As has been the custom, in the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah I share some stories and sermon ideas that will not make it to the big time. I was about to begin on that today when yesterday provided me with my own little intro to Yom HaDin, Judgment Day, several weeks early. It will be cathartic to share my story, and of course it will include a few more universal thoughts.
On March 19, 2013, I taught my monthly 90-minute study session for Gray Panthers Cohort One – now replaced in my affection by Gray Panthers Cohort Two – in a member’s apartment in Friendship Heights. I arrived just before the 10AM class, found a space in the two-hour street parking zone, taught the class (brilliant as always) and then quickly went back to my car because I had an appointment in Germantown at 12:15. Maximum parking time was 1.75 hours. The parking ticket under the windshield wiper indicated I had stayed longer than 2 hours and owed the County $60. My rational side said to just pay up, but my prophetic side said that it is wrong to take money from citizens like that, and I requested a court hearing. I got the hearing notice, for 9AM, September 2 … 2014. Yes, close to a year and a half later! The wheels of justice move slowly. That date, and the potential blot on my record, sat on my ICal all this time, an occasional reminder that rationality has its virtues.
September 2 arrived, yesterday in fact. I got to the Silver Spring District Court before 9AM as instructed but found Courtroom 301 filled with police and attorneys and clients, all of whom bore little resemblance to our Shabbat Kiddush crowd. It didn’t feel like the right crowd for my parking ticket, and – lo and behold! – it wasn’t. The Montgomery County Parking Citation Services people had made a mistake 18 months ago. Traffic ticket hearings are always at 1:30PM; the AM part of the day was for more serious stuff. The two of us so victimized protested, but the Court people said they had nothing to do with the error, they just run the trials and do not send notices and we could come back at 1:30 or we could request a court order to delay the trial. We didn’t think we knew how to do the latter so we trudged off.
We were back before 1:30PM, this time finding a more Kiddush-like group but it numbered about 50. The judge was a kindly and rather funny Philadelphian, and he made as fast progress through the 48 cases as could be hoped for. Mostly speeding tickets, police were there to defend their tickets with radar and other evidence. For whatever reason, the judge almost always reduced the citation to under 10 mph over the limit and the people went off to the cashier. Finally, after every single one of the 48 cases was heard, almost two hours later, it was time for the parking tickets. About 15 names were read, only the two of us were present. Since there was no officer or parking enforcement person present – surely they can earn the County more than $60 out on the street that length of time – and despite all the evidence and Gray Panther testimonials and arguments I had prepared, we were declared not guilty because nobody showed up to prove that we were guilty. We were sent home, with no fine or paperwork. Our time in the parking garage had long expired (there was a two hour maximum), and while there was no ticket on the windshield, that doesn’t mean a camera didn’t record the transgression. Given how the day went, I am sure one did.
Between the aborted first trip and the lengthy second one, I spent four extremely frustrating hours and $16 in garage parking fees to get my $60 ticket wiped off the books. $11/hour. Is my time worth more than that? You be the judge.
So what does it all mean? Much of the world, and this isn’t even the Soviet Union, is set up to convince us not to bother fighting little injustices, whether they be parking tickets or small health insurance charges. As I discovered, it’s almost never going to be worth the trouble. But don’t we lose something when we get used to injustice, even if minor? I think so. Second, why do we fight injustice? My little excursion into the justice system was because I wanted to tell the ticket police that they can’t just jerk us around – the other person also got her ticket in Friendship Heights after a one hour doctor appointment, and another Gray Panther got a ticket the same day as mine because an inch of her car was hanging past the sign. But nobody was there to receive the message. Now do I go further to try to make my point?
I started by mentioning Judgment Day. Rosh Hashanah is called that, Yom HaDin. But what is our Judgment Day about then? For me, standing before God in judgment, I am confident that the accusations will be merited, and that my defense will get a hearing whether the officer (accuser) is there or not. I will get to tell my side of the story, and the Judge will balance mercy and justice in delivering the verdict. The hearing time will be accurate (this year, September 25 and 26, after 9AM, is good.) And I know I won’t be charged or ticketed if my hearing runs overtime.
I bet many of you have your own parking ticket stories. Share them with each other. I am busy trying to get ready for the real Yom HaDin. I hope many of you also have stories about how Yom HaDin changed the way you lead your life. Those you should share with me. Have a good Wednesday and keep money on the meter. Best, Bill Rudolph
P.S. The first big weekend of the year is coming. Remember that Religious School begins again Sunday morning, and then there is the dinnertime Barbecue. $10/person, family maximum is $35. Where can you do better than that, with rabbis flipping the burgers no less? Check the website for this and more. The following weekend there is even more excitement, capped off by the rededication of our Sanctuary.