If you live in Toronto, Canada — especially in my neighborhood of Yonge and Sheppard — the words “van attack” need no explanation and conjure immediate associations of shock and devastation on our streets. Those who live here know what they were doing when 11 people were mowed to death and 15 injured that sunny April afternoon in 2018. I was walking in the neighborhood, and, because I happened to be on the phone with my brother in Israel, I stayed on the quiet residential streets, figuring Yonge would be too loud. That conversation may have saved my life.
On Monday, in the city of Ra’anana – where my brother lives in Israel, two Palestinian terrorists (an uncle and nephew) went on a stabbing and car-ramming rampage. They were particularly interested in killing and maiming children. They knew when schools let out and slammed into a bus stop near my nephew’s school on Ahuza (the Yonge Street of Ra’anana). My nephew — fortunate enough to have gotten on a crowded bus two minutes before — narrowly avoided injury or worse. (A twisted reversal of the intifadas in the ’90s, when my friend was saved because he didn’t get on a bus.) Four of my nephew’s schoolmates were not as lucky and were injured to varying degrees in the attack. One of the boys suffered a very serious head injury – and required brain and spine surgery. I can’t stop thinking about my nephew – how grateful I am that he is okay. And I can’t stop thinking that somewhere another aunt can’t stop thinking about her nephew, unconscious in the ICU.
Altogether 17 people were injured Monday — seven of them children. 79-year-old Edna Bluestein was murdered in cold blood — stabbed repeatedly by the terrorists before they stole her car and threw out her body on their quest to kill more Jews.
Now, in Toronto, we console ourselves that Alek Minassian — though also a terrorist — was a “one-off” — sick like Paul Bernardo who perpetrated horrors on teenage girls when my generation was in our teens. Minassian and Bernardo are both in prison and Torontonians get to breathe easier. Israelis do not have the luxury to exhale. Vehicle rammings and stabbing rampages have been a terrorist favourite there for decades. Starting in July 2008, with the Jerusalem bulldozer attacks, the country has experienced a multitude of terrorist vehicle attacks aimed at Israelis and Jews. Also, unlike Toronto’s “one-off” attack, the attack in Ra’anana comes with the backdrop of the war Hamas started with the October 7th massacres. October 7th has been described as Israel’s 9/11. There is merit to this description, but what it misses is that the terrorists who executed October 7th were not content to just kill their victims, they also raped, tortured, and tormented women, men, and children. There remain over 100 hostages in Gaza to this day. This was a militia (maybe there’s a better collective noun?) of hundreds of Paul Bernardos – not one-offs. The mass sexual violence atrocities are described in the NYT article Screams without Words, and Bari Weiss’ video The Silence of Feminists.
Naturally, people have asked why my brother — and Israelis in general — don’t jump ship and move either permanently or temporarily until things settle. There are several reasons. One – Israel is home, and if all Israelis upped and left to the Diaspora, there would be no more Israel. It might be easy to shrug your shoulders if you are not Jewish or Israeli and have no connection one way or another to the place, but think about how easily you’d be willing to relinquish your country if it was attacked. Where would you go? Are you sure they’d take you wherever that is?
When my brother and I look at our family tree we see different things. While I see that the branches that settled in North America stretch wide and prosperous, compared to those that were ravaged in Europe, he reminds me that many of the Jews in those withered branches had been parts of the wider society – often assimilated. They too were wide prosperous branches, until one day they weren’t. My sister-in-law’s family fled France where it is increasingly unbearable to be Jewish, Jews in England are terrified, and in North America – from vandalism to violence, from synagogue shootings and bomb threats to Jewish schools and spaces — we see clear signs that we are vulnerable here too. And so, though we are both hoping to protect our children and future grandchildren, we hedge our bets differently; but everything is a gamble.