This black spot was spraypainted over the peephole on my front door two nights ago by Idiot The Wise, the Jerusalem-based graffiti artist, who hospitalized my sister this summer after she told him off for stealing my passport.
Through this act he is informing me, “I know where you live.”
Joshua Wilson (aka Yehoshua, Idiot The Wise, Inspire, Seven, Exodus, and Reuse) came to Israel in 2003 at the behest of Rabbi Moish Geller, a beloved, iconic member of the Nachlaot neohasidic/Carlebach community, who makes annual kiruv missions to North American Rainbow Gatherings. Moish met Josh at one such gathering, and was immediately taken by him. He was an ideal candidate: One who presented himself as a sincere, moral and compassionate person, yet who lacked both direction and a meaningful connection to yiddishkeit. Though Josh is not halakhically Jewish, Moish believed Torah would remedy all of Josh’s ills, and encouraged him to come to Israel to study (with the ultimate goal of a formal Orthodox conversion). Moish put up the cash for Josh’s ticket and he was soon situated among the Nachlaot chevra. It did not take long, however, for Moish to realize that his positive intentions would not be panning out.
By the time I turned up in Jerusalem, Josh was nearing the tail-end of his welcome. He had long-since dropped out of yeshiva and was associating himself with the shadier elements of the Nachlaot scene. To this, I was clueless. I met Josh at a friend’s house in Nachlaot and immediately bonded with him through a shared interest in hip-hop, street art, anarchist theory and psychedelics. We very quickly became close friends, going out on late night graffiti runs together, exploring the treasures of Jerusalem’s abandoned buildings, and sharing spiritual travel tales over bong hits in the wee hours of the morning.
Josh was my closest friend and confidant. We would support each other artistically and emotionally. We encouraged each other’s art and writing. His poem “Downtown Sound” inaugurated the first Corner Prophets poetry event. When I went through a seriously rough breakup in the winter of 2004, he was there for me in a way that seemed genuine at the time. He even became an active wingman at the bar, helping me meet new people so that I’d put my ex behind me. When he and his girlfriend split up a couple of months later and he eventually moved out of their Nachlaot apartment, I returned the favor in kind, opening my home to him, offering free homecooked meals and a place to lay his head. I even brought him to yeshiva with me on one occasion, simply because I wanted to share with him the learning that was, at that time, such an important part of my life. There was nothing but love between us, on the surface, at least.
But some shadiness did exist. Josh would sometimes fail to appear when we’d make plans, disappearing for days on end. On one occasion, I had given him a fair sum of money to score mushrooms for a New Year’s party I was DJing. He reappeared two days after the holiday, empty handed with a wild and improbable story. Yet his sincerity was convincing. Whenever I would lose my patience with him, he’d give me a disbelieving look and say, “Come on, I love you bro,” and I would cave.
In February of 2005, after staying with me, off-and-on, for a few weeks, Josh left Jerusalem to take up shop at a friend’s place in Tel Aviv. Two weeks later I was scheduled to spend several days visiting different communities in the West Bank. Because of laws restricting the passage of Israelis into Palestinian administered territories, you must present your passport to the IDF in order to prove that you do not have Israeli citizenship. However, on the morning of my trip, I could not find my passport, which I normally keep tucked between the two most boring volumes on my bookshelf. As I turned my apartment upside down in search of my passport, only one thought surfaced in my mind: “Josh.”
It was a premonition I fought. Where the hell is this coming from, I thought. Yes, Josh was the only person I’d left alone in my bedroom apart from the girl I was dating at the time. But why the hell would he steal my passport?
I eventually left for my trip, without my passport, worried as all hell about having somehow lost it, and the long and arduous process of obtaining a new one. (This process eventually wound up taking several weeks and costing me several hundred dollars. Because of a screw-up at the embassy, I nearly missed a flight while waiting for a courier to hand-deliver my passport to me at the airport.)
While making my way out to the West Bank, I received a phone call from Moish.
