…I ran to get my kids. Everyone was walking around in fear, and there was an electrified panic in the air. You walk in the street and look in all directions. Today the cheder notified us that they will not let any child go home alone. Either they must go with transportation, or a responsible adult must come to pick them up.
At bus stops, you stand on the side. I am scared to death at home; I live on the first floor. Every few minutes I check to make sure that everything is locked. I don’t let the kids on the porch. It’s scary to go to Geulah. It’s scary to go to the Kosel. It’s scary to go everywhere. It doesn’t matter where you come or where you go to; it’s scary.
My husband went to get pepper spray and the stores were all sold out. My daughter, who is nine years old, heard in class about the pigua [terror attack] on a 13-year-old child in Pisgat Zev. She didn’t stop crying all night.
I have been living in Eretz Yisrael for 22 years now and have seen history being written before my eyes. My first year here was a memorable one, with the Oslo accords, Baruch Goldstein’s slaying of Arabs in Me’aras Hamachpeilah, and the ensuing tense security situation. Then came the assassination of Rabin, the relinquishing of Israeli sovereignty over Yericho and Shechem, and the terrifying rash of bus bombings in 1996, which left an effect on those of us living here. People were wary of taking buses, constantly scanning the passengers for suspicious faces. But life went on.
Then came the outbreak of the second intifada on Rosh Hashanah of the year 2000. The tunnel road became dangerous due to chaotic stoning and shooting from Beit Jala. Delivery trucks were hesitant to come out to Beitar, and we suffered serious food shortages. The Arabs of neighboring Nachalin rioted, and people living on the periphery were scared. In the wake of the Sbarro bombing and a series of terror attacks along Rechov Yaffo and Ben Yehuda, the center of Yerushalayim lost much of its pedestrian traffic.
And then terror hit close to home. Beitar lost a number of kedoshim to the bus bombings in French Hill, in Emanuel, and on the number 19 bus. We were reeling, we were hurting, but when my relatives in America called they sounded so much more scared than we were. Somehow, the feeling on the streets and in the air was so much more stable and secure than anyone following the news overseas could ever believe.
Once again, the news is full of terror. We barely have a chance to process the latest attack, to mourn the loss of the Henkins, Rabbi Nechemia Lavi and Aharon Bennet, Hashem yinkom damam, before we hear of another stabbing. And this time, the people on the street are afraid.
Yesterday, a dear friend and previous neighbor celebrated her son’s bar mitzvah in the Rova. And I really wanted to go. A number of my neighbors with cars were considering going. As the day wore on and we heard of the fresh slew of terror attacks, my neighbors began rethinking their decisions. By evening, three couples had backed out and two were going. They both offered me a place in their cars.
It was not fearlessness that convinced them to go — it was their devotion to the baalei simchah. My neighbors wanted to form a convoy, thinking that a group of cars would be safer. Though there were only two cars, we drove together, offering both moral support and safety in numbers. The Husan bypass road could not be avoided, but we made sure to park in Har Tzion and walk in entirely Jewish areas of the Old City.
Finally, we pulled into the Har Tzion parking lot. Though we were not surprised to find it three-quarters empty, it was still shocking to see the Rova so deserted. We regrouped after getting out of the cars, anxiously scanning the area for any signs of life. It was eerily quiet. Other than our group and a lone stray cat we were alone; not a soldier or policeman in sight.
Both of my friends’ husbands were carrying knives in their suit pockets.
We quickly made our way through Zion Gate, the men leading the procession and we women bringing up the rear. And then I heard footsteps. I turned around to see a man wearing a T-shirt and bright blue shorts running at us.
“Someone’s running!” I shouted. My friend ducked into the alleyway ahead and her husband swung around and reached into his pocket. When our would-be attacker saw him reach for a weapon, he called out, “Ani Yehudi! I’m just jogging!” We breathed a sigh of relief and continued walking.
But our adrenaline kept pumping. “I’m so scared. I am trembling!” My Israeli born-and-bred neighbor was really frightened. I gave her my hand and she grabbed my arm. I could feel her shaking as together we made our way over the slippery cobblestones of the Rova.
We women chatted to relieve our tension, but the men kept urging us to keep up with them.
“Now’s not the time for talking,” they chided.
We barely saw a living soul during our ten-minute walk. Finally we arrived at our destination; the magnificent Aish HaTorah building overlooking the Kosel Plaza. The guard at the door held a submachine gun over his chest. He asked us who we were and let us through. We had arrived. We were safe.
The bar mitzvah was beautiful, although the hall was only half full. My friend was so touched that we made the effort to come. The other women at our table treated us as heroes. They had traveled a more direct route — a taxi ride to the Kosel, which allowed them to avoid the Rova.
I sat at that bar mitzvah strangely relaxed and somewhat detached. Before deciding to come I had checked into the security situation. While Sha’ar Shechem was to be avoided at all costs, the Rova was still considered safe. And I truly felt that attending this bar mitzvah was necessary. This was a close friend, and I knew that anyone who didn’t feel they had to be there wasn’t venturing out. So I went. And I honestly felt that I had made the right decision. Why then was everyone around me so scared? Why did it seem as if we had just walked through a war zone?
After the bar mitzvah, we made our way down to the Kosel. Getting here had not been easy, and who knew when we would be back. This was an opportunity we did not want to miss.
I haven’t seen the Kosel so empty since the time I went there for Ma’ariv in the rain way back during my seminary days. It was only 9:30 p.m., but the visitors to the Kosel were less than one row thick. I stood right at the Wall with nobody at my side and no one behind me. Sadly, our People have been scared away.
So it seems that this wave of terror is different in some sinister way. There is more than just a heightened sense of caution in the air. Today the streets of Yerushalayim are heavy with a tangible sense of fear.
Penina Neiman, Yerushalayim
I have been living in Yerushalayim for over 15 years. Unfortunately, there have been many different terror attacks; there were times we tried to avoid buses or public malls, etc.
I never thought it would get to the point where I am scared to simply walk in the street. I am not talking about going to the mall or shopping at Mamilla. Just the routine schedule of going to the grocery and walking to school or work is scary. I thought I was the only one, but I see that everyone around me is constantly checking their surroundings — front, back and sides — while they are walking.
I have a wedding tonight. All I wanted to do was pick up my sheitel from the salon. I hesitated before I went and then I thought, Listen, we have to carry on with life and daven for Hashem to watch over us. I got to the salon on Sarei Yisrael street. It’s usually a very busy place, but today it was very quiet. They said that almost everyone canceled their appointments; they’d rather not go out.
I got a call from my son’s cheder, a five-minute walk from home. They do not want any boys to leave without an adult. And all the older boys who usually go home during lunch break — accepted practice in Eretz Yisrael — were told not to leave the building; the cheder will provide them with lunch today.
It’s hard to avoid the Arabs, since we basically live together. The groceries have Arab workers; the cleaners are Arabs; the technicians are Arabs; there are Arab doctors and bus drivers.We cannot avoid them. We must try to carry on with our routines as much as possible.
Hashem Shomer Yisrael.
Chaya Gitty Cohen, Israel