and arranged for its publication. “As far as my memory and my strength permit, nothing of all this shall be lost,” he vowed shortly after Kafka’s death.
Brod fled Prague in 1939 for Tel Aviv, where he died in 1968. He escaped on the last train as the German army rolled into Czechoslovakia, taking with him two suitcases, one filled with Kafka’s manuscripts, letters and diaries. During the Six Day War, Brod, concerned for the safety of Kafka’s manuscripts, transferred the most valuable to Switzerland for safekeeping in bank vaults. The Brod Collection is believed to be mostly in ten different safety deposits in Geneva and Tel Aviv, as well as in Ester Hoffe’s humid, cat infested apartment on Spinoza Street.
Without Max Brod, we would know nothing of Franz Kafka. Brod saved Kafka’s writings for humanity, only to leave what he had so carefully collected and saved not to the centers of Kafka scholarship in England and Germany, where his other manuscripts are scrupulously kept, but to his longtime secretary and (most certain) lover, Ester Hoffe, who hoarded them for forty years after Brod’s death, selling off single pages of letters, diaries and whole manuscripts, at random, to the highest bidder. At one point she accepted a very large sum from a German publisher, and then never sent the manuscripts she contractually promised. She never returned the money.
Ester Hoffe, a Holocaust refugee who died two years ago in Tel Aviv at the age of 101, was generally reviled by Kafka scholars and researchers, her name an anathema. Given Brod’s lifelong dedication to establishing and maintaining Kafka’s legacy, his gift of the Kafka papers to his secretary was an unfortunate choice. When she died in 2008, her two daughters, Eva and Ruth, now in their 70s, inherited the collection and decided to sell it to the German Literature Archive in Marbach, Germany, sight unseen, for one million Euros. Headlines rang out around the world: Secret Kafka Treasure to be Revealed!
Kafka aficionados, academics and researchers were thrilled. Priceless, possibly unpublished writings by Kafka would finally be available to shed new light to understanding this most misinterpreted and beloved writer. But then, in classic Kafka fashion, the plot twisted, with no path made easy. The National Library of Israel stepped in, claiming the Brod Collection as state cultural assets, a national treasure, which should not leave the country. The legal wrangling and academic outcry has been ably covered in dozens of articles by Ofer Aderat for Haaretz, which has a financial interest in the case. (Haaretz and many Kafka copyrights are owned by Schocken Books.)
So, for more than two years, the Brod Collection trial has dragged on in a Tel Aviv family courtroom, with drama aplenty, court-ordered openings of secret bank vaults, tales of theft and deception, a nightmare for Hoffe’s daughters, as if straight from Kafka’s own imagination.
When the Brod Collection first made international headlines in the summer of 2008, I was in Poland, on a six-week Kafka Project research project for the 20 notebooks and 35 love letters confiscated from Kafka’s last love, Dora Diamant, by the Gestapo in 1933. Before I embarked on the 2008 Eastern European Research Project, I wrote an article for San Diego Jewish World, “My Quest to Find a Literary Treasure,” explaining what we are searching for, and why it’s so important.
For almost a decade, I have been waiting to see the contents of the Brod Collection. In 2001, in Germany researching the biography of Dora Diamant, I first learned about the Brod Collection, and within it, the existence of 70 letters Dora Diamant wrote to Max Brod between 1924-1952. This was information vital not only for the book I was writing, but also for the Kafka Project. In one letter, written in Berlin in April 1933, Dora described to Brod the theft of Kafka’s writings by the Gestapo. Among the list of 70 letters, a stunning, four-page letter is catalogued, with the date, the return address, and a few lines describing what was taken. But, besides the Swiss lawyer who catalogued the Brod Collection in the early 1980s, no one else has seen that letter or any of Dora Diamant’s letters, telegrams and postcards written over a twenty-five year period.
I am only one of many who are holding a collective breath. The next headline you see on Kafka’s papers in the Brod Collection might announce a happy resolution. But knowing Kafka’s dark sense of humor, I doubt it.
In the meanwhile, Kafka Project isn’t waiting. Plans are afoot to follow up the 2008 Eastern European research, collaborating with the University of Silesia, Jagiellonian University, the National Library of Silesia, and the Polish National Archives in 2012. The Kafka Project is working not only to recover a lost treasure and open a new chapter in literary history, but to repair at least one of the crimes of the Third Reich. If you want to learn more about Kafka, I am presenting a six-week survey, Kafka in Context, for the Osher Institute for Lifelong Learning at SDSU, starting Monday, September 13. To register, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s a link for more information on the SDSU Kafka Project.
