The 72 hours

My escape from this period lies in the memory of a winter morning years ago in my Jerusalem apartment when I heard a roar. Op-ed.

Martin Hoffman ,

Jerusalem bus explosion
Jerusalem bus explosion
Magen David Adom Jerusalem

I am sick of the massive waves of animosity pounding daily upon the prime minister. I am desperate for other players who I can honor and emulate. My escape from this catastrophe lies in memory of another one: a winter morning years ago; making sandwiches in my Jerusalem apartment, I hear a roar, and then, moments later, the sirens: the number 18 bus on Jaffa Street explodes as a suicide bomber detonates twenty kilos of TNT.

I leave the sandwiches, hop on my bike, and ride into darkness, into twisted metal and bits of flesh sticking to trees, to walls, and the blood, the broken glass, cries, flashing lights, masses of Jews of all sizes and shapes, like some seething sea swirling crazily around the bombed-out wreck that had once been a bus.

The helicopters above churning, police bullhorn booming, men with gloved hands and plastic sacks the looking for body parts - some mad street theater where past and present intertwine: I am not on a Jewish street in a Jewish land; I am in Berlin on Kristallnacht - the broken glass, the broken bones, the broken spirit of my own flesh and blood.

Exactly three days before the bomb blast, I had interviewed former Prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir, alone, unaware of the proximity of death and pain, though Shamir sat right before me with the British Mandate behind him, the sinking of the Struma, the White Paper. He sat there like some great-uncle - with his age clinging but not dominant; lucid, articulate, thumping the desk as he talked - as though to a precocious nephew who had done a few good things, but could do much better.

I sensed him measuring the stuff out of which I was made. And myself, suddenly conscious of my blindness to the profound inner forces that had driven the man before me into endless battle on a land so obstinate and ungrateful. In his speech, I sensed him coming from a landscape that excluded all accounting. There was no price, no compromise, no negotiation. Only will power and resolution.

We speak for over an hour, then shake hands and I go down the ten floors to the Tel Aviv street . A quick ride to the central bus station and the bus, taking me back to Jerusalem. Less than 72 precious hours now separate me from that thunderous explosion in another bus whose destiny I have somehow been excused from.

Shamir remains a strong, persistent pressure in my heart - a sharp aching, like a devoted father who's labored, prayed for, drained all his powers for some truculent child. As if in that brief meeting, my pores had absorbed the singularity of his intent, his astonishing concern, and what I find impossible to call, in a political figure, love for this furiously contested land and its ungrateful, stiff-necked populace.

I will remember him even years after he has passed away - a weathered road marker testifying to the presence of all those tracks and trails across the globe. And I am aware, terribly aware how often we walk a tightrope, balancing precariously, as if in a perpetual state of judgment, with that thin wire separating life from death, light from darkness, joy from sorrow – though usually, even this fleeting glimpse of reality is denied us, and we move through a maze of glittering self-indulgence.

The 72 hours will pass. The time has been set when a sudden shock wave will knock me away from my morning ritual, from the half-made sandwiches, from my children's squabbling and the raucous music on the radio. But at the moment, I ride comfortably on the 405 bus down the road to Jerusalem, thinking how amazing it was that a Vermonter like myself, grown up on a landscape that had spawned Calvin Coolidge, Robert Frost as well as scores of deer poachers, beer drinkers, lumberjacks, and general hell- raisers would, one day, sit down behind a closed door with this man who had once been the prime minister of the State of Israel.

Martin Hoffman is a freelance writer living in Jerusalem who grew up in Vermont, did post grad work at the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill, crossed part of Afghanistan on horseback, ate yogurt in Teheran, studied at Yeshivat Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, served in an antiaircraft unit in the IDF, has freelanced for various magazines like Hadassah, the Jerusalem Post, Ami.



top