Ariella Bernstein
Ariella Bernstein
Forever an Israeli Immigrant

Where were you when

Photo credit: Michal Beer מיכל בר: https://beermichal.com
Photo by Michal Beer. The photo, called The Phenomenon, has gone viral and has been used widely to reflect tragedy and trauma in Israel. See https://beermichal.com.

Where were you when you heard that two of our own helicopters carrying soldiers into Israel’s security zone in southern Lebanon got lost in the fog, colliding with one another, killing all 73 on board?

Where were you when you heard that Baruch Goldstein, a doctor who was supposed to save lives, opened fire on Palestinian Muslims who had gathered to pray inside the Ibrahimi Mosque during Ramadan, killing 29 people dead, and wounding 125?

Where were you when you heard that a bomb went off on Seder night in a Netanya hotel during the Second Intifada?

Where were you when you heard that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was gunned down by one of our own?

Where were you when you heard that Jewish arsonists torched the Bilingual School in Jerusalem, a sacred place in a sacred city, where Jews and Arabs learn together from kindergarten through high school?

Where were you when you heard that Roi Klein jumped on a live grenade to save his men’s lives, saying “Shema Yisrael” as his body absorbed the explosion?

Where were you when heard that 3 teenage boys, who were kidnapped on the way home from school, were found shot to death under a pile of dirt after a 3 week massive search that unified the country?

Where were you when you heard that two Jewish minors kidnapped, bludgeoned and burned Mohammed Abu Khdeir in the Jerusalem forest?

Where were you when you heard that civilians were gunned down in a Max Brenner shop in Tel Aviv’s Sarona market, one of the swankiest places in the country?

Where were you when you heard that Jewish men, wearing phylacteries (tefillin) and prayer shawls, were axed to death during morning prayer?

Where were you when you heard that the third floor of a Jerusalem wedding hall collapsed, killing 23 people?

Where were you when you heard that a forest fire in the Carmel region claimed 44 lives, 37 of whom were cadets on their way to evacuate a prison from the path of the flames?

Where were you when heard that Shira Banki, a 16 year-old high school student, was stabbed to death at the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem by an ultra-Orthodox man who had just been released from prison for attempting the same crime 10 years earlier?

Where were you when heard that Jews firebombed a Palestinian family home in Duma, killing an 18-month-old who was burned alive in the fire, while both his parents died from their injuries within weeks? 

Where were you when you heard that a 26 year-old PTSD afflicted IDF veteran set himself on fire right before Memorial Day, in front of the Ministry of Defense offices, to protest his treatment – or lack thereof?

Where were you when you heard that the number 18 bus in Jerusalem blew up –  twice – at virtually the same stop, one week apart?

Where were you when you heard that our first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, burned up upon re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere?

Where were you when you heard that 45 people were crushed to death on Mount Meron because the infrastructure was never properly fixed?

There is no particular chronological order to “where were you when.”

Israel mourns collectively.  And mourning in Israel is palpable. “Where were you when” becomes part of our collective psyche.

The air is heavier when Israel suffers a tragedy. You can feel the pain every time you take a breath.

National tragedies in Israel bring us to our knees, literally, as the streets fill with memorial candles that burn through the night.

But then, the candles burn out, and we get up again.

Mourning becomes morning.

And in a year from now, we will quietly ask one another where were you a year ago when it happened.

Where were you when.

Four words that are all too often associated with bad things.

Four words that force us to remember something we’d rather forget.

Four words that bind us together in a way that only Israelis can.

I long to say,

Where were you when you heard only good things?

About the Author
Ariella Bernstein lives in Jerusalem with her husband Avi Losice. Ariella and Avi are co-authors of the book Aliya: Home, Hope, Reality about the emotional impact of Aliyah on families we leave behind, and how to navigate these long distance relationships. Together with their children, they are an adopted family to olim and their home is open to anyone who needs one. Ariella made Aliyah in 2009, she works in investor relations, and volunteers in Jerusalem’s tech sector ecosystem as a mentor to start-ups.
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