June 7, 2019 Tour-guide diary: a scary Hasidic man causes trouble
SEE UPDATE ON THIS SAGA AT THE BOTTOM!
I think I might write a bit about my tour experiences now and then. Because my tours can be full of surprises and drama – some good, some bad, some fattening. Always interesting.
I’ve been a tour guide in Hasidic Williamsburg for six years, and I’ve had occasional trouble with the local Hasidic residents, but never like now. One particular Hasidic man, bullish, large, broad, with a curly black beard and booming voice, has taken to coming up to me and launching into a Yiddish-language attack that goes on without interruption.
The first time he did it, he came from behind on Lee Avenue. He was like a mushroom: suddenly cropped up, suddenly talking to me, but always looking straight ahead. “Go away from here, pitz-oop fin doo, get the hell away from here, you disgusting which, you evil rishanta, go away from here, no one needs you, you hate us, she hates us, she wants us all to drop dead, she despises us, why are you coming here, every day, every day, d-d-day, ev-v-!…”
As he got further in, his speech turned into frantic stammers and his fury rose. I tried to say something. “Antchuldigt, we’re in the middle of a tour… Please. This is very disre…”
But he just kept going. Rambling in a loop about how no one needed me, I wanted everyone to peger – die, why am I coming here because I go to the media and say things that I want to something something, on and on without interruption. He went on even as he started to walk on ahead of us. And then he was gone.
I was surprised, shaken. Said something to my group. Asked if everyone was okay. Someone said he thought this was the hired entertainment, and we had a laugh and let it go. I wasn’t very worried. I figured it was a one-time thing and the twelve people on my tour might never come back to Williamsburg again, but that’s the end of it.
But this individual came over to give us his treatment again the next time, and again the next. I now see him at a distance and start to consider a plan to avoid the worst of it. (I’ve yet to call out “run!!!” and start to flee. Lol, nah, we are not wusses.) At some point, in a moment of explosive rage, this guy spat on the street near me in disgust. Another time as he passed me and ranted, he threw in among his word vomit that I should go kill myself. Best of all, he once turned to my group of visitors and said in a stammer of excited and broken English, “You… you… you… you… listen to her?? Dis.. Dis… dis… guide bitch?!”
I wasn’t sure if I heard right. I asked the tour people what he called me. It was Guide Bitch alright. We all agreed right then and there that this should be my new business name and website address and personal title. If I had money, I’d quickly grab the domain and change my legal name to Guide Bitch. Or at least get a cute little storefront in Williamsburg with the name on. Tell people “he messed with the Guide Bitch, that’s why.”
Well, one day a few months ago, he left me this voicemail on my business line:
You disgusting rishanta (evil woman)…
Leave alone the religious Jews…
You crazy, you are oopgefuren (ex-faithful)…
Leave, why do you have to come make money by us, you evil woman.
Eh… listen… leave it.
Don’t come! No one needs you here.
Stay where you are.
And that’s it!
The next time he bothered me, I took a picture of him and asked around if anyone could tell me who he is and how I might get him to cut it out. A few people at a shop knew him and thought “he has nothing to lose. He doesn’t have a business or status. So what can anyone do? He won’t listen to anyone.”
So I let it go. I figured I’d try not to engage and hope I don’t get spit on.
Today, on the lovely and wonderful eve of Shavuos, when the streets are filled with little booths by this and that Ladies Auxiliary selling very elegant exotic flower arrangements, and I was in my best spirits, behold, there he was, across the street on Division from the Chocolicious candy store we were about to pop into for some pekelech treats. I told my tourists about him. I said “let’s rather keep walking” because there goes a man who could be trouble, and we were going to try to avoid the confrontation. But of course, he saw me and soon wound his way through cars and across the street he came to bestow his charms upon the Guide-Bitch.
I just kept walking, but he asked someone where they were from, and when that person responded “Singapore,” he seemed to have hit a dead end and took off, his black rekel flying open like a demon’s cape. I was so very glad, but all too soon. A few minutes later, he was on the top of the court-house style steps of the Viznitzer synagogue, screaming and ranting and making a huge scene, telling other Hasidim that I am a upgefooren (a negative term for ex-hasidic) and as he went on he came straight for our group.
