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A year before Entebbe

An unintentional detour through Jerusalem's Arab quarter drove home how it's impossible to predict acts of terror

Many Jews remember July 4,1976.  It was one of those days where you know where you were when you heard the news. You learned the name of the great hero Yonatan and the brilliant plot to free the hostages. It was both euphoric and sad. A place called Entebbe was suddenly on your map. You may never have heard of it before, but you’d never forget it. Entebbe, Uganda. Jewish victory and Jewish loss. Our family was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota that day, a pretty unlikely place. Nonetheless we serendipitously found ourselves a few feet away from a Jewish youth group that was traveling across America, so we laughed and cried with them.

But I want to tell you about a year before Entebbe: July 4, 1975. That’s a day you may not remember, but I remember it well. It was, as usual, a hot day in Jerusalem, but I had promised our two older daughters, Amy and Lori, aged 11 and 9, and their friend Beth, aged 12, an outing to the Ir HaAtika, the Old City, with its cooler, shaded cobblestone paths, and the usual frenzy of activity. We would head for the Kotel and then do some shopping, topped off by ice cream in one of the Ben Yehuda cafes.

The day was filled with promise and, following the visit to the Western Wall, the Kotel, we wandered around more or less aimlessly. No matter how many times you’ve visited Jerusalem’s Old City; its foreignness is beguiling and enchanting. But you can get lost, and we did.

Suddenly I realized that there were no more tourist shops with their shtu Coca Cola t-shirts. In fact, no more tourists. We were in a quiet neighborhood, an Arab neighborhood. I was not yet alarmed. I’m not one of those people who sees an enemy in every face, Arab or otherwise. So I calmly asked, in Hebrew, how to get to Jaffa Gate. No one would tell me. They ignored me. I tried English. Same result. So our foursome crept deeper and deeper into the unknown. Finally acknowledging (me to the girls), I don’t know how to get out of here. I’m sure we wandered in circles for at least a half-hour, while my very fallible sense of direction was doing its best to show me a less visited part of the Old City.

These days, we all have navigators or Waze on our phones. And we have those phones to make calls when we encounter problems. Not so in 1975. I was getting frightened. I saw no obvious way out. And then, like a mirage, there they were: chayalim…..Israeli soldiers. They led us to Jaffa Gate. I literally let out a huge sigh of relief. We were not in danger. We were back on Jaffa Road. Now we would head up the hill to Ben Yehuda, entering at Kikar Tzion. Ice cream and good things in store!

Suddenly, we heard a blast. Almost immediately, the streets were alive with shrieking ambulances and police cars, all almost flying up Jaffa Road towards Kikar Tzion. We found out later that a refrigerator bomb had exploded. Terrorists claimed 15 lives in that attack, and injured scores more.

I knew immediately. Being lost had saved us. We would have been at the site of the attack at the time of the attack.

For me, this was a profound lesson, one which I recalled years later on September 11, 2001. I knew that among the thousands killed that day were some who were afraid to travel to Israel.

No, we can’t be foolish. I’m not recommending rash or dangerous actions. But when terrorism is involved, none of us really knows where it will strike, so we have a choice: either burrow into our beds or live our lives knowing that the odds are good and in our favor. As I learned, you may be safe when you think you’re not. And you may not be safe when you think you are.

About the Author
Rosanne Skopp is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of fourteen, and great-grandmother of two. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and travels back and forth between homes in New Jersey and Israel. She is currently writing a family history.
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