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Striking the balance in the age of terror

Sending her children to school, despite the mornings when all she wants is to keep them held tight next to her

Israelis respond to winter storms with mechanisms and language reminiscent of war. From checking the supplies to a food stockpile, this tiny nation’s greatest fear is torrential rain and snow. And so, on Friday evening, when my brother-in-law was a no-show to our weekly Friday night dinner, we all assumed the rain was the culprit. It was only the next day when I saw him that I understood why he had not shown.

Alon Bakal (z’l), the 26-year old Tel Aviv Bar manager who was murdered during the New Year’s Day terror attack, was his friend. They had served together in the army. I saw the heartbreak in his eyes. We read testaments for Alon, taken far too soon. I am very close to my brother-in-law; I have known him since he was a teen and wore braces. He is much more my own brother than an “in-law.”

My heart broke for him.

What I also realized over the past few days is what striking the balance truly means. How and why we continue on each and every day in a reality no one should face.

My older sister, who was visiting from New York for the New Year, sat next to me as we watched the events unfold after this horrific attack in Tel Aviv. I translated the news for her as she wrote text messages to friends back in New York to let them know she was okay. At one point, in her moment of natural love and concern for her sister and niece, she asked if I was scared living here. I fought back my own tears as I watched my sister’s eyes well up. I want to be completely honest with her. I want to tell her that I am afraid to walk in the market alone. I want to tell her that when I put my daughter in her car seat, I am constantly looking back over my shoulder to make sure no one is behind me. I want to tell her that I have not taken my daughter to a park in months. I want to tell her that we drive on certain roads, I sit in the back, next to my daughter, rather than in the front next to my husband. If something is thrown on the car, or worse, I can most easily jump over her that way. I want to tell her that I am often afraid…

Striking the balance.

What I tell her is more for her than for me. I tell her that I look at the situation the same way I looked at much of our own childhood, growing up in a rough neighborhood in New York City. Before the streets of New York became much safer than they are today. I am very aware of my surroundings. I stay away from certain places. I try not to walk around in areas that are more prone to attacks, when I am on my own…just as I did growing up. I tell her I have angels that protect me, namely my dad. I can feel him with me. “Daddy won’t let anything happen to me,” I promise and say with a confident smile.

Striking the balance.

A friend visiting from abroad commented that his friends were getting a bit tired of all of the “heavy posts” he was sharing. He was stunned! “How can I not write about a terror attack that I was a few hundred feet away from?! How can I not write about what I am seeing and how unacceptable it is that people are living like this?! Why do people not want to face it?”

Striking the balance.

Yes. Life right now is not simple. It is beyond complex. I don’t want to look over my shoulder as I buckle my two year old into her car seat. I would much rather not look out of my peephole to make sure no one is lurking in the hallway, as we leave the house in the morning. I prefer to have my window rolled down, taking in the beautiful afternoon breeze rather than have it rolled up with my doors locked. I want more than anything for my daughter and her friends to run around the playground, rather than keep their playdates indoors. I would like to turn on the news and get back to hearing our politicians every move being dissected. I would love for Bar Rafaelis’ newly announced pregnancy to open our top story. No more funerals. No more devastated parents. No more orphaned children. No more fear.

Striking the balance means not allowing life to stop. It means staying an extra few minutes to ask my local butcher how he is feeling. How do his children feel? Sharif has been slicing the best schnitzel for me, ever since I moved here. Striking the balance means allowing yourself to try to go about your everyday life, as if nothing is different. All the while it is.

Striking the balance means sending your children to school, despite the mornings when all you want to do is keep them held tight next to you. Walking into a classroom door, as the teacher greets them with the biggest smile, as she prepares challot with the children for Shabbat. My daughter helps me to strike the balance. Watching her jump into her teacher’s lap as she pours the flour into the challah dough. She smiles back at her. Watching my young daughter, push her teacher’s loose hair back under her hijab, embodies what striking the balance means. Hate will not win. Terror will not succeed. Living life in itself is striking the balance.

About the Author
Michelle Rojas-Tal is a global speaker, trailblazer and advocate on Zionism, Jewish identity, and Israel engagement. Amongst her current projects, Michelle serves as the Zionist Scholar-in-Residence at Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America.
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