By Margie Pensak
After speaking to Jeff Seidel, founder and CEO of Jeff Seidel’s Jewish Student Information Centers, about his horrifying experience, I couldn’t help but think that Hashem saved his life mida k’neged mida (measure for measure). Jeff has been a virtual one-man Western Wall welcome and Shabbos hospitality committee for the past 32 years, for the stereotypical backpacker who finds himself (hopefully, literally!) in Israel.
Jeff Seidel, world-renowned Founder and CEO of Jeff Seidel’s Jewish Student Information Centers
This past Tuesday, while stuck in traffic near the Mount of Olives, on the way to a levaya (funeral) in Har Hazeisim, together with Nahal Hareidi Rabbinic counselor Yohanan Danziger, and the step-son of the nifteres, Dov Ber Davis, Jeff’s 2006 Mazda was ambushed by 15-25 young Jerusalem Arabs who were jeering while barraging them with several cinderblocks and rocks. No doubt, I thought, Hashem saved Jeff from this stoning for all the neshamas he saved before the stones of our holy Kosel.
“There was a makeshift military police station about a 1-2 minute drive down the road that we were on,” recalls Jeff. “There was a lot of traffic on the road. I couldn’t move the car; we were sitting ducks, standing still in traffic.”
“A kid about 15 years old kicked in the side of the car,” recalls Yohanan, who sat in the back seat with Dov Ber. “We think the traffic was blocked intentionally. We then received a barrage of bricks and rocks that smashed all the windows. Fifteen to twenty people were throwing bricks at the car. We got pelted 30-40 times. Everybody on the street was standing around and watching, most of them were laughing. Older people, younger people, men, women, and children. They were all prepared in advance with bricks and cinderblocks. Glass got all over me, even in my shoes. I was wearing a coat and raised it to cover my head so the bricks wouldn’t hit my head–that was the only thing I was concerned about. It was obviously a miracle because the ¼ inch thick coat, could not protect me, alone.”
During the attack, Dov Ber was in contact with the police for several minutes until the connection was broken. The police never called back.
“We aren’t sure why the police didn’t come down to see what was going on,” says Jeff. “Before we even left for the funeral, the police were notified that there were going to be Jewish people coming for a funeral, but we did not see any police at all in the whole area.”
“There were two chayalim (soldiers) a few cars behind us, whose car was also smashed,” remembers Yohanan. “They were on the way to the funeral too, but because they were off duty, they did not have their weapons. They saw the amount of bricks, and the violence, and the contorted faces, and the anger, and they could not imagine that we survived the ordeal. We didn’t go to the hospital then; I only went later when my eye started to bother me. There I was told I had a scratched cornea. When I was seen the next morning, by Dr. Michael Elman [a Baltimore retina specialist who was visiting Israel at the time], he told me that what was previously seen was not evident, perhaps it had already healed.”
After making a U-turn to try to get away from the blocks being hurled at them, never making it to the funeral, Jeff tried to drive to safety within the gates of Makassed, an Arab hospital in At-Tur, located just one kilometer east of the Old City of Jerusalem, but was refused entry.
“The hospital gate was closed; I figured I would be able to use it as a safe haven and get treatment for any injuries, but it was not happening,” explains Jeff. “Cars in front of me would not budge and I was told by people at the gate that I may not come in, as they blocked my entry. They could have pulled us out of the car. I’m lucky the next lane next to me opened up so I could make a U-turn to get out of that traffic. [He managed to make a U-turn as older Arabs appearing to be in their 40s, yelled at the youth to move away.] With all the smashed glass, only my front window and only one passenger window were left on my car.”
Yohanan contends that one of the things that helped them get out alive, was Jeff’s incredible calm under fire, while getting pelted by cinderblocks. “He was driving like he was taking a Sunday afternoon drive,” notes Yohanan. “It was pretty amazing. He didn’t lose his cool.”
“More and more now, what happened is starting to sink in, after my post-traumatic shock,” says Jeff, who benched gomel on Wednesday morning, after his auto body shop and others told him how lucky he is to be alive, considering the number of rocks that were found in the car. “I feel bad for all of us. They would not let me in the Arab hospital. Arabs come and get medical services at our hospitals. My wife is an oncology nurse in Hadassah Hospital-Mt. Scopus, and they treat everybody there. The same laws have to go for everybody in Israel, Jew and non-Jew, alike. People should be safe when they go to their religious sites. It was not a Jewish holiday, we weren’t drawing attention to ourselves, just going to a funeral.
“I really hope that soon, the streets of Jerusalem and Israel will be open for everyone to walk freely or drive through them,” continues Jeff, who cancelled his annual X-mas trip to Bethlehem to speak to the Jewish students, because his nerves were still unsettled from the terror attack. “It is very sad that Arabs will be able to go to pray and conduct their religious service, but when I want to go to their area, I get stoned or attacked. We really need Mayor Giuliani to come here to clean this place up. I am not saying kick them out, but that everybody should be able to walk through or drive through the streets here.”
“I don’t want uncivilized people acting undignified in my civilized country–not Arabs, not Jews; it’s not a racist thing,” Yohanan emphasizes. “If you do act like that, there should be a Guardian’s Angels or a JDL to ensure nobody can act in an uncivilized manner. There should not be any group of people that say, if you walk on my street I am going to give you a near-death experience or even kill you. I’m not okay with that. So, whatever it takes to alleviate that situation or remediate it, that is what I am trying to move ahead to do….I have someone setting up a meeting with the members of the Knesset to discuss this.
“Surprisingly, there was not even a mention of this incident in the Israeli news,” continues Yohanan. “What would happen if someone was going to a Baltimore Raven’s game and got his car smashed? The police would do something about it, wouldn’t they?”