It was already a gloomy Shabbat as I reflected on the sad news out of Efrat, a community close to my heart, where I built my first house and a memorial park for my father. I spent the afternoon thinking of my loved ones there, and the very difficult day my dear friend Mayor Oded Revivi must be having as the leader of this very special Judean settlement nestled in the rolling hills of Gush Etzion, which I am blessed to have been warmly welcomed into.
It was almost 10 PM and, as I do every night at this time, I was nudging myself to take my pack of pesky pups (three in total) out for their last walk of the night before it got too late. And so I looked out the window to assess the difficulty of the task ahead of me.
The beach directly in front of my building was empty (a good sign) and Charles Clore Park, located just a block away, was still lit up (even better). So it appeared to be an ideal time for dragging two old lazy dogs, while being dragged by one unintentionally pernicious puppy, afraid of anything and everything that passes by her, for a walk (…if that’s what you can even call the boisterous balagan which occurs every time myself and my crazy canine crew venture outside together).
Then came the sounds of sirens, followed by the inevitable, imitative howl from the puppy – a wild wolf I rescued a year ago from a trash pile in an Arab village outside Efrat.
An ambulance. Then another. Then another. Mishtara. First two. Then five. Then a voice over a loudspeaker demanding the cars on the road in front of my Tel Aviv, beach-side building pull over. Then a cascade of lights. More sirens. A parade of police, an army of ambulances, a mass of motorcycles – Hatzalah, Magen David Adom – encroaching upon us, sliding in from every side street leading onto Retsif Herbert Samuel, racing past my building, driving on the road, on the sidewalk, on the promenade… the clamor so clamorous not even the Pride Parade, which convenes each year on this very street (as do so many other customary city celebrations), could conceivably compare.
At this point I – as would any Israeli – knew something was very wrong.
Yet, when you live so close to Jaffa (as I do) it’s not unusual for the police or an ambulance to race by at night, especially on Friday, the lights and sirens fading into the distance as they make their way toward the ancient port, now mixed and increasingly gentrified, city on the sea.
But this time, the lights and sirens didn’t fade away.
The lights grew brighter, the sirens grew louder – matched only by the puppy’s now inconsolable howls, and the old lazy dogs whimpering and barking in response to the anxious cries of their canine compatriot.
I ventured out to the mirpeset to take a look, as we naturally do when the prosaic turns peculiar or perplexing. And I noticed, so too, had many of the neighbors in my building, and the ones surrounding us.
Cars piled up on the road. A tremendous traffic jam. The end of our street was blocked by a cavalcade of cars responding to something…
Something was going on. Right here. In front of my home.
Something awful was transpiring in the bubble-wrapped, sovereign state of Tel Aviv.
The soft whispers of a helicopter overhead joined the cacophonous choir, now a disturbing, dreadful din. But I was too busy looking at the blinding glow of the lights below, the sirens now drowning out the howls of the puppy who I had mindlessly left lamenting in the other room.
The phone buzzed, shattering the cocoon of confused thoughts I had unconsciously cloaked myself within, being consumed as I was, with the catastrophic scene unfolding beneath me.
A news alert.
I had promised myself to turn them off tonight. But, then again, I had made the same promise multiple times this week.
The news from Jerusalem, Judea, the Shomron, the Valley, the Temple Mount, and across the country of so many senseless, barbaric, inhumane acts of terrorism against innocent Israeli citizens, against Jews, had become overwhelming.
Sometimes it does.
Even when we are used to it; which we shouldn’t be…
I wanted to take a break. Just tonight. On Shabbat. On Pesach. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t willingly ignore what was happening to us. I couldn’t not know…
I couldn’t keep this promise. Even to myself. Even for one night. Because it didn’t feel right.
It never does.
I looked down at the screen. It was black, still in sleep mode, as I hadn’t used it in quite a few hours (it is Shabbat, and Pesach, after all).
I told myself that I could still choose to not know.
I chose to come here. To become an Israeli. To join my people and be a part of this moment, the greatest moment in our history. The moment we have all been waiting for…
And so I have to know. I have to grieve when we all grieve. I have to feel heartbroken when those who lose loved ones heart’s break. I have to count our fallen.
I have to remember the number of dead Jews so on Yom HaZikaron I know how many to remember.
I tapped the screen, even though I already knew what it was going to say.
TERROR ATTACK IN TEL AVIV. ONE DEAD. MULTIPLE WOUNDED.
Living on the beach in Tel Aviv, I wake up every day to golden sunrises and waste an hour or two every afternoon lost in the immaculate embrace of pink sunsets. The weather is (almost) always warm. Everyone is always (always) smiling. The Mediterranean waves are the soft white noise that fill up my days and rock me to sleep at night. A cool sea breeze gently floats through my always sand-covered floor to ceiling windows.
Idyllic is the word that comes to mind most days, even the stressful, bad or tired ones. Tranquil best describes the nights. Even the restless, short-lived and thought-burdened ones.
Tonight is not that kind of night. Tomorrow will not be that kind of day.
It’s now well past midnight. The lights are gone. The sirens are muted. Had you not been here just a few hours ago, you would have never known something horrific had happened across the street.
But could anything more aptly describe the Israeli, the Jewish, experience then this? Then the dark silence that pervades Retsif Herbert Samuel right now? The knowing that something horrible just happened here and the inherent, ingrained, instinctual, acceptance that we cannot change it? The knowing that life will continue, must continue, tomorrow, just as it did yesterday?
Because any other choice, or to choose to give up, is not now – nor has it ever been – an option for us, for the Jewish people.
I wonder why I delayed in taking the two old lazy dogs and the pesky puppy on their walk tonight. A walk which is consistent and unchanging. A regularly scheduled routine whose route leads us precisely where the attack happened.
I would like to think it was a bit of holiday laziness, or my somber mood resulting from the day’s earlier events, or simply an indulgent desire to not have to wait five minutes in the darkened hallway, with three impatient, impetuous and moody mutts, for the non-Shabbat elevator to arrive on our floor.
Or maybe it was for others reasons. The kind we can’t understand, but believe as Jews, happen by the grace of God.
May those who knew and loved the young man who was killed be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion. May the injured recover quickly.
And may all the Arab terrorists (because yes, that’s who they are and at some point we need to say it…) who continue to perpetrate these hateful and unspeakable crimes against the Jewish people – in the one and only Jewish state – face justice at the hands of the brave men and women who secure and lead our nation, and the God for whom they disingenuously claim to act in honor of.
Marking myself safe.
At least for tonight.