“Have you spoken to Yehoshua?” asked Moish.
“Nah, not in a couple of weeks. Why, what’s up?”
“Your friend is in some serious trouble.”
Moish went on to explain that Josh had stolen things from several people in the neighborhood, that he had beaten up his ex-girlfriend, which is why they broke up, and to top it all off, that he was in Israel on a forged passport and had not renewed his visa since entering the country. (His ex would eventually recount to me every shocking detail of his assault upon her.)
“Are you positive?” I asked.
“Brother, I got no reason to lie.”
“It’s just that he’s so sincere. I don’t want to believe it.”
“He’s a master manipulator, my friend. It’s his modus operandi.”
I soon heard from several of Josh’s other friends, including the friend whom he was staying with in Tel Aviv, that Josh had stolen from them as well. In the latter case, he tried to pin the theft on the friend’s girlfriend. I also noticed that I was missing other personal items, and my roommate approached me concerned that she was missing her digital camera. However, none of us had any solid proof. We were all just missing stuff and Josh was the common denominator.
I was perplexed: How do you ignore the obvious? And yet how do you accuse someone with no evidence?
I brought the matter to my Rav, with whom I spent several hours discussing the appropriate manner in which to raise the allegations to Josh. We figured out an ethical attack plan to which I resolved myself. However, I did not hear from Josh for several weeks. He did not answer his phone and he did not return my calls.
Weeks later, when I finally heard from him, I was calm and respectful. I presented my case and he presented his. “The universe is conspiring against me,” he said. Josh’s case was flawed and filled with factual inconsistencies. I pointed out at least a dozen holes to which he provided no convincing response.
“Come on. I love you, bro,” he said.
But this time I heard Moish’s words in my head. “He’s a master manipulator.”
I decided it would be best to sever our friendship.
I went on ignoring Josh for some time after that, but I did not press charges, much to my father’s chagrin.
“Let alone the fact that calling the cops would be really ‘unanarchist’ of me, calling the cops with only allegations and no evidence of a crime is futile.”
“Yeah, but you can’t let him get away with doing it to someone else.”
I was torn in every which way. I eventually decided to leave justice in G-d’s hands and warned all my friends to steer clear of Josh. “I don’t know what your relationship with him is like,” I would say, “but be careful.”
Some months later, his new, but by then ex-, girlfriend told me that she had seen my passport among his belongings.
From that time forward, I would run into Josh from time to time. I would be civil, cordial even, but I did not give him the opening he was looking for. He would leave notes on my blog and my Flickr gallery every so often saying, “I love you bro,” trying yet still to convince me of his sincerity. He even painted a huge mural over the pedestrian mall connecting King George with Aggripas, with a banner above his tag imploring us to “Just forgive/Idiot the Wise.”
Had he stayed in yeshiva, Josh would know that forgiveness is only entitled to those who confess their sin and make amends for it.
Instead, his graffiti, which can be found lining every street in Jerusalem without fail, is a constant reminder of this unsettling experience. Not a day can pass without his name passing before my eyes.
In August of this year, my cousin Steve came to town for the unveiling of his son Zev’s headstone on har hazeitim. Zev “fell” from his balcony shortly after telling his father despondently, “I’ll never be a real ben torah.” Understandably, everyone’s emotions were running high.
My sister Aviva was supposed to meet us on Bar Ilan Street, from where we were taking a van filled with friends and family members to Zev’s matzeva. She called me from Shalom Falafel on Bezalel Street to tell me she was just grabbing a bite and would take a cab straight to the cemetery. As soon as we hung up, she called right back.
“That guy who stole your passport–what’s his name, Josh?”
“Yeah,” I said, wondering where this was leading.
“Scummy looking, long blond hair, baseball cap?”
“He just walked in.”
