Last week now seems so far away, but some things fester until they are released, so here goes.
This is an essay on the small, almost invisible choices we make every day, some of which change our lives in ways we could not possibly have imagined when making the choice. Almost a week ago today, my husband, my mother-in-law and I went to have a nice afternoon in Nachalat Binyamin, the artists’ shuk (market) in downtown Tel Aviv. For those of you who follow the news (there were times in my life I didn’t- it felt better to stick my head in the sand and wait for the wave to pass, hoping it wouldn’t drown me or my loved ones), you may already know where this is going.
At any rate, when the shuk began closing and we were tired and hungry, we started talking about where to go for dinner. My mother-in-law first mentioned a nice kosher Turkish restaurant which was not so far away from our parking lot; we even debated walking to get there as driving might even take longer in that area. We almost started heading there but got last minute input from a friend of my mother-in-law that there was a great place on the beach we could try, also not far from where we were (although far enough to drive). So we headed slightly north instead of turning left from where we were, eventually finding the place and sitting down to a lovely meal in an empty restaurant—it was early yet for the dinner crowd.
Since it was the night before Rosh Chodesh (the new month), the beach was dark once the sun had set and our view was mostly of the street that runs along the beachfront. We chatted and enjoyed the atmosphere, even ignoring our phones and the sports TV on the wall.
Shortly after our food was served, the real world intruded. At first in pairs, then more at a time, sirens started passing right in front of us. Police cars, ambulances, motorcycles, MADA, and finally Zaka. My first thought was “Now what??” because we are from Gush Etzion, and no fools. We knew that something had happened, and the something wasn’t good. Our sweet waiter, who was from the area, was in and out of the kitchen, so at first he didn’t see the sheer number of emergency vehicles passing the window. When we pointed out the passing ambulance, he naívely said “Maybe it’s a woman going to give birth.”
After a few waves of this, I turned to my trusted source of information, my Muqata app. Sure enough, an ‘incident’ had “occurred” – you know, because it’s not like a murdering terrorist (or his inciting government) was responsible for the attack of innocents, and the murder of a brave US soldier who was here to learn. To my horror, as we were sitting there peripherally involved just by be being in the area, I read (according to the available intelligence at the time) that the terrorist –they even thought it was multiple attackers, given how many people he managed to stab in such a short span of time—had escaped, and was at large. This, when we were sitting ducks not 2 kilometers away, made us ask if the waiter could possibly close the wide open front sliding glass doors we were right next to. We had to explain to him what was happening, that it was not some joke, and that it needed to be taken seriously. We Gushniks know that when you are told to get down, when you are told to go inside and lock doors, or when you are told as in the email I received today saying that our children can’t celebrate their holiday with the usual nonsense explosive toys for fear of getting in the way of emergency personnel who may incorrectly respond to any bangs or small explosions—you do what you are told so you can live another day and protect others as well.
The vehicles kept passing us in waves, we kept waiting breathlessly for more information while trying to finish our meal (well, we were hungry), and the waiter kept joking about who would protect who—he pointed to the three guys outside and told us not to worry; we told him we were from Gush Etzion and experienced at this and he said he’d run to the back and *I* could protect *him*–ha.
There have been too many times this year that I have felt I was nearly there, at the scene of an attack, and yet I wasn’t. For whatever reasons G-d has, here I am, living and breathing and able to join inspiring Women’s Rosh Chodesh meetings like I did on Wednesday night, just one day after we chose not to eat in Yaffo. Yet I can’t help thinking about the many people who were there or at the scenes of other attacks, whose lives were directly affected or taken away, and also wondering if or when it will be my turn to decide to run at the crazy person with my weapon of choice (new on the list- guitars!) or hide to protect myself and my family.
The next day presented more reasons to hold my breath, as on a day when terrorists shot at a bus in Jerusalem, we had to decide if we should let each of our sons take buses to and from Jerusalem. Do you think that is a simple decision? It wasn’t, and I waited for texts saying each was okay. But I let them go, because my husband reasoned “If we don’t, we have stopped living.” And that is what they want, and what we cannot do. The brave women who went to Kiryat Arba again today—I salute you, and would go with you, because as one of you said, “I am going so that you can.”
I don’t blame people who feel they can’t be here right now; I understand. But to those who come, you do not know how much chizuk you give us, and how much you are needed here. Thank you.
Next week is Purim (finally! I think my students have been itching for it all Adar Aleph!), and while we may have to follow protocols not to use exploding-sounding toys, we will still celebrate. That we want to celebrate at all is its own victory, and I don’t want to stop that feeling with my worries. We need to remember that all that the Jews in Shushan and the surrounding countries won at first was the chance to fight back, to defend themselves. [Not meant to be just a side note but Kol Hakavod to the amazing man who, the same day as the bus attack, pulled a terrorist’s knife from his own neck and killed his attacker with it.]
We need to remember that even if all you want is to live in peace, sometimes you have to fight for that peace*.
May we all have a Purim Sameach, and remember to celebrate life.
*[credit Tad Williams]