I tend to put things out of my head that create anxiety. Often I feel that if I don’t, paralyzing fear would take hold of me all of the time. Anxiety comes with the territory of being parents. There is a moment–during pregnancy or soon after birth–when we realize that now we have something to lose that we absolutely could not bear. Lately I’ve been trying out an alternative to evading worry, at least with regard to the safety of my children: action.
I have lived in Israel for 21 years, having made
with my family at age 14 from Cleveland. In high school, I lived through that awful spate of bus bombings, including my local neighborhood buses, the 14 and the 18. When I was a student at Hebrew University, the Second Intifada exploded and my parents were sick with fear at my traveling by public transportation every day. I was scared, of course, but nothing like the visceral fear that I feel now as a mother.
Snatching my babies out of bed with every siren this past summer and schlepping them half-asleep down the stairs of our building–that was something new for me. If I had been on my own, I would have probably taken the time to find shoes and put on a nice robe before stepping out into the common stairwell.
Now violence of a different kind has begun to take over my city. Lone wolves, supported or inspired by Hamas and ISIS, arm themselves with bloodthirsty rage and whatever “weapons” are accessible to them–knives, axes, cars–and take to the streets. The tractor attacks, it turns out, were only a prequel.
On Tuesday morning after preschool drop-off, I checked the news and was, like us all, horrified. People tend to categorize their fears geographically at times of uncertainty: “If I don’t stand at a light rail stop, I will be fine;” “If I live far from the East-West divide, I am safe.” The Har Nof attack was directly intended by the terrorists to disabuse us of such illusions. The lone wolves from Jabel Mukaber chose to attack a neighborhood that is literally the furthest away from theirs–to show us that they can get anywhere. And it worked. And that’s when most of the parents in Jerusalem really started to worry about their kids.
I am a member of the Facebook group for Jerusalem mothers, now numbering about 6,000. Most of the posts in the group focus on diaper deals, sleep advice, fancy birthday cake flaunting, and the like–and I am not a very active member. But on Tuesday, I saw that the group head, Michal Fishman-Rouah, was meeting with MK Erel Margalit, himself a native Jerusalemite and a father, and that meeting launched something very big for all of us–the renewed battle for preschool security.
Law dictates that schools in Israel have security at the entrance. Daycare centers, preschools, and kindergartens, on the whole, do not. Ask a municipal or government official and they will tell you it’s mostly a numbers issue. If you have a cluster of preschools (I will use this term to include kindergartens as well) with over 100 children, you get a guard. The vast majority of institutions do not meet this criterion, including the municipal preschool attended by my 4-year-old daughter, Alma.
More recently in Jerusalem, there is a geographical criterion–if your preschool is near the East-West divide of the city, you get a guard. So that now covers 200 of the 1,000 Jewish preschools in Jerusalem.
What about the rest of us?
The Jerusalem municipality says they do not have the budget for security for 1,000 preschools and, knowing the tax base issues we have here, I am not unsympathetic. To a degree. And that degree is irrelevant now that my mind is working overtime to prevent thoughts of an attack on a Jerusalem preschool–our preschool. Our preschool that is nominally protected by two things: a fence, and a gate with a key code and intercom. There are two preschools within this fence, each numbering over 30 children and two staff members. Yes, two. Two wonderful, busy women who cannot possibly respond to everyone in a timely manner during the drop-off and pick-up rush. So who does most of the buzzing in? My daughter and her friends. They have been taught not to open to strangers, but they are 4. And the fence can be scaled by a terrorist in minimally good physical shape. So I am fearful. And I deal with it by taking action.
On Wednesday morning, I showed up with 40 other Jerusalem mothers at the Knesset to participate in an emergency discussion convened by MK Margalit. Each mother who wished to speak was heard–mothers from all over Jerusalem, religious and secular, each just wishing for the safety of her children. We spoke about solutions that we would demand from the government: an armed security guard for every preschool in Jerusalem and a higher caliber of guard that could be achieved by changing the status of educational institution security to that of “preferred work,” opening the field up to a pool of young, trained, recently discharged IDF soldiers.
The second demand for work status change would also crucially help the situation at my younger son’s private daycare center, where a security guard cannot be found now. Margalit told us that he had sent a missive to the Prime Minister and called for an emergency session of the Knesset Education Committee this week. Many other groups and individuals are trying to move things forward as well.
But we still feel that it would be a minor miracle if we actually got what we are demanding: quality guards, safer children, better sleep at night, quiet for this city and all of Israel–and the world. Wish us luck.