“Is everything okay?” These three words, received in a text, immediately send my heart racing. They are my three least favorite words, and yet, they’ve seemed to plague my time in Israel, instantly pulling me out of the careless bliss of Torah study and thrusting me back into the reality of life. Yes, I’m fine, but in that moment, I’m distinctly aware that something has happened. I quickly take out my phone and go to The Times of Israel to get the latest news. “Four killed in terror attack at Jerusalem synagogue,” the headline says. My heart drops. When will it stop?
I arrived in Israel at the beginning of July in the middle of the most recent war in Gaza. While the entire country rallied with record cohesion in support of the government, behind the scenes families were hurting on a deep level. Everyone had a son, a nephew, a cousin, and neighbor, that was putting his life at risk in defense of their home. And every death was mourned by the nation as a collective, with hundreds, and sometimes thousands showing up to the funerals of our fallen brothers.
In August, the war ended, and there was a small sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, we’ll see prolonged peace. Those illusions, however, were quickly shattered by the recent wave of terror attacks. It’s hard to go a week without stabbings, vehicular homicide, and assassination attempts. But this most recent attack was different; the terrorists infiltrated well into Jerusalem, all the way out to the western suburbs. While each attack has pained the public conscious, this brazen act, more than any of them, can not be ignored or pushed to the side.
Since coming to Israel, I’ve wanted to do just that. I felt that as someone just passing through, it was not my right to have an opinion on the Israeli government’s policies, good or bad. I’ve tried to ignore the discrimination, the hatred, the conflicts, the terrorism, and really any controversial or depressing issues on any side, instead trying to focus on experiencing all the good that Jerusalem and Israel has to offer. I suppose that’s just my personality, to try to see the good in everything and everyone. But I can’t ignore those things anymore.
I suppose that’s the goal of these terror groups, of Hamas and Fatah: To shock the Israeli public into finally deciding to act on the issue of Palestinian autonomy. Perhaps they think that by encouraging murder and hatred, that these acts will demoralize Israelis to the point where they’ll have to give in to the Palestinian’s demands. You’d think that after living with and next to Israelis for so long, though, that they would know that this too won’t succeed.
For as much as Israelis may be scared, they are exponentially more stubborn. By encouraging these acts of terror, they are acting to harden the hearts of Israelis (and hopefully the world) towards the plight of Palestinians. Israel, in the name of security, comes down even harder on the Palestinians, further segregating and limiting their freedoms. Is it just or humane? No. But what choice do they have? Tensions are heating, and unless there happens to be a sudden outpouring of ahavat chinam, baseless love, from both sides, the situation in Israel is going to continue to worsen, with little hope for a peaceful solution. I try to ignore this feeling of hopelessness, but it becomes harder by the day. As bad as things may seem however, I’ve learned from Israelis that life must go on.
Every time I time I talk with my Baubie, the first thing she asks is “Are you coming home yet?” She knows the answer will be “no, not yet”, but she hopes that maybe, just maybe there will be a sooner time when she can worry just a little bit less about her grandson. The answer, though, will never change. Until my year here is up, that answer will always be “no”. The reality is that as bad as the situation may seem, I still feel safe here in Jerusalem, safer even than I felt living at the University of Minnesota. To go home, or even to consider going home, I feel is a betrayal of my homeland and a direct victory for the terrorists. While it’s necessary to be extremely cautious and aware of my surroundings, I will not give in to the fear that the terrorists desire. I would rather give my life, G-d forbid, by living fully in the land of Israel.