Maybe it’s that it gets so very hot in Williamsburg in the summer and I’m a bad sweater and my underarms pool and I’m wet like at a gym five minutes into leading my little ducklings down Broadway, or maybe it’s that we were stuck for like two minutes waiting for the Walk sign, but I stood there as he went on. And as I said nothing, I felt totally lost. A kind of deja vu voicelessness. All the passing Hasidic men that this individual engaged looked on with open curiosity, but not one objected to his loud, intimidating, violent slew that included recommendations that I should kill myself already and that I need to be killed. One totally normal-looking individual stopped to listen to him. I looked at this thirty-something Hasidic person hoping badly that he’d say something to cool the fire, but instead he got in on the action. He advised in Yiddish to the ranting lunatic, “Talk to them, them, the tourists… tell them not to buy anything from her, not to support her, tell them…” I just stood there. Ugh, it was not a good situation. I think the “advice” from the normal person was the worst part. How could he encourage a six foot tall, broad shouldered beast of a man screaming at a 5”3 woman in front of all of us? It was the first time that a person yelled at me and other people, instead of saying “leave it,” fanned the flames.
I saw lovely old Mr. Roasted Chicken come out of his shop with a rug to clean or garbage or something. He’s a real old-timer, friendly and sweet, a little white beard, red flushed cheeks, often comes out of his store to ask me how it’s going. I looked away when I saw him come out, because it was all so awkward.
The individual didn’t leave us there. So I walked on and tried to resume the program. My good tour participants had a hard time following, what with the distraction behind us. “Pitz dich oop, get away from here, pitz dich up! Go! No one needs you! Go!” I tried to describe the previous life of the Viener Synagogue as the Wilson Theatre and the mom-and-pop shops on Lee Avenue, and meanwhile it’s go! go! go from here!
Then he was gone. The rest of the tour was nice. Hasidic folks were good to us in the shops we visited even though we are a clumsy group on a busy pre-holiday day. We had a lovely time at the deli around a single table and some good food. We had delkelech for Shavuot. It was so nice, I found myself welling up with relief. It’s strange, isn’t it? I’ve been doing this for six years, and I can still be so rattled that I can be surprised that I made it to the end without falling apart.
I wish I could get through a surprise like this as a Guide-Bitch; unfaze-able and daring as hell. But I am not that kind of strong and I get affected and that’s okay too.
So now I’m trying to figure out how to go on from here. I am wondering if I should further pursue the idea of reaching out to people in his orbit. I can also mix up the route more. I can try to come up with a stinging comeback. Carry mace. Try to film him. Carry a bullhorn and out-loud him. Put on a white beard. I don’t know. I doubt any of it would help. But I’m not planning to cede my tour territory and neither do I enjoy death threats as part of my work experience. So. Anyone out there with ideas, please reach out.
Last night, after the holiday ended, the man left me another message. He said he wanted to ask forgiveness because he was sometimes “overcome like… a dybbuk” (possessed by a spirit) and he takes it upon himself to not bother me anymore. He asked that in return I take off the link on Twitter. So I am taking his word in good faith and I removed the Twitter link and (most of, I think) identifying information on this post. I called him to tell him that I took the information off. I have no idea what brought about this contrition, but I hope that ends this saga. Phew!
Update: January 2020
I am very glad to report that the man kept his word. I have had no trouble from him. He’s come across our group since, I saw him see us, but true to his word, he left us alone. I am guessing the fear of exposure and shaming was what did it. All the know-it-alls had promised me that he wouldn’t care about his reputation, but maybe they were wrong. The communal emphasis on caring about what others thing might make people react to exposure just because it is framed as a bad thing. Maybe.
A very special surprise followed this saga. One day, out of the blue, a lovely person sent me a gift by email. She had read this post and purchased the domain “guidebitch.com” for me. I, unfortunately, didn’t keep up its ownership, so it’s gone now, out of my price range. But I had a really good laugh and this sweet person made my week.