Throughout my education and development over the last 18 years, I gained a deep love for the holy land of Israel. When I reached high school, I was exposed to videos portraying true anti-Zionism. Watching these videos caused me physical pain, intense frustration and aggravation. All I wanted to do was scream and yell, “You’re wrong! You don’t know what you are talking about!” Nevertheless, I knew that even if I was standing right in front of those people, their hatred for me and my land would never allow anything I said to penetrate their beliefs. This only made my frustration grow stronger because I knew the facts and the truth, but there was nothing I could do about it.
Coming to Israel for the year was very daunting at first. This was the first time I was going to be on my own, responsible for my own food, laundry, and transportation. Additionally, I would be thousands of miles away from my family. However, underneath all of that fear was pure excitement, because I was about to spend an entire ten months in the most beautiful and holy land on the entire planet. After a very teary experience at the airport and a long plane ride, I finally arrived in Israel and was officially a “sem girl.” The year started off great; learning, growing and obviously attending the social scene every Friday (and Saturday night) on Ben Yehuda. The weeks went on. Rosh Hashana passed, then Yom Kippur, and then finally Sukkos. The first vacation of the year had arrived and I had everything planned out. I knew where I was going to stay for the first and second days and I had my activities for Chol Hamoed. I was so excited!
After an interesting two day yom tov (because I was keeping two days), a fun Chol Hamoed, and Shabbos Chol Hamoed, I returned to seminary to learn the heartbreaking news of the murder of the Henkins, H”YD. I couldn’t believe that this happened. Little did I know that this was only the beginning. After expressing my sorrow and fear with my friends, I went to bed because I was planning on possibly waking up early to walk to the Kotel with my school. Still, I wasn’t sure if I felt safe enough to go. The next morning I woke up at 4:30 to see that I had received a text from my mother that read: “Please call me ASAP.” Immediately, I got out of bed and called. While speaking to my mother, I could hear the fear in her voice as she told me that I could not go to Neve Daniel as I had planned, instead needed to find other plans that didn’t require travelling on a bus. I was very frustrated, but I knew that I couldn’t go to a place for a 2-day yom tov where my parents would be scared about my safety. Thankfully, I managed to find a place for Yom Tov.
After the chag I went about the rest of my week like I had every other week but this time with more caution than usual, as my parents desperately requested. Friday came along and I decided to go to Ben Yehuda so I could pick up my friend that was staying in with me for Shabbos. I arrived to witness something that most seminary/yeshiva students almost never see — Ben Yehuda was a ghost town on Erev Shabbos. The fear had kept everyone away from Ben Yehuda that week and that really began to scare me.
The next week only got worse. Every day I would hear of another attack and additional announcements about security precautions. Following the shooting that occurred on the 78 bus in Talpiyot, I was absolutely terrified. Although my school only put us in “Tailored Security Mode,” I could not bring myself to leave the building; I was even struck with fear every time I had to go out onto my mirpeset (on the 4th floor of the building).
As the days went on, it seemed as if there was no light at the end of the tunnel. My school refused to put us on lockdown, while my brother’s school put him on an intense one. As a result, my parents decided to put their own limitations on me. While I understood why my parents did this, it made my life very difficult, frustrating and stressful. Because I was on “lockdown,” I was unable to go to many places for Shabbos, I couldn’t take buses and I could hardly go out. Since my school wasn’t on actual lockdown, it was even harder. I couldn’t stay in for Shabbos because I didn’t have a meal program at the school, so I would have to go out and buy food. I found myself unable to do that either. I was stuck having to find places in Jerusalem to go to, but because I couldn’t take buses I had to spend large sums of money on taxis to get there and back. For the first time, I began to dread Shabbos.
As time went on, my frustration only grew as people started going on buses again and going to town. At first my friends agreed to take taxis with me to the Kotel and the Old City, and we walked to our chessed instead of taking a bus, but it was clear that that was becoming onerous for everyone. My friends began to go out without me and I found that very hard to take. After a short while, it seemed to me as if things had started to calm down, so I called my parents and begged. After two days of consideration, they finally allowed me to go on buses again. I was very happy because to me this was a sign that things were going to start to return to normal.
Three days later it became clear to me that this was very far from the truth. Thursday, November 19th, I walked up to my room after my last class of the day to find a text that read “Rough day today, 2 Piguim, 5 people killed.” After seeing this, I quickly went on to Facebook to see what had happened and was horrified to see that an 18-year-old yeshiva boy had been shot. Different thoughts started racing through my mind- “This can’t be real. Is it one of my friends? Who is it? Will he be ok?”. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Articles at the time were saying that he was killed, but his friends, who revealed his identity as Ezra Schwartz H”YD, were asking for people to pray for him because he was in critical condition.
Although I personally did not know Ezra, some of my best friends were very close with him and I had previously heard several stories about him. I was unable to deal with the situation so I called my mom and just cried. I went down to night seder and spent my time saying as many perakim of Tehillim as I possibly could in the hopes that Ezra was still alive and my tefilot would somehow save him. To my dismay I returned to my room to find out that Ezra had been killed at the scene and I began crying again. On Facebook Ezra’s friends kept posting about how great Ezra was and each post made me cry more and more. I couldn’t even imagine what my friends from Sharon were going through.
I called my dad to vent about how I was feeling and to find out if the American government had acknowledged what had happened. As I feared, they had said nothing about it. I kept on repeating, “But he’s an American citizen” and “He was only 18.” I became enraged with the lack of attention that Ezra was getting from the American government and the media. Then I started to see the comparison between the headlines of the attacks in France and Mali with the attacks in Israel, and the comparison between the responses of the beating of a Palestinian-American teen and the murder of an American Jewish teen. I became even more infuriated. How can the events in Israel not be called terror? How could they do more for a boy that was beaten as a repercussion for his violent actions than for an innocent boy who did nothing to deserve being brutally murdered? How is this okay? It’s not okay.
It’s not right that I have to walk around in fear and paranoia. It’s not right that I have to bring pepper spray with me everywhere I go. It’s not right that my parents have to constantly worry about my safety. It’s not right that innocent people have to disrupt their daily lives in order to make sure that they stay safe. It’s not right that 18-year-olds have to go through the pain of losing their friend. It’s not right that people do not know the truth about Israel. It’s not right that Israel cannot defend itself without being condemned. It’s not right that the rest of the world does not understand the struggle that Israel goes through because the media has an agenda and refuses to report unbiasedly.
When looking at the media and headlines it’s very clear to see how anti-Zionism lives and grows. How can anyone sympathize for the victim if everything that they are exposed to portrays the victim as the attacker? This phenomenon brings me to another level of emotions that I cannot even find words to describe. It pains me how quick people are to bash Israel because they are so ignorant about the real truth and facts. They don’t know that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. They don’t that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that has the same core liberties and values that people hold so dearly. They don’t know that Israel is NOT an apartheid state. After my experiences living in this country during these rough times I have come to a realization. It’s not okay to just stand idly by while this injustice keeps continuing to occur. We must take a stand and come together and show the world what the media won’t. Am Yisroel Chai!