The sun is setting over Jerusalem, and the streets around me turn to gold.
Normally, this hour makes me hum “Jerusalem of Gold,” and stand on my veranda for a touch of peacefulness.
Normally, I allow the evening’s breeze to lure me into a softer, gentler, form of joy.
But today, the sunset knots my flesh with dread and tension. Tonight, I watch the daylight fading, and I fear the darkness that will come.
I never used to fear the dark before. Why would I, here in Israel, where I belong? We have gathered home after millennia of exile, revived our ancient language, and brought water to the desert and prosperity to what were previously malaria-infested swamps. Why fear a little darkness when our achievements burn so bright?
But now, homo homini lupus. Out there, the wolves are howling, howling, howling in the dark.
I watch the shadows lengthen, and I wonder what mobs will march tonight, and where. What Jewish homes will be attacked with rocks or rockets, with bricks or words, with fire or with fisted hands?
And will we watch more of our fellow Jews lose sight of what we stand for and take to harming innocents themselves?
Do you recall that scene in Beauty and the Beast, when Gaston rallies the townspeople to attack? This scene steals my breath every time we watch the movie. My kids watch anxiously, worried for the fictional Beast. But I listen to Gaston spread fear and hype up people’s sense of righteous indignation and I can’t think about the Beast at all. All I can see, instead, are generations of my people, killed and chased from shtetl after shtetl, one horrific pogrom at a time. As fictional characters cry out on the screen, all I can hear are those who killed us.
“They killed our children,” they screamed before they grabbed their pitchforks and their torches. “They stole from us! They poisoned the wells!” right before they went hunting for our blood.
Will scenes like this play out tonight again, here, where we were supposed to finally — finally! — be safe from pogroms?
(….and will some of my brethren turn into such townspeople, howling with hatred in the dark?)
But it isn’t only the physical violence that scares me. I fear for our tomorrows, for the days to come.
What’s been burning in our streets these past few nights is more than property. What’s crumbling, what’s burning, is our ability to trust. Trust takes years and years to foster. It doesn’t take as long to turn to ash.
What’s burning is the casual trust between neighbors. It’s the simple trust between people who share spaces and workplaces and shops and their tzelem Elokim (image of God within them). It’s the basic trust that means I won’t hesitate to stop and help you if you’ve fallen, and you won’t hesitate to tell me how to reach the place I seek.
Will I watch more of this trust burn out tonight, and leave but bitter ashes in the mouths of so many people whom I cherish? We mourn, they say, the coexistence we were building. We mourn, they say, and I can taste their grief.
Tomorrow, we will have to rise and pick up the pieces and we won’t have the luxury of ignoring the mistrust between us, or even of allowing it to stand. Because here is the truth: none of us will leave this place come morning. Love binds us — Jews and Arabs — to this land, and history binds us to each other. And whether or not our interests align, come morning we will still be here together, sharing our future and our space.
Will this night’s horrors mean that we can’t build a life together, peacefully? This is a conclusion that I simply can’t accept. But as the darkness thickens into dread within me, I fear the if the sun will rise tomorrow on even more mistrust and ashes, we will feel rather parched for hope.
I am not worried about our survival as the Jewish nation. After all, we did survive all those pogroms in the shtetls, and we did come home after millennia, and we did bring water to the desert, so yes, we will get through this time, too.
But what will happen to the country we try to build here, Jews and Arabs? What will happen to the future that — willingly or not — we share?
The stars appear above me, and I whisper: “Though I walk through a valley of the shadow of death, I fear no harm, for You are with me.”
King David addressed these words to God, but I think instead of all the people of this much-beloved country. I hope that we will find a way to walk through this darkness together, I whisper. I hope that after sunrise, we will find a way to trust again.