Shayna Abramson

The Things We Must Not Say

One of the reasons I wanted to live in Jerusalem is its diversity. I love that I can wait in line at the grocery store next to a woman in a hijab, or that I can see a Greek Orthodox priest when I walk down the street. To me, part of Jerusalem’s holiness is that it means so many things to so many people.

But as I have lived here for longer and longer, I have become aware of how deeply the city is divided. Different neighborhoods. Different languages.

On no days does the city seem more divided than days like these: When you find out that  both the victims and the perpetrators of a terrorist attack were Jerusalemites, that three separate attack on the city’s Jewish residents were carried out within 24 hours, on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, by Palestinian residents.*

There is nothing that justifies targeting civilians and killing them in cold blood. I can’t imagine the terrible pain that the victims’ families are going through. We must mourn the devastation of lives cut short.

I also fear for my own safety and those of my loved ones. As someone who goes to synagogue in Jerusalem, who walks down Jerusalem streets, who takes buses in Jerusalem, I am now asking myself: Are any of these places really safe? Should I be cutting down on leisure activities?

At the same time, the background conditions for violence have been there for a long time: Part of it is East Jerusalem schools and mosques that teach a culture of hate. But part of it is neighborhoods without adequate infrastructure or schooling, with dirty streets and no economic prospects -that are sometimes ruled by gangs, because police dread to go there. Part of it is Israeli policies that ignite tensions, like allowing the Flag March or concentrated Jewish expansion into Palestinian neighborhoods for political purposes. These often become flashpoints of everyday low-level violences from extremists on both sides.

Karl Marx said, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”

There is nothing that can justify these acts of hate. Israel cannot control people’s actions; they make their own choices and must be held responsible for committing violence. However, Israel does have some impact on the environment that people grow up in, and their choices are not made in a vacuum, but rather, in a certain context.

They say that the time after an attack isn’t the time to discuss this. But given that we have never really had a state of peace, the question becomes: When is it the time? When can we finally discuss the security price -the price we pay in Israeli Jewish lives -for Israel’s ill-treatment of Palestinians?

If we really care about the lives that have been lost, then we can and we must have these difficult conversations.

And they are difficult conversations – made even more difficult when you’re afraid to go to synagogue or to get on a bus.

I sit here tonight, sad and angry and afraid. Sad for the lives that were lost. Angry at the senseless tragedy. Afraid that the place where I live may not be safe – afraid for myself and for my family.

But I also sit here tonight feeling that if I care about the future of Israel, and the safety of the Jewish people, then I cannot remain silent.

*An attack on a synagogue, killing seven; a shooting, injuring two; a stone-throwing

About the Author
Shayna Abramson, a part-Brazilian native Manhattanite, studied History and Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Jerusalem. She has also spent some time studying Torah at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, and has a passion for soccer and poetry. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Hebrew University, and is a rabbinic fellow at Beit Midrash Har'el.