Israeli Family Copes With Wave of Terror

Marne Joan and Leora Shirit Rochester in their bomb shelter.

Marne Joan and Leora Shirit Rochester in their bomb shelter.

Matzav is Hebrew for “situation,” which is what we call it during times of unrest.

Last year, during the matzav I would sing with the kids in my daycare the song by Naomi Shemer based on the saying by Rebbi Nachman from Breslov:

All the world is a very narrow bridge. But the main thing is to not be afraid.

כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד, והעיקר לא לפחד כלל.

But how can one not be afraid when terrorists are running around the country killing people? I think what the song really means is to not let the fear take control.

I survived the first Gulf War with SCUD missiles landing in the backyard of my kibbutz, the first intifada, and the second intifada when every time we heard sirens my friends’ then-five-year-old child would ask, “Ima, where is the pigua?” (Pigua is Hebrew for “terror attack.”)

I have heard bombs go off. I have felt bombs go off. I have lost people I knew and cared about. I have survived these times of unrest without letting the fear take over, without locking myself inside. I kept going out and living my life as if there was no matzav, but with a bit more vigilance, always looking around.

Last week was my daughter Leora’s birthday. She has hit the double digits. Her party was based on the Israeli version of the show, “The Amazing Race.” We did “The Race for Leora”: The kids paired up and had to run around the neighborhood fulfilling different tasks to get the next clue.

Everything changed Tuesday. There was a shooting and stabbing attack in Armon HaNatziv, the next neighborhood, on a bus that I sometimes take. I know people who witnessed it and kids in the kindergarten and school right across the street from the attack. Before, all the rock throwing (more like cinder-blocks and rocks the size and weight of bowling balls and larger) and Molotov cocktails being hurdled in Armon HaNatziv seemed so far away. This attack seemed so close.

For the moment, Leora is not allowed to be outside by herself, and I do my best to find rides to and from places. I imagine once the shock of Tuesday wears off and if there is no other attack near the neighborhood, I will relax a bit.

The matzav is also causing an internal conflict. Before the second intifada Jews would regularly go into the Arab villages to do business, buy things, have a cup a coffee, and socialize with the residents. Close relationships were formed. Jews and Arabs would attend each others’ celebrations. During the second intifada, the Jewish Israelis felt betrayed by people they considered friends when they would praise the terrorist attacks and celebrate them in the villages. Since then, the relationships never recovered.

Tuesday, after the attack in the neighborhood, a parent with a child in Leora’s youth movement and I were discussing how to get the kids to and from the activity, since neither one of us wanted our kids to walk. Usually, I encourage Leora to walk, but yesterday was not a usual day. I suggested that I pick them up in a cab, since I do not have a car, but we both wanted to make sure it was a safe company. That meant no Arab driver. Many of the terrorists, as well as cab drivers, come for the neighboring village. I used the same cab company for years until I found out that they did not hire Arab drivers. I did not want to be part of the racism. But now, my main concern is my daughter’s safety. With the celebrations in the villages after each attack, I just cannot trust them with the most precious thing in my life.

The same day I went food shopping. I always bring a book to read while waiting in line. That night it was a good thing it was a very thick book, because I was in line for 50 minutes. Almost half of the registers were closed. When I asked why, I was told that the girls were afraid to come to work, or their parents were afraid to let them.

It is one of the most inexpensive store chains and known for equal hiring of minorities. Last summer the owner was called to fire his Arab workers after three Jewish teens were butchered by Arabs. He rightfully refused. But after the attack carried out by the Arab worker of a phone company and the celebrations in the villages, people feel that they cannot even trust their co-workers. On the positive side, during the troubled times, Israelis are much kinder to each other. No one pushed or shoved or yelled while waiting on line, which is very unusual for the supermarket here. People stood patiently, having conversations with other customers.

When I finally got home, I saw an e-mail from my daughter’s school. They got the water company to stop the work they are doing on the pipes across from the school. Parents and school staff were concerned because some of the workers were Arab. A few years ago the “tractorists,” Arab workers who took the tractors they were working with to run over people, made people suspicious of all Arab workers. And the cleaning company the school uses is to come in only after the kids have left. I have very mixed feelings about this. I do not want the situation to affect honest people’s livelihood. I do not want my daughter or any of the other kids to be suspicious of all Arabs. Part of me feels like I should speak up. But my need to keep my daughter safe is stronger.

Here we are again, dealing with it the best we can. What can I do? I have ordered pepper spray and signed up for a class to learn self-defense against knife attacks. I hope to God I will not need these. Meanwhile, some dark humor and chocolate get me through the matzav.

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