Bus bombings don’t make any sense to elementary school students. To kids in a New Jersey day school, it seemed obvious. If buses are being blown up, don’t take buses. If there is a bombing at a mall or on a busy street, stay away from public places. It was almost the victims’ fault. By choosing to get on that bus or go to that mall, they were putting themselves in danger. We would never do that. We were smart Americans, not reckless Israelis.
Even mere months before going to high school, in the summer of 2011, when my family’s tour guide suggested we take a bus across Jerusalem, I was struck with sheer terror. Israeli public transportation was the equivalent of voluntarily walking through a minefield — basically, suicide. Thankfully, my parents were sane enough to reject the suggestion. We took a cab.
Four years later, I’m in Jerusalem again, this time as a student for a year at Yeshivat Orayta in the Old City of Jerusalem. After two years with a license and my own car in New Jersey, the restricted motility was frustrating. Newly on my own and in a big city, I had lots of places to go and people to see. Cabs are expensive, and walking is tiresome.
Naturally, I started taking public transportation. With a quick swipe of my rav kav and the sound of the beep, nothing is easier. Us Gap-year students don’t think twice before hopping on the light rail to the Central Bus Station or the bus to Emek Refaim Street. The parents who forbid public transportation are seen as paranoid and overprotective, their child a burden, always wanting to split cabs.
With the wave of terrorism that began early this October, many of us began to rethink our travel plans. The first reaction of many, myself included, was, stay inside, take cabs. Many parents encouraged this way of thinking, and many children easily obliged. We were still smart Americans who were not willing to put our lives at risk to go to the supermarket.
But the terrorism continued. There was a stabbing at Machane Yehuda, the marketplace we all frequent, and another in Raanana, a suburb where many of us have family and friends. The terror hit especially close to home when one of our own, Ezra Schwartz, was killed in the Gush. He wasn’t there to incite or intimidate. He was doing chessed, delivering care packages to soldiers. He was in a place where many people live and go to school, many people connected to our American Jewish community. These people aren’t reckless idealists with no regard for their own safety. They’re regular people with regular lives. And Ezra wasn’t on a bus or even hitchhiking. He was sitting in a car provided by his Yeshiva, the seemingly safest option.
The reaction of many parents and relatives at home is, “stay away from the Gush, don’t take public transportation, stay inside.” But where do we draw the line? These terrorists clearly have no value for human life, including their own. Nowhere is out of their reach — not a bus, not a taxi, not a car. We rely on our own personal awareness, as well as the multitudes of brave police officers and soldiers who surround us, to keep us safe.
Taking buses, going to the shuk or to the Gush are necessities for many people. It was easy for the New Jersey day school kid to think of these people as distant and reckless. But the Jerusalem yeshiva student realizes how integral these things are to normal life. The people fighting terrorists are regular people with routine lives. This is the reality of the people of Israel, and we have to deal with it.
Staying off the light rail or not going to the supermarket isn’t the answer. No one knows when things will calm down. Instead of restricting and burdening ourselves, we should embrace life and make the most every day. Through these actions, we are honoring the memories of the holy ones killed by terrorists, and sending a strong and clear message to their murderers — the people of Israel are strong, and nothing will stop us from living.