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Once again, this terror

The familiarity of the today's explosions weighs me down. I don't want my children to have to know this. I don't want my traumas to be theirs
Scene of an explosion near the entrance to Jerusalem, on November 23, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Scene of an explosion near the entrance to Jerusalem, on November 23, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

It’s 7:54 in the morning, and my phone is ringing, and my eldest son’s name is flashing on the screen.

Ima, I’m calling because our principal said there were piguim in Yerushalayim this morning, so he told us to call home to tell you I’m okay.”

I thank him for calling. I tell him I love him.

I press “End” and place my phone back on the counter.

* * *

Less than a minute has passed since the phone started ringing.

It’s 7:55 now, and everything inside me has been brought to a halt.

What is it that I feel, in the odd silence that this call opened up within me, sinkhole-sudden and galaxy-deep?

Not relief — I didn’t have time to get worried. The call came two minutes after my husband’s “Did you see there were explosions this morning?” and before I had the chance to feel concern.

Not fear, no – I’m not afraid now.

The only word that come to mind is weariness. The only words my lips can form are “Only what was is what will be.”

* * *

I remember making phone calls just like this one. We didn’t have cell phones back then. News would travel mouth to ear, and then we would trudge to find a public phone, and then we’d stand in line behind all the better-informed kids who got there before us, and then — “Ima, I’m okay.”

Our parents certainly had time to feel concern.

(My friend’s mother once spent a day looking for her in hospitals and morgues. Like I said, we didn’t have cellphones back then. All the while, my friend hadn’t even known that terror had struck Jerusalem that day.)

But it is more than weariness, what I feel now. It is more than the feeling of walls crushing onto me, telling me — this is inevitable. This was reality then, this is reality now, this will be reality always.

It’s the feeling of too many emotions, too many facts, coming into my consciousness at once.

* * *

At 7:52, before the call, my husband said “Did you see there were explosions this morning,” and I felt some sadness, but it was… impersonal. Removed. I was too busy herding kids, pulling on shoes, brushing hair. I routined my way through two more minutes of not-quite-grasping the horror, but my son’s “I’m okay” brought everything I didn’t yet feel before into my consciousness in one hard thump.

I remember this, too. This feeling. I remember walking to my bus stop one day, back in elementary school. One after another, two loud explosions popped my ears. There was a factory nearby, so I assumed the sounds were normal. Later, my bus had to stop to let a rushing cavalcade of ambulances through, and still, I didn’t draw conclusions, make a guess. Not until I got home and my aunt opened the door, face wet with tears, and all at once, I knew… I realized… I put the facts together.

“There was a pigua,” I told her.

And all the horrors implied by what I heard and saw came rushing in at once.

There are things we knew, back then, that my children don’t know now. Just how wary we should be at the sight of an abandoned handbag. Just how crucial it is to step away, call the police, and never, ever, touch.

It’s time to teach them, I tell myself, and the familiarity of the situation weighs me down, down, lower. I don’t want my children to have to know this. I don’t want my traumas to be theirs.

There is nothing new under the sun, my mind keeps saying. There is nothing, nothing, new under the sun.

No, don’t think like this, I tell myself later. It’s 8:05, and I’m walking my toddler to his gan (kindergarten).

Don’t let this weariness in, you know better.

The walls crushing onto you… you can, you must, push back.

These things are true: I grew up in Israel, and now my children are growing up here. There were people who wanted us gone then. There are people who want us gone now.

But the fact is, I love the life I grew into, terror or no terror. I love being surrounded by my people, shaping Israel, speaking my ancestral tongue.

Here, I dance in the places King David traversed, elaborate on the ideas his psalms gave birth to. My children are growing into the same ancient story. They’ll write their own chapters, new chapters, every day of their lives.

This life that we live — terror doesn’t define it. Terror is persistent and familiar, but we are so much more than that.

Today, we feel shock, and pain, and sadness. Anger, too, and maybe even fear.

Today, families are mourning or caring for their loved ones.

But the sun will rise again tomorrow, and we will go on living here.

It’s 8:10 in the morning, and my youngest son hugs me goodbye, and he is new — a new person, familiar world or no.

I watch him walk into his gan, I pray he’ll grow up safe and happy in the sunlight.

It’s time to go home, and breathe, and live.

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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