After being in Israel for exactly a month to the very day, I was awoken to a stark reality.
For the Jewish-Australian teenagers like me who have just finished high school, including an intense final year of studying, a “gap-year” where one chooses a yearlong program of their choice in Israel, is to live the dream for 12 months. I chose to learn at a Yeshiva in Jerusalem primarily to enrich my Yiddishkeit, but a significant part of my decision to enroll in a Yeshiva program was that it also allowed me to live in Israel for a year.
As I would be “Israeli” for the year, I imagined prior to leaving Australia amazing tiyulim (excursions) to many of the ancient biblical sights of this holy land and walking the ancient streets and alleyways of the old city. This would also include the more simplistic, yet perhaps equally cultural trips to Emek Refaim for a bagel and coffee, and of course a first-hand experience of Israeli chutzpah such as the blatant pushing-in at supermarket lines. Such experiences have already come to fruition in my short time here, thank-God, I have even been given the honour of numerous incidents of severe pushing-in at supermarket lines. In fact, the best justification for pushing in the line was given to me last week, when an old man who could not of have been any younger than 75 told me that his 1 year-old SON was in the car, and when I gave a slightly puzzled look in reply, I was angrily told by my fellow super-market shopper that “I am a disgrace to the kippah on my head” if I was to not believe his story.
Nonetheless, I imagined for my year to be fun-filled and perhaps most importantly, brazenly carefree regarding the anxiety and pressures of high school/university. But on late Monday afternoon something happened that made me realise this would not be the case if I were true to myself. An innocent ultra-orthodox man walking down central Jerusalem was stabbed by a Palestinian teenager in Tzahal Square, a mere few hundred metres from the old city walls.
In Australia I would follow the news in Israel, but I admit that whilst I would be concerned by terror attacks and rockets from Gaza, my emotion lacked true compassion due to distance and the difficulty in understanding such an experience first hand.
Yet, on Monday afternoon as I saw a text message from my madrich asking to confirm if we were all okay as there had been a terror attack in central Jerusalem, a reality dawned on me. I am living in a country where every inhabitant is perceived as permissible for attack, even a man who in all likelihood strongly opposes the political notion of Zionism and refuses to be drafted to the IDF. In what other country is the mayor of the capital directly involved in the neutralization of a terrorist? But Israel is no normal country and this is precisely what I found so astonishing following the attack and the accompanying media reaction. The newspapers perform their duty of reporting the facts but a mere 24 hours later, it is as if the event never occurred as discussion of the attack has ceased in both street and media circles. It is as if there is no Palestinian leadership that throughout their existence has instructed their children and teenagers to follow the bloody path of terror as a means to freedom, in contrast to the rainbow-coloured road of peace and mutual reconciliation. This is indeed the tragedy of modern-Israel for such fundamental moral wrongs are accepted as normalcy and proceed to simmer below the surface. That is until they are briefly exposed at the next stabbing attack in Jerusalem or IDF operation in Gaza following a mass of rockets fired on innocent Israeli civilians.
Yet, how can we blame Israel and her people for simply accepting the status quo and refusing to fixate their minds on terror attacks and wars unless absolutely necessary? Israel is indeed the country that values life, not death and thus the Israeli wish to put their fears concerning terror to the back of their minds, directly stems from this tenant.
Consequently, it is the Israeli people who promote the brush of the painter as opposed to the knife of the terrorist, the technology of the latest high-tech innovation in contrast to the technology of the latest rocket missile launchers. It is for this reason that despite my trepidations regarding the Israeli refusal to socially and psychologically respond to the ghost of terror that infrequently- yet consistently has stirred, I wholeheartedly believe in the Israeli/Zionist vision that is over a century old, a vision committed to attaining a democratic, just and peaceful society for all those willing to participate.
The Israeli people simply want to live a life of normalcy where they are free to walk the streets of Jerusalem without being attacked by a knife wielding terrorist. Please- God, one day this will be possible.