9/02/2007

One Tale of Two Cities, and Two Tales of One

Kiryat Sefer, also known as Modiin Ilit is a completely Chareidi city of about 30,000. It has no basketball courts. In a lot of ways, it’s like a Bizzarro version of Modiin – both are called Modiin. One is called ‘The City of the Future’ and the other is called ‘The Chareidi City of the Future’. Both are populated mainly by young families. In Modiin, there are barely any chareidim. In Kiryat Sefer, pretty much everyone is chareidi. Both are teeming with kids. I've posted about Kiryat Sefer before - here, here, here, here, here, and here.

There are many Modiin residents who shop in Kiryat Sefer, which is about 12 minutes away by car. There are some products that are more available or cheaper there. There are even people (women, basically) who have special clothes for when they shop in Kiryat Sefer (skirts, shawls, head-coverings), so that they do not offend the locals.

This past Friday, we ran some errands in Kiryat Sefer. One was that we are trying to get a stroller which was damaged by El Al repaired. We also picked up some fruits and vegetables. The store which sells strollers would be called a basement business in the U.S. In Israel, it’s a living room business. The entire front part of the house is filled with products for newborns and toddlers. He took the stroller and estimated that it would cost about 100 NIS to get fixed. A new (inferior quality) stroller would be 160 NIS.

Another couple shopping there looked at us incredulously as we ordered the repair. El Al had told us that if we could not repair the stroller, then they would reimburse us for a new one. So why didn’t we just get the new one? My said that we can’t get a new one because the old one could be fixed. Yes, they countered, but El Al doesn’t have to know that. At this point, the store/homeowner added that he would be happy to write El Al a letter stating that he cannot fix the stroller. Yet, my wife insisted, that would be a lie.

Later, near the supermarket just a few blocks away, I noticed that there is a newsstand on the street. This was not a newsstand that looked like the ones that I am familiar with. There was a table with two piles – one with the Yated Ne’eman, the other with HaModia. Two slotted boxes (pushkes) were mounted on the wall above the papers, each labeled with the name of one of the papers. The papers were sold on the honor system, completely and totally.

These stories, having happened so close together both spatially and temporally, generated a bit of cognitive dissonance. How was it possible that one could assume such a degree of honesty that one could leave merchandise literally on the street and know that he would be adequately compensated, and at the same time it was all but assumed that one could tell a lie in order to gain a larger reimbursement check from a corporation that damaged his property?

We were baffled, but came up with a few working theories to explain the phenomenon, and also a few that don’t work. I’m not totally satisfied, so I’d be curious to hear more:

· ‘Us vs. Them’ – this is the most obvious explanation, but one which I don’t think is true. The theory would be that there’s more tolerance for theft from non-chareidi entities than there is for those who are ‘ana”sh’ or ‘fun unzere’. I don’t buy it. If the guy leaving the papers there was not Chareidi, and everybody knew it, he could still expect to find sufficient payment in the box. If it was a goy, it might be a different story (not that it’s justified), but I don’t think that the property of a fellow Jew would be treated so disrespectfully.

· Individual vs. Corporate – if I don’t pay for the paper, the guy who put it there loses money. A guy who sells newspapers on the street for a living is not a terribly wealthy guy. If we don’t pay him, he takes home less cash that week, his Shabbos table is a bit more bare, there’s a bit more stress in the house. Nebech. I’ve got to pay this guy; it’s his parnassah. On the other hand, El Al is a large corporation. Nobody goes hungry if they lose and extra 50 shekel here or there. The owners are so wealthy that they won’t even notice if it’s 5000 shekel.

· Pragmatic – if we screw the newspaper guy, he’ll stop selling papers here because he’s losing money on it. Our community is his entire clientele. Who will sell us papers, then? But if we screw El Al, what are they going to do, stop letting us fly with them? They tested those waters already, and found them to be quite uninhabitable. They need our business. Besides, we’re still a minority of their customers. Who says they would even notice that one sector claims higher damages than another sector? And who says that other sectors don’t claim damages that are just as high?

· Restoring Balance – I don’t know the guy who sells me the paper, but I have nothing to do with him otherwise. I’m paying him for this one service, and that’s the extent of our relationship. But El Al is different. Do you know how much they charge for flights? I have a family of seven! They jack up the prices during bein hazmanim because they know that’s when we travel! This 50 shekel is a pittance compared to all the money that I’ve flushed down the toilet with them. Besides, I’ve had delays which forced us to alter our plans and spend extra money, I had to make 25 phone calls, on my own dime, before they acknowledged that they damaged or lost my luggage – they owe me!

· Theft vs. Bargaining – I’m not actually ‘stealing’ from El Al. They are willing to pay for a new one anyway. They realize that they owe me money. If they really wanted to save, they could get it fixed themselves. When they send me that check, it will be wholehearted and without me pointing a gun at their heads. But to just grab something that it not yours? That’s burglary! That’s something a common house-thief would do! Chas ve-Shalom that I would just take something that doesn’t belong to me!

Any other thoughts?
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