I’ll be the first to admit that my sister’s a bit nutty. She likes Meir Kahane and hardcore metal. She wears long skirts and skull-emblazoned t-shirts. She is religiously devout beyond the point of fundamentalism, and doesn’t make a major life decision without first consulting her Rebbe. She’s generally a very sweet person, and incredibly well-intentioned. She’s a beloved aunt to my nieces and nephews, and my grandmother’s favorite grandchild, because she calls almost every day. She drops in on me frequently, as well, just to see how I’m doing and occasionally to implore me to stop being a Left-winger. She obeys our father fiercely. She’s a good girl. She loves her family dearly.
However, Aviva’s also been taking jujitsu for the last year, after she was assaulted by her upstairs neighbor for playing her music too loud. While it’s been good for her emotionally and physically, it’s also made her a bit cocky. She’s been through a lot in her day, that girl, and she’s stood through things that no one should ever suffer. Nevertheless, she has a tendency to completely lose her shit when someone threatens her or our family. She becomes, well, exceedingly vengeful (taking, in some ways, after my mother). Hence the Kahanism.
I immediately knew what would follow.
“Aviva, just leave it alone,” I said, fearing the inevitable.
“Hey, are you Josh?” I hear her say. The phone hangs up.
20 minutes later, we’re on the road going up to the cemetery when the phone rings again. Aviva is screaming and crying.
“What the fuck happened?!”
“I’m in an ambulance on my way to Ein Kerem!”
“What did you do?!”
“He and his girlfriend! They had to pull them off of me! They had me on the ground, kicking me!”
The story, as I best understand it from the accounts of my sister and several eyewitnesses, is that Aviva flew into an angry rant, deriding Josh for the theft of my passport and demanding he do teshuva. After a minute or so of yelling back and forth at each other, Josh encouraged his girlfriend Lindsay, an amateur street artist who works under the name Poe, to attack my sister.
“Hit her! Hit her!” he said.
Lindsay eagerly obliged. She pounced atop Aviva, and as my sister fought her off, Josh hit her from behind. The two continued to beat my sister until they were pried off by the owners of the falafel stand and the makolet across the street. As soon as the shopkeeps let go, Josh and Lindsay leapt back onto her, throwing her to the ground and kicking her in the face, the stomach, the knees… Aviva managed only to tear off Lindsay’s skirt.
When the police finally arrived, the two ran off, unscathed. Aviva was loaded onto an ambulance at the medics’ insistence and carted off to the hospital. She spent the night there, undergoing tests and receiving treatment.
This is what she looked like two days later.
A day after my sister was released from the hospital, we began collecting evidence on Josh’s criminal activities to take to the police. I assembled pictures of him doing graffiti from his Flickr gallery, as well as photos of the countless buildings he had defaced. We provided the police with this material and my sister informed them that Josh was an illegal alien who had long overstayed his visa and that he made a living selling drugs — a fact to which they were already privy, seeing how he had gotten busted a couple of months earlier, though he was eventually released without facing charges. We also put them in touch with Moish Geller who corroborated our story, as did several eyewitnesses to the beating who offered to testify in court.
Yet despite my sister’s battered appearance and all the evidence against Josh, the police seemed only interested in one thing: The drugs.
“How do you know he sells drugs? Who else do you know sells drugs?” they asked Aviva.
“Everyone knows he sells drugs! You arrested him once already and let him go!”
“Tell us who else you know sells drugs.”
“What?! I don’t know any– Look at my face! He put me in the hospital for godssake!”
“If you are not going to cooperate with us, we can’t help you.”
This went on for over a week. In that time, my sister and I exhausted every bit of protektzia we had, searching for a connection to the police department, but we came up short. In the end, the police did nothing.
At the recommendation of a friend, we went to the border police instead. We expected the same runaround, but unlike the mishtara, they actually seemed eager to take Josh down.
After some detective work, and undergoing the same process of presenting evidence and testimony, we managed to get Josh’s address and passed it off to the magavnikim. They showed up at his door at 7 o’clock one morning with a warrant and found the place covered in drugs.
