The woman who was seen screeching and laughing at an Israeli man who was trying to put on tefillin at Ben Gurion airport Monday is, a report on Channel 20 said, Professor Penina Peri, a lecturer at a university in Maryland, where she and her husband have lived for the past few years. Her husband, Yoram Peri, is a former president of the far-left New Israel Fund.
Monday’s incident, in which Peri mocked Gad Kaufman and a Chabad shaliach who was helping him put on tefillin at the airport, set Israeli social media ablaze. In footage that was released on social media, Peri is seen laughing loudly and insulting the two men, demanding that they “move because you are bothering me,” and asking “Why are you doing this here, there are people here?”
The victim of the attack was Gad Kaufman, a traditional Israeli who was on his way abroad on a business trip. He took advantage of a Chabad booth in the departure terminal of the airport to lay tefillin, but as he was doing so the woman is seen sidling up to Kaufman and the man who was helping him.
Several passersby are seen asking her to quiet down, but her reaction was just to laugh and yell louder.
“I was asked politely by a Chabad shaliach if I was interested in putting on tefillin, and I responded positively,” Kaufman wrote in the post. “The woman then appeared and began screeching and interfering. It is so unfortunate that Jews here are persecuted by the ‘leftist bohemian types.’ If I were a Muslim or Christian would this behavior be seen as legitimate,” Kaufman asked rhetorically.
In the past, Penina Peri has worked as a senior lecturer in the Culture Studies Department of Sapir College and the Levinsky College of Education in Israel, and is considered a top authority in the area. Currently, she is the head of Israel Studies at the University of Maryland. She was unavailable for comment, Channel 20 said, and when correspondents attempted to get a comment from her husband, Yoram Peri, he said that he “had not heard about the incident.”
Channel 20 also interviewed the Chabad shaliach who was helping Kaufman put on tefillin. “I got to the airport a bit early to help provide Jews with the opportunity to put on tefillin,” said Rabbi Meir Herzl, the director of the Chabad House in the Yerushalayim neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev. “I asked several people, and one individual responded positively. All of a sudden this woman began screaming and yelling, demanding that we not daven in front of her. I ignored her, and continued to help with the tefillin. The individual [Gad Kaufman] asked that the woman leave him alone to daven in peace, but she refused. She yelled, made strange noises, and kept bothering him until he finished davening.”
Kaufman posted the footage on social media, garnering thousands of reactions – many of them panning Peri for her “primitive” behavior, but many others praising the shaliach for his self-restraint. “I didn’t see any reason to get involved and respond to her,” Rabbi Herzl said. “Our mission, as given to us by the Rebbe, is to spread the light and positivity of Judaism. When you do that, the darkness disappears of its own accord.”