Chanukah is almost upon us, the beloved Festival of Lights, that special weeklong holiday whereupon we celebrate the second century BCE victory of the Jewish zealots of Judea over the Jewish secularists of Judea, and give our children iPods, Legos and Nerf guns to commemorate our inexhaustible capacity for internecine violence and stupidity. But some other Jewish zealots — modern zealots — recently enjoyed another victory, a huge victory, just one month ago, a victory that I believe is worth noting.
The evil villain in this Year 2011 story is a devilish bookstore in Mea Shearim, Jerusalem called Ohr HaChaim, or Manny’s, “Your One-Stop Judaica and Judaic Book Shop.” The zealots are a group of local haredi Jews who call themselves Sikrikim, a name chosen in honor of an honorless group of Jewish terrorists from the Roman era who killed so many of their own they were chased out of Jerusalem before the Roman siege ever began. The name, incidentally, is also used today by a particularly violent group of Colombian drug lords; all’s fair, I suppose, in Lord and war.
But that is just ancient history — today’s Sikrikim, patrolling the seemly, iniquitous streets of the Old City, weren’t fooled by the shelves full of Hebrew books and religious texts that Manny’s tried to hide behind. Manny’s (www.mannysbookstore.com), the Sikrikim knew, was secretly “promoting immodesty,” in part by selling books in English, which attracted strangely-clad foreign tourists, as well as books on Zionism.
And so, their demands upon Manny’s were simple: hang up a sign insisting on modesty from their customers, remove all English-language books, signs and advertisements, and shut down their website. Now, I’ll be honest — I’m something of a fan of immodesty myself, so I checked out the website, (www.mannysbookstore.com) to see what I could find. I, however, am not a Sikriki, so I don’t have their keen eye for immodesty and ribaldry. Perhaps it was the Koren “Chamisha Chumshei Torah with Siddur Shabbat – Nusach Edot Hamizrach” that so offended them. Or maybe it was the “Mishna Berura with P’er Halacha on Hilchos Teffilin,” or the suggestively titled “Chidushav Rabeinu Dovid – Pesochim.” (I was certain I would find something immodest in the “Leather Shop” section of the site, but all I found was a very unkinky leather-bound “Kriat Shema Al Hamita” and a “Mini Pocket Siddur” – 2 Tone – Light Blue with Aqua, which sounds, frankly, a little more gay than I usually go in for).
Fortunately, though, we have the Sikrikim, who see immodesty other Jews cannot (avei-dar?). And so, over the past 20 months, these soldiers of the Lord Our God, God of Abraham, Isaac and Yaakov, relentlessly terrorized and vandalized Manny’s (www.mannysbookstore.com), shattering the store windows as God had commanded them, flinging soiled diapers into the shop in the manner which the Lord did show us and, in order to find favor in the eyes of Hashem, smearing the store with feces and excrement. In all, they caused 250,000 shekels (about $60,000) worth of damage to the store, and last month, the store fell. They capitulated. Victory, again, for the zealots. The store, being offered no help from the police (Mea Shearim is something of a no-go zone for Jerusalem police), has officially acceded to the demands of the Sikrikim. They will hang a sign in the store, demanding modesty from the patrons, and a censor will go over their inventory and remove any offending books being sold there.
This is not the first battle of the Sikrikim. They targeted an ice-cream store in nearby Geulah, because they felt licking ice-cream cones in public was immodest (no word on the lewd hot-dog stand in Shmuel HaNavi yet, or the salacious falafel balls shop in Zichron Moshe). They have targeted shoe stores for selling heeled shoes. They threw rocks at the employees of a CD and DVD store for selling formats they considered “too modern.” God help us all when they find out about flash drives.
This would be comical if it weren’t so effective. Everyone complies. Even Manny’s tried to comply. They sat down with the Sikrikim, but, to their inestimable credit, refused their demands. Two days later, according to an article in the Jerusalem Post, 10 minutes before the start of Shabbos, someone smashed all their store windows. Again.
If these tactics sound familiar, they should; in fact, the Sikrikim’s victory over Manny’s landed very nearly on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, which occurred 73 years ago on the night of Nov. 10. Shattered windows, intimidation, fear, thuggery, all in the name of some greater good, some betterment of the world.
“Sure,” you ask yourself, “but what can we do?”
It would be easier if we could do nothing. But unlike the victimized shops in Germany, Manny’s — and I may have mentioned this earlier — has a website. And so I find myself, a proudly secular, possibly Hellenized Jew, in a strange position: encouraging as many Jews as possible to go to www.mannysbookstore.com right now, and buy seforim.
Buy sets of the things.
Buy the 40-volume shas [Talmud], for God’s sake; it’s 3,000 shekels you weren’t going to use anyway.
“Never again,” right?
By anyone’s hand, I assume.
Even the hands of our own.
So go. Sometime between now and Yom HaShoah, go to mannysbookstore.com and buy something. Anything. Buy a chumash. Buy a siddur. Buy a silver havdalah spice box (Teflon-coated, includes a stand and velvet pouch, 480 shekels) or their Solid Plastic Tefillin Protectors in choice of nine colors, 159 shekels (I like the denim one).
Give them away.
Send them UPS to a Sikriki, and mention my name. Hopefully, the UPS guy won’t be wearing shorts when he makes the delivery.
That website again: mannysbookstore.com.
Shalom Auslander’s novel “Hope: A Tragedy” will by published next month by Riverhead. His other books include “Beware of God: Stories” and “Foreskin’s Lament: A Memoir.” He has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times and GQ.