I flew back in to the New York metropolitan area this morning, after six days in Jerusalem visiting my daughter, who is spending the year there.
Needless to say, it was an emotion-laden week. Seeing my daughter after a two-month hiatus was wonderful. It was tempered, however, by my deep distress at hearing about the multiple “piguim” — terrorist attacks — that happened this week. I saw her increased pallor, and I saw her anxiety level go up each day.
I live in Teaneck, grew up in England, and spent a year in Israel 30 years ago. I recall a “Chefetz Chashud” experience or two by Machane Yehuda and some other bits and pieces during my stay. But nothing compares to the palpable, ever-present fear that was visible on the faces of Jewish tourists and Israeli citizens last week.
Never before have I heard the vast majority of my friends and family — who have been living in Israel for 12 to 20-plus years — talk about how serious the situation is. An old and dear elementary school friend, who has the calmest, most even-keel disposition, admitted that she has been having a tough time focusing on her day-to-day activities because of her all-consuming fear. It is not crazy to run into the local supermarket as quickly as possible, hoping to minimize the chance of being stabbed by the supposedly loyal and trustworthy Arab employee behind the meat counter. Walking down the street to the coffee place to pick up a kaffee hafuch or some apple strudel delicacy is not as delightful as it was a month ago. Even those who dare to sit outside the café with their cappuccino and cinnamon bun check out every passerby in an unusually penetrating fashion.
Israeli citizens and tourists all are keeping pepper spray on key chains and in backpacks, and using rolling pins, umbrellas, and guns defensively. I do not doubt that soon people will place orders for bullet-proof, stab-resistant shirts. I tried to get a couple for me and my daughter, but learned that it would take six weeks to get them made, so I settled on a cheaper, slash-resistant option instead.
Many well-liked restaurants and stores are empty as the anxiety about random attacks mount. Malls are not doing well either. Rock-throwing has become common on some high-traffic roads, so staying close to home has become the best way to stay safe. I refused to allow friends from Bet Shemesh, Neve Daniel, or Efrat to drive in to visit me in Jerusalem. I did not want them to risk their safety for a visit.
Usually laid-back Israelis are becoming helicopter parents, who now drive kids to school. Some even miss work to pick their kids up in the middle of the day. Students now often travel in large schoolbuses; one Israeli friend told me that her school principal made his students stay 90 minutes after school to ensure that each child got on the bus. He felt that it was his responsibility to do so. Contrast this with the very Israeli “fostering independence” style of yesteryear — or even last month.
Public buses no longer feel secure; terrorists can clamber onto them and stab one or two unsuspecting travelers, or possibly kidnap them. More soldiers are now visible on some buses. Gun-armed parents now stand on duty in front of schools alongside security guards.
No place feels safe. I was so upset to hear that a friend of mine taught his 11-year- old son how to escape from their home. The age of childhood in Israel seems to be getting shorter and shorter; even some 4-year-old kids have witnessed the murder of their parents or have been instructed to play dead or hide from “mechablim” — terrorists.
Last week, I noticed how each encounter with another person — on the street, in a hotel, in a restaurant or store — resolves instantly into this question: Is the person “shelanu” or “lo shelanu?” One of us or not one of us? And if they are not one of us, do they seem to be trustworthy? Your mind presents you with all sorts of questions: Which Arab can be totally trusted these days? What about the one who worked for Bezek who went on a murder spree last week and killed a rabbi and injured others? What about the apparently loyal man at the well-known hotel reception desk? How long has he worked there? And even if he has worked there for a while, how do we know that he is truly trustworthy, or if his brother or son or cousin is not planning some horrific terrorist rampage? And even if the hotel’s chief of security did another background check of all these “loyal” Arab workers last Thursday, does that guarantee that all of them are reliable on the next Tuesday morning? Nobody can be sure — not even the colleagues who have known them for many years can vouch for them 100 percent.
The perception of safe now has taken on a new meaning. There is a need to be 110 percent sure. For many people, the matzav — the situation — now dictates that the rule of thumb is “guilty unless proven innocent.” Once-trusted Arab cleaners in schools, shuls, and offices can no longer be assumed to be okay; neither can construction workers. Some have been dismissed; others might be in the future if this state of unrest continues.
How tragic for both the Jewish employers and the Arabs who are grateful for the employment. Why do the heinous acts of hate-filled Arabs have to totally ruin it for everyone on both sides? Of course there are innocent Arabs who also long for peace and regular employment.
And this Arab unemployment issue — one that is likely to grow — bodes ill for the future. Won’t it alienate those Arabs who once were employed by Jews? The cycle of dislike and hatred appears likely to be perpetuated.
Amidst all this negativity, here is the more positive spin:
Cabs are doing well; Israeli citizens and tourists alike avoid the buses
Private bus companies are in higher demand
Take-out food places are doing well, because people avoid eating in the restaurants
Importers of pepper spray and bullet-proof/stab-resistant shirts are likely to fare well
Home-based activities — think needlepoint, art, baking, pottery — are likely to become increasingly popular.
There is an opportunity to develop a pair of glasses that allows the wearer to see in front, behind, and on the side. That could prevent a terrorist from attacking.
There appears to be no obvious solution beyond beefing up our intelligence and security and digging deep inside ourselves to find faith, courage, and hope. It is the displays of this perennial tikva — of hope — that seems to brighten up some of the darkest days. Learning that an Arab doctor saved the life of a 13-year-old Jewish boy, seeing a group of Jews at the Tachana Merkazit in Jerusalem bursting into a Zionist songathon after the latest attack, hearing an Am Yisrael Chai song blasting from a car on the streets of Baca late on Friday afternoon, or seeing an inspirational quote, “am netzah lo yifached” —the eternal people do not fear — taped to a bus stop also help raise people’s spirits, at least temporarily.
As I ambled through Ben Gurion on the way to my El Al departure gate, I felt overwhelmed by the emotion of the past days: sadness at saying au revoir to my daughter, deep anxiety about leaving her to deal with the matzav-induced lockdowns in our trouble-filled land; pride that she was staying and witnessing a tough period in Jewish history and feeling it in her heart and soul; love for the stamina, energy, and passion that permeates the hearts of our people even in the midst of an exceedingly perilous and frightening period.
And when I arrived at Newark, I felt sad to be so far from our complex “‘miracle on the Mediterranean” land. It was a feeling of emptiness, coupled by the acknowledgment that I was now back home in a land that really is only temporarily mine. Because, when push comes to shove, I’m just a temporary sojourner in this land. I am and always have been, first and foremost, a Jew whose heart is Bamizrach.