Sitting in Jerusalem, I have started to write this blog post many times. And each time I write, I stop. I look at the news instead. I check my WhatsApp messages for my kids’ three schools to see if there are any updates about adding a security guard. I read e-mails from friends in the States who ask how I am, who fight back the urge to say, “Come home where it’s safe.” And emails from other friends, who recently left Israel to live in the States for a bit, and who cry when they read the news about what is happening back in their homeland.
And then I breathe, deep breaths that are nourishing and grounding, deep breaths that calm a sense of paranoia and fear about what each new day will bring. And then I call a friend, and both optimists by nature, we laugh. It’s the kind of laughter that comes with knowing how absurd our lives are nowadays in Jerusalem. A recent conversation went something like this: “I wanted to call you because I am about to go into the supermarket and if I get stabbed, I wanted you to be the first to know.” Macabre, but it’s how we get through.
And now, I am ready to write.
I am ready to write about how for the first time, I thought about not walking to synagogue on Friday night, not sure it would be safe.
I am ready to write about the shikulim (or calculus) Jerusalemites make every day. Should we walk by ourselves or with another family? Well, if we all walk together it’s better because there is strength in numbers, but then again maybe not, because a big group might be too much of a target for a terrorist.
I am ready to write about how when there was a terrorist attack near my son’s school, I thanked God that my 7-year-old’s Hebrew isn’t good enough to understand what a mechabel (terrorist) is, and when I asked him what happened at school that day he told me that his teachers brought them in from recess early because he thought, “there was a robber outside or something.” I know that it is only a matter of time when I will have to manage his anxiety as well as my own.
But while I am ready to write about what is. I would much rather write about what could be. As a mother, I know that having children is an act of optimism. We wouldn’t bring children into the world if we thought there was no hope for the future and no possibility for change. This week, our rabbi emphasized that Judaism’s Torah is one of hope and not despair. It is one of tikkun, repair, and not brokenness. And while the political winds feel too large for me to make a significant impact, the daily acts of building the civil society that I want to see in Israel is right-sized.
What could be is a Jerusalem where the only distinction is between those who glorify death (the terrorists) and all the rest of us who choose life. All of us who live here know that the lives of Jews, Arabs, and Palestinians are enmeshed. We set our clock to the sound of the muezzin (the Muslim call to prayer). The best nurse in the local clinic near the Tayelet is an Arab who lives in East Jerusalem, and the women who helped me buy the right clothes for my son’s school uniform are Arab Israelis, too.
While I don’t have close friends who are Arab or Palestinians, I encounter these folks all the time. Most of the time I don’t really connect with them. Today is different. I share a warm smile, a conversation of how they are doing, a recognition that these are hard times. It’s not much, but it’s a start. “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Each step, each conversation helps me remember that terrorists are dangerous to all of us who choose life.
What could be is a Jerusalem in which support for organizations that are striving to build a civil society, and encounters between Arab and Jews of all ages is natural. Integrated schools like “Hand in Hand,” youth groups like “Kids for Peace,” and organizations like the New Israel Fund, are doing the work to build the kind of Israel that I want to live in and that I want to raise my children to love.
What could be is a Jerusalem in which support for the arts is commonplace. Where film makers, musicians, artists, and writers have the support to work out what it means to live in this intense, beautiful, and powerful country every day through their work. Robust exposure to the arts teaches us that there is life in spite of, because of, and even beyond, the conflict.
There’s a beautiful idea that there are two Jerusalems—yerushalayim shel malah and yerushalayim shel mata—a heavenly and earthly Jerusalem. Here’s hoping that if we can keep dreaming about what could be we can bring a heavenly Jerusalem to a much needed earthly one.