Two days ago, I witnessed something horrible. I was leaving our apartment building with the baby, who was all bundled up in her Bugaboo and ready for a nice walk in the fresh air. I closed the gate behind me and turned towards my right, trying to decide which route to take on our little walk. In front of me was a woman and a little girl, sitting strapped into an orange carriage. I turned away from them to contemplate walking the other way, when the woman let out a yell. I quickly turned back, just in time to see her punch the little girl in the head. The child immediately howled in pain, as the woman continued to yell at her, while bending down to pick up the cause of the assault.
A blanket. A worn blanket that had been covering the child, slipped off (or was thrown off by the little girl), and the woman ran over it with the carriage and was FURIOUS about it. Angry enough to hit this little child. And then, as I watched in shock, she proceeded to violently wrap the screaming child in this blanket. The little girl, still crying hysterically, started coughing. It was the sound I’m familiar with, when my DD has bronchitis. The woman was still screaming at the child, yelling in Hebrew that she had horrible manners, and who taught her how to behave so badly.
At this point, I wanted to get involved. I wanted to say SOMETHING to this woman, who was definitely not this little girls Mother. She was either a Grandmother or a caregiver, which was making the situation even worse. I wanted to scream at this woman for hitting this child. I mean, for what did she hit this poor kid? Because a blanket fell on the floor? Because it got dirty? That’s something that a 2 year old deserves to get beaten for?
As the woman came towards me, I opened my mouth, and then closed it. She walked past me, oblivious to my presence, continuing to chastise the screaming toddler. I turned my baby carriage in her direction and started following her. But, as she took a left at the corner, I shook my head and continued straight. I fought the urge to cry.
Why couldn’t I say something? Why? Why didn’t I open my mouth and object to what was such outrageous behavior? I didn’t know.
Scenarios kept racing through my mind. One scenario had me confront her, ask her if she wanted to hit someone her own size, and then she actually takes a swing at me. Or, even worse, she takes a swing at my baby. The other scenario has me following her to her home, writing down the address, and then calling the police and reporting her. In a third scenario, I call the police right then and there and then chase after her until they arrive.
But, it was too late, the woman was gone. And only G-d knows what this child endures behind closed doors. I mean, if she is getting such a hit in public, can you imagine what happens in private?
I was riddled with guilt, not being able to get them out of my mind. I took to the Israeli Babies Facebook group and ask the members, what they would have done. Many of the them responded that they would have been all over the woman. I was immediately jealous of those women, I wish I was like that. I wish I was able to open my mouth and object when I see something so offensive, so disturbing, that I can’t do anything but intervene.
And so, I’ve spent the past couple of days, trying to understand my behavior. Part of it has to do with my American culture, part of it has to do with being a New Yorker who’s taught to keep out of other people’s business. Because, as Mom would say, you never know who has a gun. Another part has to do with my personal upbringing, and also my “breeding.” (The whole, A lady is seen, and rarely heard, crap). I also spent years conditioning myself to be quiet, meek, demure, because, heaven forbid, someone should stereotype me as a brass, bold, loud, aggressive fat person akin to Roseanne Barr.
And I felt tremendous shame. I’m ashamed of myself for not saying something, for not getting involved, for not doing what I have a responsibility to do to protect this child!
So yesterday, at exactly the same time, I left the house with the baby. Only this time, the skies were grey, the rain had already started, and the weather was freezing. I walked around the block, hoping to run into this woman again. This time, I had a plan. I was going to photograph her on my phone, follow her home, and then give the information over to either Child Services, or the Police.
But, she was no where to be found. Since there are at least 4 child care facilities within a 2 block radius, I decided to go to each one and see if I could spot the orange stroller. Or, better yet, to run into the woman and child again. I walked up the block to the first day care facility and waited until a parent came to pick up their child. A Mother arrived, keyed in the code, and let me in. I walked up the ramp towards the entrance and surveyed the carriage. And my heart literally skipped a beat. There it was! The orange stroller, with 2 bags hanging on the handle bar. I took a picture, went inside, and told the woman in charge that I was looking for a gan for my daughter for next year. It wasn’t a lie, I actually am looking for a gan for next year, but that really wasn’t my purpose. She gave me some information, and then I left. I stood watch by the door for the next 30 minutes, pushing the carriage to keep warm, watching each person that went in and out of the gan. And then, a woman with dark brown hair and glasses walked past me and inside the gan. I looked through the hole in the tarp and saw that the orange stroller was the only one left, and my palms started sweating. I called my husband, told him that I had found the stroller, and that I was waiting to confirm that it belonged to the little girl. He told me that I didn’t need to have a confrontation, and I affirmed that I was simply there to take a picture so I can go to the proper authorities. And then the woman walked out, pushing the orange stroller and holding the hand of a 2 year old boy.
I was so crushed that I almost started crying on the street. She passed me and said hello, and I waited until she turned the corner before I left.
How could that be? I mean, how many people have an orange stroller with handles? I picked up my eldest from gan, came home, and buried my disappointment in drooly kisses, toilet training, dinner and bath time.
Today was no different. At the same time, I bundled up the baby, stepped outside the apartment and turned to the right. The woman and child were not there. I walked around the block, twice, keeping my eyes out for the orange stroller. On the third trip past my door, I ran into my friend Rachel. I didn’t tell her what was going on, and since I had time before gan pickup for my eldest, I decided to join her for a little walk. We chatted for a few blocks and then, before we crossed Reuven street, I saw him coming towards me with the orange stroller.
The adrenaline started pumping and Rachel and I parted ways. I had to run a bit to catch up with him, but I was determined to keep up. My husband drove past as I was racing down the block and I tried to wave him down, to tell him that I was in pursuit of an orange stroller, but he continued past. I was half a block away when I lost him. Fortunately, I knew that he had gone into one of the gan’s on the block and I simply had to look for the orange stroller. Breathless, I arrived at the first gan, and there was the orange stroller in the courtyard. I didn’t need the code to get in, I simply parked myself outside the door and waited for him to emerge. My phone was at the ready.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the door opened and the man emerged. Holding the hand of another little boy.
At that point, gan pick up was over and the parents and children had thinned to a mere trickle. I joined my husband to pick up our eldest daughter and filled him in on the story. I showed him the two photos of the orange stroller, and held back tears that I had failed to find the little girl. He urged me to stop trying to find her, but I dismissed him.
He says I don’t need to pay penance for not getting involved at the moment. I think he’s wrong. I shudder to think what this child could be going through a home, and how I might be the only person who has an inkling into her suffering.
And so, as long as I physically am able, you can find me around 3:00 p.m., walking around the neighborhood, searching for the orange stroller.
If you happen to live in Baka and want to help, keep an eye out for a little girl in an orange stroller, similar to the one photographed above. She had brown hair and brown eyes, is around 2 years old. There was a Shilav bag hanging on one of the handles, and she was wearing a pink coat. The Israeli woman pushing her had white/blonde hair, wore clogs, had a raspy voice from one too many cigarettes, and dark sunglasses. Thin built, average height, speaks only Hebrew. If you see someone matching this description, please take a picture and send it to me.
What would you have done in this situation?