This Is Home

I’m sitting outside a café with my laptop. I’m supposed to be working while waiting for my car to be repaired, but these days it’s hard not to stop every few minutes to check the news. Someone else stabbed. Another car ramming. CCTV footage of an everyday person falling, cut down by another everyday-looking person brandishing a knife. All happening on a “safe” street I’ve walked down many times in the past. The attack comes completely unexpectedly, yet it is completely predictable.

I find that I’m subtly aware of my surroundings in a way I’ve never been before. I chose a table that affords me a good view of oncoming foot traffic. There’s a waiter two tables over, clearing it, speaking with an Arabic accent. Does he have a knife? I’m keeping my eye on him. When did I become such a racist? Arabs are people who just want to live their lives in peace, no different from Jews or anyone else. Except for some who want to kill me, and it’s impossible to detect any outward differences between the two.

It wasn’t like this in Queens. There, you get jumped by people who want money — and you can usually avoid the neighborhoods where it might happen. Here, your attackers are people who just want you dead for ideological reasons, and you can’t avoid them without overt ethnic profiling. The liberal in me is slowly choking to death while the pragmatist in me is wondering if it’s worthwhile to illegally purchase a weapon.

My wife calls to ask how much longer I’ll be — the mechanic has had the car for three hours already. She wants to pick the kids up from school because she doesn’t feel safe with them walking the three blocks home by themselves today. Did I hear the news? Another stabbing on a bus. A guy beat the attacker with an umbrella. Last night someone defeated an attacker using nunchucks. Nunchucks?

Suddenly I become aware of someone approaching me quickly from behind. I stand up and whirl around faster than I thought I could, hands at the ready to apply last night’s krav maga training. My coffee spills. It’s a waitress. “Is everything okay?” she asks. “No,” I say, “things aren’t okay.” She gets a couple of napkins for my coffee, nodding understandingly. “Just be safe,” she says as she disappears back inside.

Checking the news yet again — another stabbing. Even worse are the headlines coming out of foreign news outlets. Reports of Palestinians being killed after “an attack”… Israeli security stopping a “knife man”… calls for “both sides” to restore calm… explanations about how the Palestinians are angry about the occupation… Really? The occupation? As if Arabs didn’t kill Jews before we built “settlements.” As if they don’t refer to Tel Aviv as a “settlement.” As if houses built on land you claim as your own is a good explanation for killing a kid on his bike. Is the world really so ignorant, or are our ostensible friends once again turning a deliberate blind eye to our slaughter?

As a psychologist, I am aware that, as bad as abuse is, the effects are nowhere near as bad as the effects of the victim’s abuse being ignored, minimized or blamed for their own actions. This thought crosses my mind as I experience a profound sense of anger and betrayal. My grief and seething is interrupted by my phone ringing. It’s my mechanic — the car is ready. Finally. I shut my laptop and pack it up in my backpack. I usually carry it in a case, but I heard that these days it’s better to wear a backpack.

It’s supposed to protect you from being stabbed in the back.