Almost Getting Ticketed For Not Wearing a Mask Correctly in Israel

Corona times.

It’s been so tough. The world has gone crazy. I’m really not one to talk politics but the way the Israeli government has been ‘dealing with’ corona has been quite dismal. Doing some quick Googling, as of today (October 4th) among Israel’s population of 8.8 million people (wow, what!) a little less than 70,000 people are infected with corona. Note: I am now editing this 3 months later during Israel’s 3rd lockdown and the numbers have risen: 448,000 people are infected with a death toll of 3,445.

Despite this intense-sounding name, lockdown, Israel has been way more lax as the situation continues. Since the world turned topsy-turvy, there have been lots of registrations and rules about people wearing masks and checking their temperature before going into schools or businesses and obviously there are added restrictions on travel and all that crap.

For someone who hates authority and also resents being told what to do (thank God I never had to do the army), this just adds a layer of anxiety to everything. Which are you more like? Are you in the person’s face on the bus whose mask is below their nose? Are you shuffling quickly past the person on the sidewalk who is gesturing comically at the guy in the gas mask. No, you’re the weird one with nothing on your face. You know the world is insane when wearing a gas mask in public is not frowned at. Except by the guy who isn’t wearing any facial covering.

You may ask me, but Alana, how does one teach English as a second language while also wearing a mask the whole time?

It is ridiculous and challenging for sure.

But I’m not here to share tips of teaching through a mask with a soft voice.

I am here to tell you about how I got away without getting a ticket for “not wearing a mask.”

Classic Israel having rules that are extremely vague but also employing police officers to give tickets for the “rule breakers”.

There is a rule here to wear a mask over your nose and mouth in public, indoors and out of doors. Again, these rules were enforced back in October, but now that it is January, no one really cares. Also, the rules made no sense. You must wear a mask in public and in stores. But, you may ask, what if you are eating? Or drinking? Or you can’t really breathe in the masks? Does it really have to cover my nose? And the answer is, it depends on the mood of the police officer who is supposed to be enforcing the vague rules. (Not so vague when the mask is on: nose and mouth. Just when you can take the mask off is so vague.)

Anyway. I’m running late. As usual. I have late Monday classes and I stop by the shuk to pick up food for my friends’ sheva brachot (which, by the way, I was not told I no longer needed to buy extra food as the people already at the sheva brachot had finished eating) and also I purchased a smoothie because I was hungry! Smoothies are amazing. Anyway. I’m sipping my smoothie and holding this giant bag of bread. I went to the shuk to get nice bread. I thought (erroneously) that I needed to bring bread to this meal. Which was fun that when I got to the meal (even later because of the cops) I was told, “You know we had pizza, right?”

So, of course when I’m late, there is also a strike that is blocking the main road. I take a fortifying sip of my smoothie (blueberry!) and cross the street hastily, heading to two cops whom I’ve spotted on the corner.

Here’s another fun fact: crossing the street on a red light (no green/white walking man) is illegal here, too.

So, I pull up my giant mask as I ask the policemen, “Why is the street closed?”

It is normal for streets to be closed here for many reasons, including the bringing of the bomb squad to safely get rid of a suspicious object. Lately, streets have been closed due to protests. One protestor put it succinctly in that they are protesting “Because Bibi (the Prime Minister of Israel) is a sweet potato.”

Instead of saying anything helpful, these cops are instantly hostile.

“What’s your name and ID number?” asks a young cop who looks 20.

“Give us your ID,” said the other cop.

My heart starts racing because I realize either I will get a ticket for jaywalking (so dangerous! on a completely blocked street!) or because I wasn’t wearing my mask properly! Uh, no thanks.

“Can you just tell me why the street is closed?” I asked, ignoring the giving of my ID number.

“I won’t say it again, show us your ID!” the 20-year-old screams.

Two young girls walk by the cops, both their masks below their noses. “Hey, why is the street closed?” asked one girl.

“Protest,” said the older police man, gesturing for both of the girls to raise their masks.

Excuse me?

Now that I have an answer, I know I have to walk for a while to take this giant bag of bread (and my other bag holding my lesson plans, text books, wallet and other stuff) across town. I will already be over an hour late to this meal.

I, like an idiot, am still there arguing.

“I’m not going to tell you again, what is your ID?” the 20-year-old screams again.

“I’m a tourist,” I say, thinking quickly.

(Always useful to pull the tourist card to get out of tickets here!)

(Also sobbing heavily helps you avoid tickets. Yay crying in public!)

“What’s your passport number then?” the cop asks, as if I had it in my back pocket.

By now, the bread is getting heavy.

“You can also show us your bus card,” the cop says.

“Oh, I have that,” I say, knowing full well it is a green plastic card that my friend had lent to me after he was visiting here and has no ties to my identity at all.

“Ok, here, hold my bread,” I said, finally hoping that if I show them a bus card I can go. I try to hand the cops my bread. They refuse to take it.

I can’t get my card out of my wallet,” I say patiently, “please, just hold this bread. I’m not putting it on the ground!”

Again a no.

“I’m not telling you again…” the 20-year-old was beginning to say.

I see a short ledge a few meters away that I can put my bread on. I head over to it, gesturing for the cops to follow.

They do not follow.

Realizing this, I also notice that I could’ve just walked away the whole time!

I hesitate, wondering if I should wait for them to come over. But, now noticing they weren’t even looking at me anymore, I just walk away.

Now, I know when I wrote this, in October, the timing was very terrible. This was around the same time that in America, a black man was killed because the police saw him as a threat. For me, this incident with my wearing my mask incorrectly and walking away is a funny story.

I’m not okay with living in a world where a funny story in my life could be a tragedy in another’s just because of the color of their skin.

Really, is there a rule for cops not allowed to take anything a pedestrian is holding?

Is there a rule for cops who are not allowed to touch a pedestrian while they may or may not give a ticket to?

Is there a rule to not shoot or sedate or discriminate against black men?

I don’t need to pull my story in the direction of racism or discrimination, but hey, that’s what I’m using this blog for — writing out my thoughts.

The world truly feels like a broken place.

I wrote this post to inform and share my odd experiences. I bet a lot of this stuff is relatable, to buying unneeded bread, being harried by cops for no reason, to just walking away. To bring up uncomfortable truths about racial profiling and how the world has turned insane during Corona. I hope this made you think, and to treat more people in an empathetic way. I’m talking to you, 20-year-old cop, who sucks. We need more compassion that nowadays. And fewer angry cops.

English teacher by trade, story writer for fun