Stay tuned for the next headline!
Diamant is director of SDSU’s Kafka Project, a journalist, and author.
For further reading on this case, here are a few of the best articles covering the Brod Collection’s many twists and turns:
Huffington Post: “Kafka Manuscripts: The Fight Over Kafka”
Time Magazine: “Were Lost Kafka Masterpices Stuffed in a Swiss Bank Vault?
Washington Post: “In Israel, a tangled battle over the papers of Franz Kafka”
CBS: “Lost Kafka Papers Resurface, Trapped in Trial” CBS News (AP)
ENCINO, California — Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something blows your mind.
It was 1990, a stifling summer day in neighboring Tarzana, California, but I had no idea how hot it would get. Besides myself, there were three customers and three employees in my 2,000 sq-ft stamp and coin store. A man in his 30’s was buzzed in the outside door, entered the “man-cage” (an entry-way of iron bars, with three sides and a top), and was buzzed into the second door. Except for a white shirt, he was all in black, and wore a Fedora hat, which seemed odd in 100+ degree heat. He walked to the rear, then back to the front showcases. I was on the phone with a dealer in Philadelphia, but, instinctively, I swiveled to watch. Suddenly, from a folded newspaper, he pulled a revolver, raised it over his head, and shouted, “This is a robbery. Put your hands where I can see them, or I’ll shoot.”
Shiny tips of bullets were visible in his gun’s cylinder. I whispered, “Robbery, call police,” as I carefully hung up, and put my hands on the desk. My manager, Bob, obeyed the robber’s orders. He got a large plastic bag, unlocked the first showcase, but intentionally dropped his keys, taking his time opening the sliding mirrored backs of each case. Bob slowly loaded gold, silver, coins and jewelry into the first of several bags, stalling, hoping someone behind him had pushed a panic button. Five long minutes went by, but no police arrived. The robber dropped something, creating a split-second opportunity, so, ignoring the risk, I reached under my desk, poked the police button, and quickly returned my hands to the top of the desk.
Ten minutes went by, but still no police. In my five retail stores, spanning four decades, there were false alarms, and the cops always converged in a few minutes, often with shotguns. This was the real thing, but so far, there was no hint of the cavalry to the rescue. The robber turned, creating a second opportunity. Maybe I hadn’t hit the button hard enough? Very fast, I pushed it again, and returned my hands to the desk. To avoid false alarms, I had put thin scotch tape over the recessed hole of each of 20 buttons, easy to punch through if needed. Both times I jammed the button so hard, it hurt. Outside the large windows, there was no sign of law enforcement – something was wrong. This robber was the most dangerous kind, a nervous amateur, taking too long to complete his business. A pro would have been out in three minutes, tops.
The robber, with a $100,000 haul, turned to leave, but, when in the cage, just 15 feet from me, he swirled, shouted more threats, and pointed his gun. He might shoot at any second, I felt I had to do something; this terror had gone far enough. Everyone in the store, including an elderly lady and a young boy, was frozen with fear. I had no experience with guns in any crisis situation, but something came over me, compelling me to act. This creep wasn’t going to hurt anyone – not today. What if I did nothing and someone got shot? Still worse, what if I did take action – and someone got hurt, or killed? Even good motives can cause great harm; the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
In a few seconds, I made four mistakes, as my three beautiful daughters’ faces flashed in my mind. The first, I pulled a 380 Remington semi-automatic from my desk, released the safety, stood up, outstretched my arms, aimed, and shouted “Drop the gun or I’ll blow your head off!” The gun was in my right hand, with my left hand cupped underneath, after watching a lifetime of police shows. He pointed his gun right at me. I fired one shot, so loud it still hurts my ears today. My second blunder was warning him, which, when facing a loaded gun, I was under no obligation to do. My third error was firing only once – I should have emptied the clip. My fourth mistake, I remained standing, like an idiot, his clear target, after the shot caused everyone, except the robber, to drop to the floor. Better keep my day job; I’m not cut out for this.
After the blast, I was shaken, and temporarily deaf. The robber was visibly shocked, his face turned white, and he ran out. I put the gun back on safety, returned it to the desk drawer, grabbed my keys, and, like a fool, ran after him, 30-seconds behind, my fifth error in less than a minute. There’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity; Clint Eastwood I’m not.
