The lamp posts illuminate the golden stone walkways as we walk briskly through the elegant storefronts of Mamilla Mall. We race up the stairs that separate the new from the old, and see hundreds of people swarming through the gates of the Old City. Hurrying along, we push our way through the crowd heading down the worn path to our ancient city. People around us begin to run. Faster, faster, we’re running out of time.
A group of boys nearby break out into joyous song and dance, and we smile as they grow louder and louder. The crowd grows bigger and bigger, until finally I see the glow of the golden stone of the Kotel and I know we’re home. Around me, thousands of Jews from all over the world gather to atone for their sins before the fast of Yom Kippur. Young and Old, Religious and Secular, Jeans and Dresses file in to return to their ancient city to remember why they’re here, what this is all about. Up front, a rabbi prays in fervor, his voice projected throughout the area in the final plea to relinquish the Jewish people of their sins. For a moment it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from; like everyone else here, you are a Jew and you are here because no matter how secular you may be, you feel some attachment to the alluring Western Wall and the history that goes along with it. I smile in complete awe of this magical moment, trying to take in how it’s possible to have so many Jews in one place at one time.
Two weeks later, I lace up my tennis shoes and get ready to go for a run through Jerusalem. My roommate yells, “Be safe!” as I walk out of the room, and I get a little sad as I realize how often we have to say that to each other these days. There aren’t many people out on the streets, probably because it’s Shabbat but also because people are scared.
Right now, Israel is averaging at five stabbings a day. Five times a day I get updates that yet another place in Jerusalem is unsafe, that yet another city in Israel has faced the same fear that this one has. Five times a day an innocent mother, father, sister, brother, son, or daughter is stabbed in the back with a screwdriver or a knife. Household objects are fair game in this round of violence.
Five times a day I look to see where the stabbings are. Some are far away on the other side of Jerusalem, others are across the street. We realize that nowhere is really safe, but we can’t stay inside. I haven’t been to the Old City since the night before Yom Kippur began, and it makes me sad to think that the holy sites of three great religions have now become a breeding ground for excessive violence. Right now the Kotel, the Western Wall, the home of my people, is off limits to me. My people, who were so optimistic just two weeks ago, are frazzled and tired from the escalated tensions and subsequent violence.
Last Thursday, I was preparing to leave for Tel Aviv when I got a notification that there had been a stabbing there. A feeling overcame me that I had never felt before: true fear. I was afraid for my life in a real, tangible way. I considered not going, the first time fear had made me consider not going somewhere. My hands shook and my heart was beating so loud I thought it would burst out of me as I made my way to Tel Aviv, and I realized how much different it is to be here witnessing it all firsthand and being afraid.
Being afraid means constantly watching my back. It means standing further from the curb than I usually would just in case a car decides to ram into the sidewalk. It means not walking around at night unless I’m with someone who would be able to fend off a potential attacker. It means cringing every time I hear an ambulance go by, praying that it’s for something normal and happy like a baby being born and not another terrorist attack. It means being relieved because there were only two stabbings today instead of five. It means watching the American news and wondering how it’s possible to skew the information that badly. It means feeling the deep, unrelenting paranoia for the first time that has become part of the Israeli lifestyle. It means hearing people call this the Third Intifada and actually believing it. It means receiving panicky texts from friends and family and trying to assure them that all is good while the news updates assure us that all is not good. It means watching right-wing Israelis protest outside outside Bibi Netanyahu’s house, calling for more action against the Palestinians while the Israeli Arabs that work in this hostel sit inside, scared to go out. Both they and I are scared of the outside world.
As I write this, the Iron Dome missile defense system that saved thousands of lives during the summer of 2014 is being installed in Be’er Sheva in preparation for increased violence in the Gaza area. There is no telling what will happen in the next few weeks, but hopefully tensions will de-escalate and our lives will return to normal. Until then, we will continue to live our lives as normally as possible and pray for a more peaceful future.