Melbourne, Australia – Police are concerned about their relationship with Orthodox Jews after an incident at a Caulfield intersection on Yom Kippur.
A Caulfield North woman, who does not wish to be named, was crossing the street with her four children on their way to Chabad House of Glen Eira around 11.30 on Yom Kippur morning, when she became involved in a verbal altercation with police.
With no traffic close by, and no automatic cycle on the lights, the woman said she and her children were crossing Glen Eira Road at Hawthorn Road, with the lights in Hawthorn Road on green.
But the pedestrian light at the crossing was on red, and as they crossed the street, police in a car turning into the intersection began gesticulating to them.
“I was standing in the middle of the road not quite sure what to do, so they motioned for me to cross the road.”
The woman said a female officer told her she was endangering her children’s lives and she would be given a fine.
“They asked me for my [driver’s] licence, which I didn’t have on me, so they were radioing through my information. We were standing on the side of the road Yom Kippur morning for about five to 10 minutes, so I can get my ticket.”
She was then told that if the police had not been concentrating on the road, there could have been an accident.
“While they were giving me my ticket, I asked them if they could please get out of the car and press the button for us, as we couldn’t press the button [as] it was a very special day. They said, ‘No … you can press the button, your God will understand.”
When the woman explained she was not permitted by her religion to press the button and that her rabbi would also not press a button on Yom Kippur, the policewoman reportedly said: “We’d fine him too if we saw him doing this … we have our own religion, we’re the ones that have to go to the accidents.’”
The woman’s seven-year-old daughter began to cry during the heated argument. After police had given her the ticket, her 11-year-old son pressed the button and the car then waited until the family had crossed the road. She arrived at shul in tears.
“I don’t think it was an anti-Semitic incident. I think it was pure stupidity and [the policewoman] was very aggressive … it was not fair on the children,” she told The AJN.
Victoria Police acting superintendent for Moorabbin division Margaret Lewis said that it was “an extremely unfortunate situation”.
Superintendent Lewis said the female officer was not a regular with Caulfield police. “She’s just come back to work and hasn’t been party to some of the programs I’ve put into place in relation to educating the police on the Jewish culture and Jewish religion.”
She added that police are considering meeting the woman and that the ticket issued to her was subsequently withdrawn.
Local pedestrian crossings operate on an automatic cycle on Shabbat but not necessarily on high holy days. The Hawthorn-Glen Eira corner is one that does not have automatic lights on Jewish holidays, an issue police say they now intend taking up with VicRoads.
Community Security Group coordinator Gavin Queit said the high holy days period had so far been largely peaceful and that police had done a highly effective job in providing security.