Thursday, July 21, 2005

London Reminds Me of Jerusalem

London was rocked by more bombs in its Underground subway system today, in very similar circumstances to those of two weeks ago. It’s no surprise that there’s only so much one can do to protect such a system – there are so many points of entrance and egress, and so many people on the system at any one time. But Londoners will no doubt continue to use the Tube, because they have no other option other than to soldier on; it reminds me of the year my wife and I lived in Jerusalem.

We arrived in June 1995, my wife about to start her first year of rabbinic school at Hebrew Union College. The very next month, on July 24, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up a crowded bus in Tel Aviv and killed six Israelis and wounded 28. Our families expressed concern, but we reassured them – after all, we reasoned; these things happen in Israel sometimes, and it was in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem.

In August, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up a bus in Jerusalem and killed five people, including Jewish Theological Seminary students Sara Duker and Matthew Eisenfeld, and wounded more than 100 people. This was harder to distance ourselves from. It was our city, a bus that we rode on, on a street we traveled every day; among the dead were Americans that were in Jerusalem for exactly the same reason that my wife was. At this point, the American consulate started suggesting that Americans should leave Israel and head back home.

So why did we stay? Israel was our home, temporary though it might have been. We were scared – certainly -- but not ready to abandon our lives in deference to the terrorists. We did change our routines a little: we stopped taking buses unless absolutely necessary (taxi drivers rejoiced). We kept our eyes open a little wider… in fact, most of Israel was doing the same thing. We stayed and we continued to live our lives.

September and October were filled with news of agreements and accords between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, but in November Rabin was killed by a right-wing Israeli law student (may his name be blotted out) at a Tel Aviv peace rally.

In February of 1996, in two separate attacks, Palestinian suicide bombers blew up a bus in Jerusalem and a soldiers’ hitchhiking post in the coastal city of Ashkelon; twenty-three Israelis were killed, as well as two Americans and a Palestinian. More than eighty people were wounded. Later that month, an Arab-American drove a rental car into a Jerusalem bus stop and killed one Israeli, wounding twenty-three.

It didn’t stop.

On March 3, a bus bomb in Jerusalem killed 19 people, including the bomber -- the third such suicide attack in eight days. The next day a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a Tel Aviv shopping center, killing thirteen people. On March 21 a suicide bomber killed himself and three Israeli women in Tel Aviv.

And yet we stayed. We refused to let these monsters dictate where we would live, or how we would live. Giving in to terrorists only sends the message that such atrocities are the only way to get what they want.

Israel’s election campaign that spring was dominated by slogans about security and peace. Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu was elected Prime Minister, closely beating Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Some painted this as a victory for hawks over doves, and a message to those who would threaten Israel.

In June, we celebrated Israel’s independence day and the 3000th anniversary of Jerusalem, leaving Israel for the United States soon after. The violence did not stop while we were there, and neither did it end when we left, but we had our year in Israel, and we were not scared away. People died, lives changed, but the struggle for a safe peace continued then, as it does today.


Rags said...

Thanks for posting this. We've all heard about the individual events, but to "hear" it from someone who essentially lived through it, who had it happen on his turf, makes it more profound. And given where things are heading these days, it's a chilling reminder of what can happen.

Hopefully, the West will become truly serious about stopping terrorism now. I don't know; maybe Britain (read: Major) will stop cow-towing to General Bush and will force real anti-terrorism efforts now.

One can only hope. Truly.

Jack's Shack said...

It is good to hear that you stayed, not everyone would have done so.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

We refused to let these monsters dictate where we would live, or how we would live. Giving in to terrorists only sends the message that such atrocities are the only way to get what they want.

It's the right attitude to adopt, and a good example for the rest of us. Terrorism is getting closer to home. If it comes to that (God forbid), may we all find similar courage.

may his name be blotted out.

An off-topic question from a non-Jew. Does the expression mean merely, "may he be forgotten by the human race" or does it mean, "may he be blotted out of God's book of life" — i.e., damned?

B2 said...

Not sure of the exact origin... my wife is going to show me up on this, I'm sure; I just used it in the pejorative sense.

wife said...

[Standing on one foot]
Jews don't really have a concept of being damned in that way, the phrase means to be erased from human memory. It was originally used in Exodus 32:32-33. See here for an example of the many ways that Jews have interpreted this phrase. In Judaism honoring and remembering the dead is important,so this would be the ultimate insult.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Interesting. In the Christian scriptures, the reference that comes to mind is from Revelation (an apocalyptic text):

"He then carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, arrayed with God's glory. … Nothing profane will ever enter it: no one who does what is vile or false, but only those written in the Lamb's book of life. (Rev. 21:10&27)

There are other, similar references in Revelation, all to the effect that our "eternal destiny" (as the televangelists would say) hinges on whether our names are written in (Jesus') book of life.

Not that I agree with this interpretation, you understand. I'm just noting that Christians are familiar with the phrase, but for us it has a very different connotation.