Descent into Ascent

Shabbat ends. I immediately check the news, to update on the list of stone-throwing and stabbing attacks, the hurled Molotov cocktails, the reports illustrated with photos of mask-faced protestors screaming violently, their eyes burning with hatred. All that has happened during the day of rest, when I am disconnected from technology but not from anxiety.

Among the headlines, pepper spray, so poetically coined a “personal security device,” is completely sold out, all over the country. And there is a step-by-step guide to first aid for a victim of a stabbing. Just in case we should encounter someone with a knife stuck in their chest while walking down the street, or be witness to one of the all-too-frequent terror attacks, occurring several times each day over the past week. Or maybe it will be me with a knife in my back.

Saturday night, we go to a movie, escape our reality for an hour and a half until, as soon as it ends, we see four red alert icons on our phones. Rockets have been fired from Gaza and, once again, residents of the South are running for their shelters. As we arrive home, we note that my partner’s new apartment is the closest to the building’s bomb shelter, only a few steps from door to door. How fortunate we are.

The country is burning. Rockets are flying. People are dying, others are bleeding and so many are mourning in so many ways. The police force is stretched to its limits, and we are all glued to the news. This reality is becoming too familiar.

I walk down an isolated path, where I often walk, but this time someone is behind me. A dark-skinned man with black hair and a beard. My mind starts its crazy conversation. My fear kicks in. He is drinking cola and eating an ice cream cone, and I think, “Surely someone about to stab wouldn’t be eating ice cream.” But my fear outweighs my logic, and I take the first turn off, even though it means walking in the hot sun instead of the shade. If only I had that pepper spray! Would I really feel safer? One of the most horrible things that happens at times like these is that you begin to suspect innocent people, carefully observing everyone who enters a bus, wondering if you should alert the driver to that big bag he’s got on his back, wondering if you should get off…

And yet, on an early-morning bus ride to Jerusalem, the sunlight is soft on the rows of roadside grapevines, the autumn clouds wispy in the sky, the hillsides shiny with dew. New storeys of ready graves are being built in the cemetery overlooking the highway. I momentarily consider moving from my window seat, where I could be hit by a flying rock or a bottle of burning gasoline. The road climbs. This is the experience of going up, ascending to Jerusalem, the Holy City, again held hostage in the name of God. The victim of faith gone awry.

About the Author
Ruthi Soudack, originally from Vancouver, arrived in Jerusalem for a short visit three days after the beginning of the first intifada, and has been here ever since. She is a traveller, yoga teacher, writer, translator, editor, storyteller, musician, and occasionally, a stand-up comic.