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Carpe diem in Jerusalem

With sirens blaring and armed men running in her street, she still gets to choose how to live each moment of her life

When I walked out with my kids this morning, flashing police cars screeched by us, forming a blockade about 50 meters down the street. Men with guns were running in several directions. Store owners nervously gathered outside, checking their phones.

“We should go back home and lock the door,” said my five years old son, eerily collected.

We did. My kids stood with me by the window, watching the scene. “Look, a bird,” said my two-years-old daughter. “Do you think they caught the bad guy,” asked my son. People criticized me before for explaining the security situation to him. As he stood by me today, keeping his cool under pressure, I felt validated in my choice.

When the police cars drove away, we embarked on “going to kindergarten, take #2”. This time we walked into a reality that was normal to the point of being surreal. Vendors smiled at costumers, people walked their dogs… You really couldn’t tell that only seconds ago, something out of the ordinary took place here.

The normalcy was terrifying: what the heck just happened? What is hidden under the mundane facade? Why is no one freaking out?

The normalcy was exhilarating: THIS is how good we are at resuming life. THIS is how resilient we are. In your face, terrorists!

But what happened? The question kept gnawing at me, becoming more and more urgent as minutes passed by and our street didn’t make the news. Lack of information does odd things to you. On the one hand, it offers relief: no news is good news. On the other, it unleashes your imagination. Was there a stabbing? A bomb? Did a terrorist come here carrying a gun? When I know the facts, I can delude myself into thinking I am in control. So I want to know.

I wrote “what just happened in our neighborhood” on Facebook but deleted my post right away. Spreading anxiety wouldn’t help.

My son, so relaxed mere minutes ago, started fidgeting too. “I don’t want to go to kindergarten today,” he said. His fingers clutched mine.
The knuckles became pale.

“I’ll stay with you here for a bit,” I suggested. “Everything will be fine. The police will guard us. You are safe.”

Is that a lie?

Maybe it is, I thought as we sat in the playground, distracting ourselves with stories about animals. None of us is really, truly safe. But it’s a lie we need to tell ourselves to keep living.

When my son regained his cheer, I walked him into his kindergarten. I waved goodbye, then pressed “refresh” on my phone.

By then, the news sites finally had information. There was a terror attack near the old city, and a possible shooting in Ramot. I deduced that our street hosted nothing worse than a chase.

On the way back home, I glanced behind my shoulder many times, carefully scanning the vehicles and the people around me. Yesterday, a man stabbed pedestrians as well as people in cars in Jaffa. Today, men with guns rammed their car into passersby. Everything can be a threat or a weapon. No one is safe. Nothing can be ignored.

Terror sure makes you be in the moment.

But, I thought, and stopped walking, this moment is still mine to live through.

Terror can kill or maim me. But as long as it fails to do so, the way I live my life is up to me. I refuse to cross the line from vigilant to paranoid. I refuse to give murderers the power to poison my life. These are my moments, and I will live them to the full.

So I stopped on the way home, and carpe diemed by buying a pastry and dallying in the street.

As I ate my pastry, Sirens still echoed in the distance. I could hear helicopters circling above, and kids laughing in a nearby school. Cars passed by. A bird shrieked.

Life goes on.

About the Author
Rachel is a Jerusalem-born writer and speaker who's in love with her city's vibrant human scene. She writes about Judaism, parenting and life in Israel for the Times of Israel and Kveller, and explores storytelling in the bible as a teacher and on 929.
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