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Nowhere is safe

I’d be afraid anywhere, so I choose to throw my lot in with the Jewish people in our historic homeland
Police respond to an active shooter situation at the Tree of Life synagogue on Wildins Avenue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 27, 2018. (Pam Panchak/ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)
Police respond to an active shooter situation at the Tree of Life synagogue on Wildins Avenue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 27, 2018. (Pam Panchak/ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

The first home I remember was in Squirrel Hill, a residential neighborhood Pittsburgh with a thriving Jewish community. We had a Jewish day school a few blocks away, a few well-attended Orthodox synagogues to choose from, and a handful of kosher eateries. There were no security guards at the doors. We felt safe.

My family left Pittsburgh to make aliyah in 1996. Israel was between intifadas at the time, but there was a general awareness within the community we came from that there were still major bombings here from time to time. Relatives and friends were concerned.

Aren’t you afraid?

The Second Intifada was the backdrop of my entire adolescence. I remember reading Psalms with my classmates and lying awake in bed listening to the radio reporting on the mass slaughter in the Dolphinarium. I remember morbid calculations about choosing seating in buses or restaurants. I remember turning on the news after the first day of Passover in 2002–the first and only Seder night I had spent in a hotel–to learn that 20 people had been blown up at a Seder in a hotel in a different city.

And when we would speak to those relatives and friends, the question became more frequent, more urgent.

Aren’t you afraid?

During the Second Lebanon War I was in my first year of national service, volunteering with OneFamily Fund, an organization that assists victims of terror. I accompanied my boss to Haifa to visit the wounded at Rambam Hospital, and as we drove on the highway heading out of Haifa, the air raid siren sounded. She swerved across the empty lanes of oncoming traffic and we ran into a nearby building. We heard loud booms as we hurried down the stairs to the bomb shelter. “Imal’e,” I exclaimed. My boss looked at me and gave an cynical smile. “Awww, is this your first time in a bomb shelter?”

Aren’t you afraid?

I married a man who was learning at the Bat Ayin Yeshiva, and we moved into a caravan in the settlement. It was my first time living in “the territories,” and my parents were nervous about the drive in and out. We later moved to Eastern Gush Etzion and had three kids. We’ve had a couple of terror attacks within our community in recent years, and there have been a lot of incidents at the nearby Gush Etzion Junction. My parents had chosen to live in central Israel, closer to the coast, and though they never criticized our choice to make our home here, I can sometimes see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices.

Aren’t you afraid?

My brother recently got married, and he and his wife moved to Netivot, a city around 15 kilometers from the border with Gaza. In the past few months, they’ve had a number of sleepless nights in their stairwell as the sirens wailed, and a rocket landed not too far from where they live during one of those nights. When my brother mentioned that they were moving there, I almost asked it myself, before realizing how ridiculous it would sound coming from me.

Aren’t you afraid?

This Saturday night I turned my phone back on after Shabbat to discover the news that there had been a mass shooting at a synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh. Services were in progress, and eight people were killed. I never attended that synagogue, nor was connected with its community, but as I write these words it is still Shabbat in Pittsburgh and I therefore can’t contact the friends of mine who still live there to ask if they are okay.

Sometimes people ask me if I’ve ever considered living somewhere safer.

My answer is usually three words, and the attack in Pittsburgh today really drives it home.

Nowhere is safe.

Yes, of course I’m afraid.

I’m afraid in Gush Etzion. I’m afraid in New York. I’m afraid in Jerusalem. I’m afraid in Barcelona. I’m afraid everywhere. Nowhere is safe.

I just can’t let that fear be the deciding factor when choosing where and how to live my life.

Jews have had reason to live in fear for thousands of years, in every place we’ve been. That hasn’t stopped us from becoming the most successful and influential minority in the history of humankind.

If I’m going to die for the crime of being Jewish, I’d rather it be in my historic homeland, where the national holidays are my holidays, where the national flag bears my symbol, where every hill and valley has a story from the Bible attached to it.

If I’m going to put my kids in danger by giving birth to them while Jewish, I’d rather it be in a place where they are not a persecuted minority; where the army and the police protecting them are composed of Jews and others who have chosen to throw their lot in with the Jewish people. A place where I believe they are most likely to live a rich, meaningful Jewish life.

I live here because I love it. With all its problems, it is my home.

And as today’s attack painfully demonstrates, it’s not like I would have been safer if I’d never come.

About the Author
Daniella Levy is the author of By Light of Hidden Candles and Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism. She is also a self-defense instructor involved with Safe Moves, an Israeli cooperative of male and female experts who teach individuals and organizations to address all aspects of safety: emotional, physical, interpersonal, and systemic. Learn more about Safe Moves at SafeMoves.co.il, and more about Daniella and her work at Daniella-Levy.com.
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