CAP: Concerned, alert and prepared

A sunrise on Hanukkah, when viewed from the right spot, can transform darkness into light. And how to keep that light burning is described below.

Dr. Robert Schwartz,

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Dr. Robert Schwartz

Sunrise on the first day of Hanukkah viewed from the balcony of my Jerusalem apartment reflected the bittersweet mood of this year’s festival.  Dawn crept over the south Judean hills illuminating the beige stone buildings and the remaining streetlights glowed like a fully lit menorah.  As the sun rose, a single, sword shaped cloud disappeared into the azure light.

This progression from darkness to light is a familiar leitmotif in the annals of Jewish history. The furious assault of today’s lone terrorists must not diminish the joyous celebration of Hanukkah.  Yet, as has been reported, a recent poll showed that 77 percent of Israelis feel unsafe and 48 percent said they would think twice before attending a public event during Hanukkah.   

Siding with the narrow majority that would celebrate publicly, my wife and I were at the Kotel for the first night of Hanukkah.  The plaza was relatively empty because the daily stabbings of the “knife intifada” are taking a toll.

What can be done to counter such terror?  Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, encouraged all Israelis who have gun permits to carry their weapons. As a recent immigrant, Israeli law prohibits me from carrying a gun for three years, so I have opted for a strategy of self-defense that includes psychological, physical and spiritual elements. The psychological component involves putting on a self-defense CAP, which means to be Concerned, Alert and Prepared:

Concerned. Instead of being consumed by negative thinking and emotions, cultivate a rational  “concern,”  minus the fear. Worry paralyzes, but concern keeps you focused on real dangers. 

Alert: Israelis are generally alert and quick thinking, as witnessed by the multitasking skills of many storekeepers I’ve seen. Use your attentiveness to focus on what’s happening around you, particularly in high-risk areas.  Now is NOT the time to walk with headphones plugging your ears or your eyes staring at your cellphone.

Prepared.  Take several lessons to learn a simple technique of Krav Maga, self defense, to fend off an attack and neutralize an assailant.   After 6 sessions, I left my trainer cowering from my self-defense moves.

The physical component involves dressing for the occasion:

Wear a hat.  Traditionally Jews always wore hats, and 60 years ago you would have been hard pressed to find an uncovered head in a sports stadium, non-Jews included.    For a mere 15 shekels, I discovered something called “bump caps” which are plastic inserts that can be inserted into your own hat to create a sort of hard hat that will deflect a knife attack to the head and could save a life. 

Use Your Backpack:   You can buy bulletproof backpacks  or a  backpack insert that weighs around 2.25 kg.  Because most attacks in Israel are knife attacks, I considered this precaution overkill (pun intended). I use a leather backpack that would likely deter most terrorists because they often stab the torso from behind. Carrying your laptop adds another layer of protection.

Slash Resistant Clothing:  This new breakthrough in fiber technology is lightweight and stylish.  While it is not stab-proof, it may provide some resistance to stabbing and can prevent harm from often-fatal knife slashes.  Although expensive (NIS 750), when you see this British-made jacket with crew neck for added protection that looks like a black and grey, micro Harris Tweed, you will want to wear it everywhere.   Also consider slash resistant gloves.  I now use them instead of open finger biking gloves. 

A few days after coming to Israel, the first thing I learned in a class on Rav Kook was his concept that if you are attached to the Absolute, you will have no fear.   
Carry A Defensive Instrument: If you don’t have a gun permit, carry pepper spray or mace.  These items must be left with the attendant when visiting the Kotel and government buildings, and must be picked up when you leave.   Other options include carrying a knife, a weighted club, or a walking stick 

The spiritual component is the simplest and the most important. A few days after coming to Israel, the first thing I learned in a class on Rav Kook was his concept that if you are attached to the Absolute, you will have no fear.  

The spiritual component may seem lofty when threatened by a potentially deadly knife, but for millennia the traditional Jewish response to adversity has been to transform darkness into light with a positive attitude of optimism and faith. 

When walking or biking on Jerusalem streets, I’ve observed too many stony, worried looks that sadly have become more common.  Instead of conforming to this mindset, greet everyone with a warm smile and a “boker tov” or “erev tov.” Such greetings have the practical advantage of signaling that you are friend, not foe. They will warm most Israelis and elicit a smile, transforming the darkness of fear and suspicion into unity and light.

With my CAP, I’m dressed for the occasion. I walk and bike throughout Jerusalem, day and night.  I eat at outdoor cafes.  I danced at the Sarah Litman wedding and celebrated Hanukkah publically at several locations.   I feel only exuberance and joy to be in Israel and fully live the dream.  By taking these few precautions, I see only the radiant Jerusalem sun, and the transformative light of Hanukkah burned brighter this year than ever.

Robert M. Schwartz, Ph.D. is a psychologist, writer, and former university professor who published scientific papers on positive thinking and coping with stress.  He is most recently the author of Holy Eating: The Spiritual Secret to Eternal Weight Loss.