At Home in Jerusalem
A shiva call reminds me why I live in Jerusalem, despite the fear.
Last night I dreamed that I was in my hometown Baltimore, trying to catch a bus to take me to my destination. The bus pulled up and I realized that it wouldn’t take me there after all. Silly me, I thought in my dream, you don’t take buses in Baltimore. Of course, the city has public transportation, but I’d grown up in suburbia where everyone has a car.
When I woke up, I realized what my subconscious mind was telling me: I want to be back in Baltimore, where things are safe and I don’t have to worry about taking the bus to my destination. I want to be free of this fear of bus stops and light rail stations and grocery store employees.
Last week I prepared to leave my house to a routine exercise class by bus. Before I left, I heard the horrific news of the massacre in Har Nof. It was too early to know who the victims were. I hesitated before boarding the bus. Should I go? Or should I cower in the safety of my own four walls?
Never mind the fact that those four walls might not be so safe in case of a missile attack. But that was in the summer, and the missiles had struck mostly in the center/south of the country, not in my peaceful Jerusalem neighborhood. I’d felt relatively safe then.
Not so now, when terror attacks have been occurring on a weekly basis in Jerusalem. The light rail, which I use routinely, has been stopped in its tracks more than once, its stations targeted. I live in Neve Yaakov, in the north of the city, and taking the light rail to town means passing through Shuafat, then along Route 1, bypassing the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem that are also serviced by our train.
My 10-year-old is going to his weekly swimming lesson. He usually walks to the pool, 10 minutes away, with a friend. The friend’s mother calls me half an hour before they’re supposed to leave. “Are we letting them go alone today?”
“No, I guess not,” I say. Not with Arab construction workers swarming the neighborhood. Who knows when someone will get into his head to do repeat performance of any one of the terror attacks of the last few weeks on innocent children? We arrange that she’ll walk the two of them to the pool and I’ll walk them home. This is Jerusalem, after all. Some of my neighbors own cars, but most of us make our way around the city on public transportation or by foot.
Another morning, my son and I go out for an appointment. He’s returning to school afterwards and I’m going to run an errand in town. I escort him to the bus stop and wait with him until the bus arrives. This is Jerusalem, after all. We allow 10-year-olds to ride buses by themselves, especially in broad daylight and when they’re traveling a route they know well. I’ve done it countless times before.
I watch him board the bus, my heart in my throat, and then turn to the light rail station that’s 10 meters away, the spot where baby Chaya Zissel Braun was killed three weeks ago. Only half-joking, I tell him, “You pray for my safety, and I’ll pray for yours.”
We both make it to our destinations, thank God.
Last week, four upstanding members of the Har Nof community were slaughtered as they recited their morning prayers. Two others are still in the hospital, their lives hanging in the balance. I knew one of the terror victims personally: Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, a kind and gentle soul, was my boss at Targum Press for three years. The other three I knew only through friends and neighbors. But the Jerusalem world is small enough that we all seem connected this week.
I went to pay a shiva call on the Goldberg family. Signs in the elevator of the building, in the hallway, and in the house itself proclaim, in English: “The Goldberg family accepts God’s will and asks that their privacy be respected and no interviews be conducted.”
The house is packed with teary-eyed friends, neighbors, and total strangers wishing to extend their condolences. I listen to the family share their memories of their father, alternately laughing and crying as they reflect on their loss.
Standing near me in the crowded room is a blond young woman with a baby who speaks English with an Israeli-South African accent. She’s there with her mother and sister. They’re the family of Dahlia Lemkus, the 26-year-old girl killed at a bus stop in Gush Etzion two weeks ago. They don’t know the Goldbergs at all, but now they’re connected. They’re family.
I express my amazement that these brave women are here just a week after having sat shiva under such tragic circumstances themselves. “We feel that the attack in the synagogue wasn’t a personal thing. It was against all Jews,” the young woman explains. In this bookcased-lined, Har Nof living room, jam-packed with visitors, the divisions in Israeli society have fallen away.
My childhood in Baltimore was certainly calmer, less tension fraught, less frightening than my life today. But as I leave the Goldberg home, I realize that there’s a reason I’m living here in Jerusalem and not anywhere else in the world. This city, this country, where I’m surrounded by Jews and where we all feel God’s presence even in the face of tragedy, is where I belong. This is my home.