Positive experiences can make a person feel like they are a part of their adopted country, and believe it or not, so can negatives ones. Today I will recount one of those negative ones.
A trip to work should be a time to relax, for thoughtful repose. But it has not always been that way in Israel.
It was 2006 and the Intifada had been raging. My friends suggested that I shouldn’t take a bus to work, but I had no choice. I figured as long as I didn’t see a person wearing a warm jacket on a hot day, (hiding a suicide bomb), I should probably be okay. And I knew I wasn’t going to be travelling in Jerusalem – to me the most dangerous place of all in the country.
So I set off for work on that pleasant day in February, relaxed but nonetheless wary. I was working at a company developing voice recognition software in Petach Tikvah. I got on the 29 bus in Ra’anana to take me to the junction in Kfar Saba, where I would catch a second bus to the big mall in Petach Tikvah. From there I could either take a sherut – a shuttle taxi, or walk the remaining 20 minutes to my employ.
I sat on the left side of the number 29 bus, the second row from the front. At the next stop a tired looking, dark-haired middle-aged woman got on. She was carrying a big box. It had tubes and wires coming out of it. It reminded me of the back of a radio from the 1950’s. I looked at her closely. In Canada I would not have thought twice about her and her package, but this was Israel and a different story.
After a moment the woman got up, left her box on the seat next to her, and began to walk toward the back of the bus. “What the …..?” I thought to myself. Fortunately, she was stopped immediately by another woman sitting directly across the aisle from her. The woman pointed to the box, and in no uncertain terms indicated to the first woman that her box must accompany her. The older woman turned around, reluctantly picked up the box, and then continued, now haltingly, toward the back of the bus.
I looked at the woman from across the aisle. We rolled our eyes together, sharing the same sentiment.
“If this woman is going to blow the bus up,” I thought, “she sure as hell better blow herself up with it!” Later I reflected guiltily that maybe I should have said something to the bus driver, but my Hebrew was very limited and I wasn’t sure if I was over-reacting.
I got off the bus with some relief at the junction, caught my second bus to Petach Tikvah, and then looked to see if there was a sherut on Jabotinsky street to catch for the remaining stretch to my office. Surprisingly, there were no sheruts.
I noticed also that there were no cars coming from the west either. Traffic had been blocked.
Instinctively I crossed the street at the first traffic light. As I continued my walk west, I saw across the street a shuttle taxi that wasn’t moving. There were a number of people around it, police cars, and an ambulance. “There must’ve been an accident,” I thought.
When I finally arrived at work, my co-workers were extremely happy to see me. They came over to me, greeting me warmly, and said, “Thank G-d you made it!. We were really worried about you!”
“Why? What’s going on?” I asked them.
“There has been a pigua (a terrorist attack)!”
“An attack! Oh my G-d! It wasn’t the 29 bus?” I asked, fear and guilt crashing through me.
“The 29 bus? No. What are you talking about? Not the 29 bus. There was an attack on a sherut on Jabotinsky street, around the corner. A Palestinian got on board the sherut and started stabbing the other passengers. Two of them are dead. One of them was a woman your age. You hadn’t arrived at work yet and we were scared it was you.”
I stood there silently, shocked. It could’ve been me. Had I descended from my second bus a few minutes earlier, I might have caught a shuttle taxi and travelled on the same one that the Palestinian had boarded.
This was my close call – one I am sure that many others were also experiencing at that time, as sadness and apprehension gripped the nation.
Living through the horrible days of the Intifada, and losing others, I realized a short time later that I had become Israeli, more than in name only.