Baseless Hatred in the Playground

Baseless Hatred in the Playground

It’s the Shabbat before Tisha b’Av, and I’m in the playground with my buddy Malka.

This year, Malka’s daughter and mine were best friends in gan, which means that over the months of drop-offs and pick-ups, we became friends too.

Sometimes I think that my biggest inspiration for is Israeli JewishMOMs I know. Moms like Malka, with their unwavering dignity, integrity, and clarity about the importance of a Jewish mother’s role.

And Malka, in particular, is an inspiration to me. She is so warm and smart and upbeat and completely dedicated to her husband and 6 kids.

So this Shabbat afternoon, Malka and I were talking as she was pushing her 2-year-old daughter on the swing when an older woman wearing pants approached her.

“You left your child alone, and she is eating a biscuit!” the woman pointed to Malka’s year-old daughter who was sitting in her stroller a few steps away from us.

“Is something wrong?” Malka asked calmly.

“I know that you people have 12 or 14 kids, and you don’t care if you lose one!” and she walked back to her bench.

And without a trace of anger in her voice, Malka responded, “I have six children, and they are all very loved.“ And she moved her daughter’s stroller right beside us.

I had never witnessed anybody EVER speaking so rudely with any mother, and I was shocked. But Malka was only shocked that I was shocked.

“This happens to me all the time. I guess it’s because I look Charedi. They hear lies from the media about us…I can’t think of any other explanation.”

If that woman had rebuked me like that, I’m pretty sure I would have yelled something as nasty and hurtful as possible. At the very least, it would have taken me hours or even days to recover from the fury and indignation I would have felt. But Malka, it seemed, only felt sympathy for this woman who had been brainwashed to hate her.
One Saturday night this spring a neighbor of mine was sitting shiva for her father.

I was the first person to arrive, and even after an hour I only left because I saw that other women were waiting for my seat. I was thoroughly mesmerized and moved by my neighbor’s stories about her father, a hidden tsaddik named Rabbi Ehud Vartlesky z”l.

Rabbi Vartlesky made a living working as a bookkeeper at a Yiddish-speaking school for girls, and he was a person who was constantly seeking out ways to help a fellow Jew in need. He considered no act of kindness below his dignity.

The most unforgettable story I heard that night?

Several years ago rumors spread that Rabbi Vartlesky had been seen on several occasions reading Haaretz, a secular newspaper with an anti-religious slant.

Someone who knew Rabbi Vartlesky, and that he spent all of his free time learning Torah, doubted the story could be true and went to ask Rabbi Vartlesky himself.

But Rabbi simply nodded and confirmed the truth of the rumor.

“I know,” he explained, “that the people who read Haaretz are generally not observant at all. It occurred to me that many of these people will not even have anybody to recite kaddish for them with a minyan after they pass away. So every day I read the death notices in Haaretz, and I mark down the people’s names so I can recite kaddish in their honor for 11 months.”

When she finished the story, my neighbor had tears in her eyes, and so did I. And I realized that I could see her father’s quiet greatness and love for his fellow Jew reflected in her.

She is someone I’ve become friends with over the past year: her name is Malka.
This coming Monday night is Tisha b’Av, when we mourn the destruction of the Temple and what the Jews have suffered throughout Inquisitions and Crusades and Pogroms and the Holocaust that have come in its wake.

And the reason for this destruction was what I witnessed this Shabbat by the swing in Independence Park: Baseless Hatred.

And what is the tikkun, the spiritual fixing for this destruction?

Baseless love. The kind of unconditional love for his fellow Jew that Rabbi Ehud Varlesky had, and that he passed on to his own daughter, Malka.

How I pray that this sadly rare gift is one I will manage to pass on to my own children as well.

L’ilui nishmat HaRav Ehud Yosef ben Aryeh.

photo credit: i k o via photopin cc


  1. Ellen H. Center

    Let us all try not to judge others until we know the truth of the matter

  2. To Ms Center: It is best not to judge anyone even when we know the truth of the matter (so we think). We learn that we are not to judge until we are in the shoes of that person being judge..and since we can never be in that person’s shoes, then it goes without saying, who are we to judge, anyone, ever? Perhaps it is best to leave that job to the True Judge Above.

  3. This article was so on target for this week. Even using labels for people is a form of judging and gets in the way of Ahavas Yisroel. I recently read (I think on there are three types of Jews: 1. Those that do mitzvos. 2 Those that do more mitzvos. 3. Those that do even more mitzvos.
    We all can work on Ahavas Chinam as an antidote to Golus. May we see Moshiach now!

  4. Very inspiring…and yes, I have gotten comments like that before, even though I don’t have as many children. It is hard to take comments like that with equanimity…and Malka is a special person as are you for recounting the story.

  5. Thank you for “introducing” us to such a special Jewish woman as Malka and for taking inspiration from everything around you and sharing it with us.

  6. I have always been a bit of a hot head. I’m the kind of person who wants to say something to a person who has insulted me. I have worked very hard on this and have gotten better at controlling my tongue. Something that has helped me immensely is putting myself in the shoes of the person who has just insulted me and I am often end up thankful for everything I have been blessed with.

    In this case I might have thought perhaps this woman lost her only child during the Gaza incursion of during the Lebanon war. All she can see when she looks at someone who is Charedi is think that these people don’t send their children to the Army and my son died protecting this country. Maybe she is suffering severe financial problems and is feeling crushed by her high taxes. All she can think is that there are many Charedim who are not working or paying taxes and they are on welfare. Maybe she has seen the video footage of Charedim throwing rock on Shabbat, spitting in Dati Leumi girls, or other assorted unpleasant acts committed by people who identify the self as Charedi.

  7. Sara Esther Crispe

    Being that today is Tisha B’av, to give the benefit of the doubt, I think there is another way to interpret the situation. This woman chose to approach Malka, and her initial statement was one of concern. She easily could have walked away thinking what she wanted but instead decided to inform Malka that her baby was possibly in danger. Eating a biscuit without supervision could cv”s lead to choking and she was clearly worried. When Malka responded, “Is something wrong?” the woman mistakenly interpreted that as lack of caring and perhaps felt that her own concern was being dismissed. Another lesson to be learned from this is that we should always be grateful and acknowledge when someone tries to help us. Perhaps had Malka’s response been, “Thank you so much for letting me know” the story would have ended differently. I am in no way blaming Malka but just pointing out that I don’t believe the woman was showing baseless hatred but rather concern, and yet also had her preconceived notions which came out when she felt the response didn’t show concern. Perhaps the woman anyway would have responded that way, but from our end, we need to ensure that we always reply with baseless LOVE.

  8. Menucha Chana Levin

    I just read this towards the end of Tisha B’Av.
    Thanks for sharing such an inspiring stories.
    If everyone would emulate Malka and Rabbi Ehud Varlesky zt’l,
    then Moshiah will certainly be here by next Tisha B’Av.

  9. Beautifully written ! Nothing is ever what it seems!!!!!

    We are obligated to give the person the benefit of the doubt!

    I always try to judge our fellow person favorably!

    Thanks so much for this great story!

    Warmest regards,
    Esther Taratoot

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