That Time I Was Mugged by a Monkey

That Time I Was Mugged by a Monkey

I was 19 years old, on a junior-year study-abroad program in Bali, Indonesia.

Ahh, what memories!

Holding a chunk of wood between the soles of my feet, and carving it into a mask with an x-acto knife (I only nicked my foot once). “Bima” minibuses that carried me from one side of the island to another, from adventure to adventure, for just 200 rupiah a ride. My favorite foods, Nasi Goreng and Es Kulapa Muda, Fried Rice and “Young Coconut Ice,” a fluorescent pink, syrupy sweet drink that I would drink as often as I could get my hands on it. And yes, two and a half kosher decades later, my mouth still waters when I think of them.

And then there was the day I was mugged by a monkey.

One day, after buying myself a rainbow batik sleeveless dress, I noticed a sign for “The Monkey Forest.” Wow, cool! And I decided to follow the sign to see it.

It was a small forest, almost miniature. Nothing like the towering pine forests next to my college campus in Maine. But true to its name, once inside, the trees above me were full of monkeys.

I almost giggled with pleasure. I had grown up with squirrels and rabbits roaming free around our suburban front yard, but monkeys? Who could have imagined such a fantastic thing?

And then, out of nowhere, a monkey jumped out from behind me and grabbed the pink plastic bag holding my rainbow dress from my hand, and ran away.

“Give me back my dress! Now!” I ordered the monkey. But to no avail…

Standing there, I felt a feeling that was new to me, complete and total powerlessness. I had absolutely no idea how to get my dress back from that naughty monkey.

I was about to give up any hope of getting my dress back when a wrinkled Balinese man (as miniature as his forest) with a long hook thingy appeared out of nowhere, hooked back my bag from the monkey, and handed it back to me.

I thought of that monkey this week when I heard, in class on Elul, the best way to catch a monkey.

So please keep this information in a secure yet easily accessible place, so that the next time you are mugged by a monkey, you will know exactly what steps need to be taken…

1. Make a small hole in a tree.
2. Put a few peanuts in that hole.
3. When a monkey smells the peanuts, he will insert his paw inside the hole to grab the peanuts.
4. With his fist full of peanuts, he will be unable to remove his paw from the hole. And then, gotcha!

But why, you are certainly asking yourself, doesn’t this silly monkey just let go of those peanuts, remove his hand from the hole, and run away?

“What’s more important, monkey?” you want to plead with him, “Those 6 measly peanuts in your paw, or your freedom? Maybe even your life? If you let go of those peanuts, you would be free to look for more peanuts elsewhere, better peanuts (maybe even chocolate-covered!)

But Rav Gad of Bat Ayin explained this week that it’s not only monkeys that won’t let go of their peanuts, certain they will never ever find anything better than those peanuts in their stuck paw.

If something in our lives is completely broken and in critical condition (our health, our marriage, our child, our financial situation) we generally will take steps to try to fix it.

But we’ve grown up on expressions like:
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
“Leave well enough alone!”

And we keep living in a way that drains us of vitality, instead of changing the details of our lives to make them better. Letting go of the old ways that aren’t working for us anymore, and finding some chocolate-covered peanuts instead (my mouth is watering again).

What could we change this year that would make our lives feel better, be better? Physically, emotionally, spiritually?

By the way, just a few weeks after I was mugged by that monkey, I boarded a plane to Israel for the first time, to start a completely new chapter of my life (or, I guess, the first chapter of the book that has been my life for the last 26 years).

And when I arrived here (in the middle of the snowstorm of the century) I was wearing the flip-flops I had worn when I’d crisscrossed Bali in search of adventure, and that naughty monkey’s rainbow batik dress.


  1. Iva kastner

    There is a cute (children’s) book called “Hats for Sale” about a man who peddles hats…has them taken by monkeys, and how he gets them back. Very clever. In hebrew, the book is called “כובעים “למכירה by Esfir Slobodkina

    • exactly, i think of my story every time I read that to my kids

      • Ha! I was thinking about that book when you were telling your story and wondering if you would employ the cap-sellers techniques!
        Love this post-thank you!

  2. This is an extremely well written piece, Chana Jenny!
    Keep on inspiring us…

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