It was a perfect Shabbat Sukkot in Jerusalem. The weather was warm, but somehow pleasant. We had loads of guests to fill our new Sukkah and the children played together, laughing, squealing — occasionally fighting. We ate cholent, drank wine and celebrated new beginnings.
But looming over the joy of the holiday and Shabbat were the tragic murders of Eitam and Na’ama Henkin, both in their 30s, who were shot dead last Thursday night on the road between Itamar and Elon Moreh. Their four children — aged 9, 7, 4 and 4 months — were in the car and witnessed the whole thing.
Toward evening, I gathered up my own four children for a trip to the park.
When we determined where we would live upon our Aliyah, we looked for neighborhoods that had a decent amount of Anglos, which I felt would help my older children acclimate. I wanted a city, where schools, parks and work would be close by and you’d get the hustle and bustle of a busy life — the noise, the cats and the chaos.
I spent hours poring through Nefesh B’Nefesh’s community finder until I narrowed it down to a few locations. We settled on a place just off Emek Refaim, a major Jerusalem thoroughfare with restaurants and grocery stores, bars and lots of pizza. Most importantly, there is a park within nearly 100 feet and several dozen more within a five to 10-minute radius. We are still in the process of trying them all.
This Shabbat, we walked to Gan Hapaamon, named after the replica of the Liberty Bell in the center of the park. It is indeed one of Jerusalem’s best kid parks and I have fond memories of playing there (before it was all built up) with my Zayde and Bubbie, who always stayed at the Laromme Hotel (now the Inbal), which is located right beside the park.
This Shabbat, however, was an almost surreal experience. Standing by the playground, I heard an eclectic combination of Hebrew, Arabic, English and French. I think there was even a little Mandarin. Women pushed baby carriages and caught children at the bottom of the slide. They wore leggings and tank tops, burkas and skirts. Some covered their hair with kafiyehs, others with sheitels or scarves.
When we scooted around the exercise equipment, which all the kids were using as playground equipment in its own right, the youth paid no attention to dress or language or age. They simply took turns, smiled and laughed together — as only kids can.
Who knew that just a half-an-hour after we stopped doing lateral pulls and hopping on and off the elliptical machine, there would be two other Jewish people who would be murdered out of baseless hatred? On Saturday night, an Arab terrorist murdered two Jewish men and wounded a mother and son in the Old City of Jerusalem, before he was shot dead by police. The victims were Rabbi Nehemia Lavie of Jerusalem and Aharon Benita of Beitar Illit. The toddler’s mother remains in critical condition.
The Facebook pages of the terrorists call for violence and martyrdom and express excitement at the prospect of a third Intifada. It makes you shake, cry, scream. It makes you scared. My children just started to learn their way around the neighborhood and now I have to ask myself if it will be OK to send them out alone.
Jerusalem has always been the most intense place in the world. It is a city where people judge and you feel God’s judgement. It is divided — between secular and religious, Jewish and non-Jewish, and between left-wing and right-wing politics.
Jerusalem is the City of Gold. Beyond explanation.
It is a city of inexplicable love and friendship, a city of the most profound and unfathomable hate.
There is no simple solution. I am not a politician, in the military or a scholar. I just wish that we could replace all the knives and rocks and guns with swing sets, slides and see-saws. I wish that all of Jerusalem could be Gan Hapaamon.