In the large, sweltering parking lot, nothing was stirring, zero activity. I expected to see him running, or a car peeling out, but it was quiet. Then I saw a car exiting to Ventura Boulevard, so I followed, but the driver was a lady; it was the wrong car. As I returned, the police were arriving, guns drawn, pointed down. I told them it was my shop, but they weren’t sure and kept a wary eye, guns out. “Is he inside? Were there hostages?” I said no, and, when the officers were told he had a loaded gun, and that I’d fired a shot, it became a serious investigation. We were thrilled no one was harmed, the store had a festive atmosphere, and, yes, there was insurance.
We found my bullet’s shell casing, but could not locate the bullet itself. Detectives, employees and I searched, officers checked for fingerprints, and statements were taken. With no blood found, we assumed he hadn’t been hit, and I was glad –but where was the darn bullet? I thought I’d missed him by ten feet, but no bullet was found in the ceiling, floor, doors, albums to the right of the man-cage, the display on the wall to the left, and no glass was broken. Two mysteries, how did he flee so fast, and where was the missing bullet?
Then I saw, one of the iron bars in the man-cage was dented. The bullet hit the bar, ricocheted 45 degrees, and landed 20 feet back, fortunately behind an unoccupied desk and chair. One mystery was solved, as I stared at the mangled, jagged missile, flat as a dime, and realized how much damage a bullet can do.
One of the detectives ran a string from where I was standing, to the cage where the robber was standing. I hadn’t missed by ten feet, as I thought, or even by one foot. Surprisingly, it was potentially a perfect shot, and hit the bar chest-high, directly in front of where he had been standing. He’ll probably never come closer to dying, and I’ll be grateful, for the rest of my life, that the narrow iron bar, perhaps 3/8 of an inch, deflected the bullet. Some say he had it coming, but I consider it a miracle I don’t have to live with the memory of the robber being blown apart.
The alarm company said all panic buttons worked, except for mine, which was defective. The dealer, with whom I was chatting on the phone, instead of reaching the police, got the Sanitation Department. After the robber and I ran out, an employee called 911, and, once called, the cops came quickly. It was not their fault my panic button was inoperable, which, in an ironic twist of fate, may have saved lives. Had police come sooner, and cornered the armed robber in the store, he may have taken hostages, and there could have been a wild, deadly shoot-out.
Amazingly, the thief was soon arrested, 15 miles from my San Fernando Valley store, in Beverly Hills. After running out, he had ducked back to the alley, and ran behind the stores to Ventura Boulevard, to his waiting limousine. That’s right – he had a stretch limo, and driver, parked up the street, which is why I saw nothing in the parking lot. Before us, he had held up two jewelry stores. The driver had no clue, until the robber ran back from my store, flushed, pale and shaking.
While waiting, the driver had locked the limo, for the first time that morning. The loud gunshot hit the iron bar like an explosion, inches away from the robber. Panicked, out of breath, he ran to the limo from the rear, so the driver couldn’t see him coming. He banged the window with his fist, and yelled, which made the driver suspicious. On the ride back to Beverly Hills, the driver, from his sound-proof compartment, called police, who were waiting in the driveway, behind the bushes, guns drawn. The driver jumped out, and the robber, surrounded, gave up without a fight.
Why, you ask, was a Beverly Hills man, in a limo, robbing stores? In a bizarre twist, he’d been in a psychiatric ward, and befriended a patient from Beverly Hills. After his release, he was invited to stay in the home, but wore out his welcome, and was asked to leave. He knew where the owner hid a gun, and money, so, when the homeowner was out, he ordered the limo, which he met in the driveway. Nothing unusual, as some clients meet the driver outside; and some pay cash. Just another rich guy on a shopping spree, the driver thought, except this “shopper” was armed and dangerous.
At trial, the public defender was overheard imploring the defendant to plead insanity, based on his psychiatric history. Because he used a limo, the media was out in force. I was a key witness, having fired the only shot, and others also identified him as the armed robber; and, he had been caught with the goods. He refused to plead insanity, which might indicate he was mentally impaired, was convicted, and was sentenced to 19 years in prison.
I thought I made mistakes, and still do, but an assistant DA disagreed. He congratulated me for firing, which, he said, probably saved lives. The shot caused the armed robber to run away, and panic, the first time the limo driver became suspicious, which led to the arrest and conviction, which removed a dangerously unstable criminal from the streets. Had he escaped, he probably would have struck again, perhaps causing injury or death. None of us knows how we’ll act in a life-and-death crisis, until that magical moment of severe stress, of indescribable pressure, is upon us. What is your opinion?
That’s not the end of the strange tale of the limousine robber. Fifteen years later, in 2005, I was telling this story, when a man overheard it, and said, “I know that story; my son was the limo driver.” In California, with perhaps 35 million people, what are the odds?
Truth can be stranger than fiction.