Coming home from work the other day, I got off the bus along Route 65 in Wadi Ara and waited for my wife to pick me up from our home in Pardes Hanna, as I’ve done so many times before. But this was my first time doing so since the rise in violence and terror over the past few months in our country. And this was a spot that saw its share of rocks and Molotov cocktails thrown at Jewish drivers passing by. As I descended the stairs of the bus and took my place among the Arab teenagers waiting at the bus stop it suddenly hit me. I didn’t feel safe standing there. Simply because I’m a Jew. On top of that a religious-looking Jew, one that most people, based on my big kippah, dangling tzitzit and peyot, incorrectly categorize as a “settler”.
As I waited at the bus stop in this almost exclusively Arab-populated part of the country I couldn’t help but seriously wonder if I was going to get beaten up, either by those waiting alongside of me or by a passerby looking for a chance to take part in the nation-wide surge of attacks on Jews. As conversation flowed around me in Arabic, with laughing sprinkled throughout, a sense of paranoia set it as I thought they were talking about me. I strained my ears to listen to their words, searching out for a word that I might recognize as meaning “Jew” in Arabic. I started to wonder if any of those passing by in their cars would stop to help if an actual attack on me actually began. Or not.
I waited there for a total of twenty minutes and eventually my wife arrived and I hopped in the car, like I had done so many other times, without incident. We drove home. My worry and suspicion proved to be without need and I felt bad for my incorrect judgments of those at the bus stop. But as we drove away I couldn’t help but think how strange it all was that ten years ago I made a very conscious choice to make aliyah in part so that I could live in the only country in the world that was built on the premise of serving as a safe haven for every Jew, and every kind of Jew, in the world. That here I didn’t have to worry about standing out or being different. Here I could just be myself and feel safe.
But once again, that’s not the case, as Jews around the country, but especially in Jerusalem, are being attacked, beaten and killed. After first being identified as Jews.
How could it be that ten minutes down the road from my house there exists an area that I feel fear being in? Simply because I’m Jewish. That’s a feeling meant exclusively for the diaspora. Not for here. Right? And we’re not talking about East Jerusalem or an area over the Green Line. This is a part of Israel that the whole world (well, most of the world) recognizes as rightfully and legally belonging to the Jewish nation.
Ideally I would like to not feel fear in a situation like this. I would love to think that I could channel the ancient Shimshon or the modern-day Kahalani and be able to defend myself in a situation where I was getting jumped by three three young, strong Arab teens. But let’s be real. I wouldn’t stand a chance. I would also like to think that my confident presence and straight-ahead looking stare would keep those who might want to harm me at a distance. But my beard and my peyot might be too much to resist for someone already committed to violence.
It’s ironic, because growing up in a New York suburb I thought I was living in the first generation ever that wasn’t witnessing and would not witness anti-Semitism. I was obviously living in a bubble with no awareness of what was really going on the world, since as I was learning to walk the PLO was trying their best to kill Israelis living on the northern border of Israel and as I was reading from the Torah at my Bar Mitzvah, the First Intifada was raging.
I still want to believe there will be peace. True peace. In my lifetime. Like almost every Israeli. But sometimes, many times these days, I just can’t see how it will come to be. I don’t want to become among those who lose faith, who lose hope. I want to continue to believe in the kind of future I believed in before I made aliyah. But…that was before multiple wars with Hamas and international condemnation against Israel for defending itself. Before the rise of ISIS. Before Gilad, Naftali and Eyal were murdered this summer. Before four rabbis and one police officer were killed last week in Jerusalem.
So I place my faith and my hope, a faith and a hope that searches for something to believe in and hope for, in the Jewish nation and our ability to be strong and continue on despite every drop of Jewish blood that drips on the pavement outside of a train station or on the floor of a synagogue. Blood that reminds a people, my people, that just because we’ve made it home, the struggle of almost 4000 years of Jewish history is not yet over.