Life on the Jerusalem homefront

The writer was sitting in Jerusalem's Old City, in the Jewish Quarter, when a stabbing took place a few minutes away from him.

Daniel Kaufman,

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Daniel Kaufman

It is that time of year. I am on my bi-annual pilgrimage to Israel. For the past fourteen years, I have come at least annually, most of the time bi-annually and sometimes three or four times a year. I love it here. I get a spiritual lift; I see friends; sometimes I even take a friendly swim in the Mediterranean.

As it happens, today I am in Jerusalem. I do as I often do. I get up, grab a coffee and make my way to the Old City. It is a crisp morning, I walk through Jaffa Gate and everything is normal. Workers take out the trash, small children play and tourists take selfies. I was seeing an old friend when I got a panicked text: “Terrorist attack in Old City.” At that moment, I was sitting in the Rova (the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, ed.); to me it is likely the single best pedestrian square in the world. There’s no terrorism here. Birds are chirping, kids are playing and yes, tourists walk by with phones attached to long poles.

But of course, only a few hundred yards away, there was a terrorist attack. Three people were stabbed; two civilians are dead; two terrorists also dead. It happened where I had been only minutes earlier. I am left with a conundrum.

Danger is strange. Until one is directly confronted with it, danger is a state of mind. At that very moment, I was in absolutely no danger. I was sitting in a calm, peaceful, loving pedestrian square. Everything around me was familiar – the epitome of safety. But am I safe? Only steps from here, minutes earlier, terror. This is an event I would have read about 10,000 miles away, but it is happening in front of my eyes. Yet, I don’t see it. I only see birds, kids and tourists. What does this mean? How do I behave? How does this affect me? Is this even real?

In the digital age, it is bizarre that something as analogue as a knife should engender so much fear.
The way I see it, I have three choices:  1. Go home. 2. Stay inside. 3. Continue as though this isn’t a concern.

In the United States terrorism doesn’t affect us there the way it does here… or does it? I live in Los Angeles. We have terrible crime, but really, I don’t see it. It happens on the other side of the city. There are gang wars and gang initiations and theft and vandalism and lots of crime. But that doesn’t scare us like terrorism. Crime is somehow controlled, anticipated. Terrorism is random and that sort of random violence doesn’t really affect us - until three weeks ago. San Bernardino a sleepy town, completely off the radar screen, was hit, 14 people murdered and many more injured. Clearly, going home has no logic. But staying inside? Really? What’s the purpose of being across the globe if I am going to be locked inside an apartment or a hotel lobby. That is not why I came all the way here. Carry on – clearly this is the only option that makes sense.

In the digital age, it is bizarre that something as analogue as a knife should engender so much fear. In fact, I believe it is the actual low-fi nature of a knife that makes it so terrifying. Stabbing someone with a knife is personal – you have to get up close. It is brutal – it requires personal force. It exposes the ultimate in vulnerability – a blade goes for the soft under-belly. Anyone who wields a knife with deadly purpose has to get close, so that means, they have to look normal. Anyone who looks like a terrorist will be ineffective – the victim will see him/her coming and will move away. A knife from ten feet away can’t do too much damage. That means that a terrorist using a knife looks like a friend.

This is the real terror. In a world where people are dying from knife attacks, can we really trust anyone? This is the terror. It is the deterioration of trust, of neighbors, of goodwill.

I am not leaving Israel. Even as an American, this is my country. I refuse to surrender my trust or my vacation to nefarious forces. What is most amazing about Israel and Jerusalem in particular, is that they continue on. Admittedly, I am now hyper aware of everyone around me, but I will still go to my favorite places like the shuk, even if it means I will be deep in crowds. I will not allow my life to be driven by fear.