As New Yorkers, we’re used to being alert. On the subway, we stay away from the platform edge. We avoid walking down dark, unfamiliar streets. But while we’re cautious, we don’t live in a state of constant anxiety. We don’t worry that every hand in a pocket is hiding a knife, ready to lunge. We don’t assume every car coming down the street might intentionally swerve and aim to hit us.
That atmosphere of pervasive fear and violence is what life is like in Israel right now, after weeks of people getting stabbed, shot, and run over.
This past weekend, I spent 48 hours in Israel with Mayor Bill de Blasio to bring a message of solidarity from the people of New York to the people of Israel, and to meet with the men and women whose lives have been upended by these attacks.
I’d been in Israel just 10 days earlier and the difference between then and now is palpable. People carefully watch who’s walking beside them. Everyone is on edge. In one instance, I saw a young man riding his bike on the sidewalk and a woman nearby visibly alarmed that he might attempt to ram into her.
On a trip to the Western Wall on Friday night, the streets of the old city of Jerusalem were eerily quiet. The shuk, typically a crowded marketplace, was virtually deserted save for Israeli police and army soldiers, who were stationed every 20 yards along the route. At the Western Wall, usually brimming with residents and tourists, there was but a handful of people.
In a country that has seen so many wars and lived through so much terror, it would be easy for people to assume that Israelis are mired in pessimism and despair. But in two short days, I was reminded that the people of Israel are so much stronger than the hate and violence that’s too frequently been part of their lives.
Together with Mayor de Blasio and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, we went to Hadassah Medical Center to visit recent victims of terror. I first met Maria Veldman, a Christian woman from Holland who’d moved to Israel 36 years ago. She was a foster mother to a number of Arab children, including one, now a grown woman, who stood tearfully at Maria’s side during our visit. Maria was stabbed by a Palestinian terrorist while sitting on a public bus in Jerusalem. After stumbling off the bus, bleeding profusely, a Jewish man picked her up, took off his shirt and used it to apply pressure to the wound, and then rushed her in his car to the hospital.
Just down the hall, I met Pesach Krishevsky, an elderly Jew and a native of Jerusalem. He was waiting with his cousin, Yeshayahu Krishevsky, for a bus in Jerusalem when a terrorist crashed his car into the bus stop, killing Pesach’s cousin. The terrorist then got out of the car and began slashing Pesach with a meat cleaver. It’s difficult to conceive of such barbarism on the streets of Jerusalem.
Pesach and Maria’s narratives are only intertwined by the indiscriminate violence they both survived, but they represent the complexity and beauty of Israel: Jew and Christian, native and émigré. They also share a deep faith and optimism about the possibility of stability in Israel and the region.
As a city that bears the scars of terror, New York has an unmistakable bond with the people of Israel. Today, in the face of this unremitting violence, we have a responsibility to condemn each act of terror and mourn every loss of innocent life. We share strength and resilience, and, like Maria and Pesach, the optimism to believe that a return to stability — and even peace — is possible.