Josh spent the next three weeks in Ramle prison.
During this time I had been in touch with the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. I gave them the whole story and had Moish get in touch with them as well. The diplomat with whom I spoke, Geoffrey Martineau, was aghast at what I had told him, and offered to help in every possible way. He asked me to keep him posted on any new developments and told me he would investigate matters on his end.
Moish was working on the case as well and managed to get a hold of Josh’s criminal record. Turns out, Josh spent five years in an Indiana prison for burglary. He is currently wanted for violation of parole.
When I called Mr. Martineau to inform him of Josh’s arrest, and passed on the information about the violation of parole, he told me he’d get right on it and let me know where things stand in a couple of weeks. However, the next time we spoke, his tune changed entirely. Mr. Martineau gave me no information about Josh’s status nor any indications as to whether or not he’d be deported. Instead, he informed me that they were providing him with legal counsel and that he couldn’t tell me anything more.
“I’m sorry about what happened to your sister, but we have to follow American law, which prohibits the release of personal information without the individual’s permission.”
We have not spoken since.
Josh was released from Ramle and returned to Jerusalem where he has continued in his usual antics, wiping his dick on just about every building in town.
We still cannot, for the life of us, make sense of the situation.
Here was an illegal alien, proven to be engaging in various illegal activities, including destruction of private property, assault, and theft, wanted for violation of parole in the United States, caught red-handed and subsequently apprehended for a second time in less than a year.
And yet he’s still walking the streets of Jerusalem, spraying his name on everything like he owns the fucking place.
No one will tell us anything. Not the cops, the lawyers, the embassy…
We can only assume that he ratted out his drug connection in exchange for his freedom. It seems the only likely scenario, considering the police’s preoccupation with drug dealing.
We’ll likely never know.
I was walking to services erev Yom Kippur when I ran into a friend of Josh’s.
Shit, I thought to myself. This is not gonna be good.
“Hey man, thanks!” he says, smiling.
“Thanks… for taking care of Josh. I finally got my shit back!”
“Buh?! Right on. I don’t know how taken care of he is, but I’m glad someone got something out of it.”
“Did you hear what happened?”
“Oh, no. Last week the cops paid him a surprise visit and found him growing 12 plants. They put him in the hospital. Broke his ribs.”
“Yeah, Lindsay’s been going off about police brutality for days on end.”
“Fuck. Ya know, if they would’ve just fucking deported him…”
The last thing I heard about Josh is that he and Lindsay are getting married and thinking about moving back to the States. In the meantime, he got himself a lawyer (I’m guessing the same one provided by the embassy) and is suing the police for brutality.
Nearly five months later, Josh has yet to be charged with my sister’s assault.
As a going away gift to my sister, who returned to the United States last week in hopes of earning enough money to put a down-payment on an apartment in Jerusalem, we went on a little graffiti run.
My first act was to scratch one of his stickers off the electrical box in front of my apartment that carried his signature phrase, “Don’t say that you are wise in your own eyes, or it’s the truth that you despise.” I left a note next to it: “Don’t be a thief. Don’t be a liar. Don’t be a batterer of women. Don’t be a drug dealer. Don’t be a pathological liar. Don’t be like Idiot the Wise.”
Everywhere else we saw his name, we added the words “hits girls” beneath it: Idiot the Wise hits girls. Inspire hits girls. Seven hits girls.
Our grand finale was altering the mural above Aggripas, changing it from saying “Just forgive” to “I hit girls.”
Yesterday I walked down the stairs of my apartment building and saw a big black spot, dripping from the wall. I went outside and the blurb next to his scratched off sticker was sprayed over as well. The “I hit girls” mural had also been repaired. When I returned to my apartment later in the day, I discovered the same black mark on my front door.
It can mean but one thing: “I know where you live.”
Blessed are You, Hashem, the King Who loves righteousness and judgment.
And woe be unto you, Israel, who serves justice not.
If anything happens to me, I hold the State of Israel accountable.