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Over the Green Line

Shlomi Gil

A spate of arrests have involved young people from chareidi families being used by sophisticated handlers to smuggle drugs and other contraband through airport customs

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

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(Photos: Ezra Trabelsi)

D avid will forever be haunted by his first night in jail —fear and dread combined with shame and a horrible feeling of failure. His cellmates frightened him. They sat on an old metal bed and stared at him curiously, speaking in a language he didn’t understand. In this European prison, his long peyos and beard, his inability to communicate, and his obvious lack of sophistication pegged him as a novice and not a hardened criminal, but that didn’t make the next four years behind bars any easier to bear.

I met David, who was released from one of Europe’s largest prisons three years ago and has managed to put his life into some semblance of order since then, through a mutual friend last week. Our meeting came on the heels of a spate of arrests that have hit the Israeli news recently regarding young people from chareidi families being used by sophisticated handlers to smuggle drugs and other contraband through airport customs. While the most high-profile of these was the grandson of a frum MK, several others have come forward and described their own harrowing experiences — na?ve or foolish as these would-be couriers may have been.

David, whose story is reminiscent of the three Israeli bochurim held for over four years in Japan’s Chiba prison before being released in 2012, was reluctant to be interviewed, but he agreed — under cover of anonymity — “for one reason: to explain to anyone who isn’t yet knowledgeable about this horrible experience called prison which destroyed my life. If one person reads this and decides not to fall into the trap I fell into, it will be worth it, even though publicity is bad for me and I’m still trying to rehabilitate myself.”

Taking the Bait David, 27, grew up in Bnei Brak in a mainstream chassidic family. He went through the system — cheder, yeshivah ketanah — but somewhere along the way while in his teens, he began to face personal challenges with the world in which he was raised.

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“It was hard for me in yeshivah,” he relates. “I didn’t connect to the learning, I didn’t feel the flavor of learning. By the time I finally decided to leave yeshivah, it was clear that I was different, unsuited, and at least to me it felt like everyone was pretty quick to give up on me.”

The street and the potential to earn money — even at minimum-wage jobs — lured him. At the same time, his spiritual decline began, even though “I was always careful about the main things. But my family suffered a lot — in my sisters’ school they spoke about ‘that brother’ — and my parents suffered most of all. I was too young and self-absorbed to realize how much pain I was causing them.”

People like David are easy prey for those on the lookout for kids who want to make some easy money and feel like they don’t have so much to lose. David’s “handler” was a man who had joined his kehillah many years before, and who — although accepted and embraced by the community — still maintained ties with criminal elements from his previous life. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 713)

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