By Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis
V’af al pi cheyn, v’lamrot hakol, Eretz, Eretz, Eretz Yisrael, “Nevertheless, despite everything, all Jews yearn for Eretz Yisrael.”
My wife, Cheryl, and I recently returned from Israel. We went to celebrate two family weddings despite what the Israelis refer to as the Matzav (the Situation).
David Suissa on www.aish.com in a great article, “Fear in Jerusalem,” calls this the “knife intifada, the latest version of the Arab war against the Jews.” After failing for 68 years to crush Israel with regular armies, suicide bombers, rockets, tunnels and the like, the enemy has now stumbled onto a brilliant strategy: Strike ordinary people anywhere, any time, any place, with ordinary weapons, like a kitchen knife or a car.
Israel’s enemy is using Israel’s open society against itself, turning the country’s vibrant street life into the new battlefield. In this latest war, the choice targets are pedestrians. There’s no Iron Dome that can stop a knife that pops out of a terrorist’s pocket and no roadblock that can stop a car that barrels into pedestrians waiting for a bus. There’s no intelligence that can alert you to random acts of street terror. This is the One-Second Intifada, and there’s no easy way to stop it.
Suissa writes: “There are different kinds of fears. Some fears are specific — you can stumble into a dangerous neighborhood, receive a bad diagnosis from a doctor or get caught up in a legal battle. Remove the circumstance, and the fear goes away. Other fears, however, are more generalized and random. You never know when something bad might happen. Violence can strike you anywhere, any time, any place. It is the latter fear that is permeating the city of Jerusalem these days. Every face is a potential assailant; every car a potential weapon.”
I have visited Israel often the past 45 years — through wars, riots and intifadas — but I cannot ever before recall being afraid to walk its magical streets. Yes, during previous intifadas I would avoid large crowds or buses. But on this visit I always had to watch my back, and I noticed that other pedestrians were watching me, too. After all, I do look like a terrorist, don’t I?
Israeli resiliency has overcome so many threats, but it is being severely tested by this One-Second Intifada.
While we were in Jerusalem, we walked the streets by day and night, visiting the sites and eating at the amazing new kosher restaurants — so amazing that I gained 10 pounds. But all the time, even on Shabbos — we had a can of Mace strapped to our belts.
It was so eerie how normal it all seemed. In fact, Cheryl remarked as we were driving back from celebrating her birthday at the Dead Sea how she was just beginning to feel safe. The next morning we read in The Jerusalem Post how two Palestinians stabbed a beloved rabbi at the Jaffa Gate to the Old City and how another Jew was killed in the melee. We had been there the day before.
True to form, CNN’s headline reporting the attack read: “Four die in violent stabbing at Jaffa Gate.” And CBS was worse: “2 Palestinians killed after stabbing attack in Jerusalem.” But how the media report what happens in Israel is a discussion for another time.
We thought we were safe when we left Jerusalem for a week in Tel Aviv, and we did feel safe walking the streets of Tel Aviv. But when we returned home, we received a text from our son, who was still there, not to worry because they were safe even though there was a shooting in Tel Aviv at a pub on busy Dizengoff Street just four blocks from where he was staying.
I saw the video of the killer calmly buying vegetables in a grocery store before pulling out an Uzi submachine gun from his backpack as he exited the store and firing indiscriminately, killing two and wounding seven.
Don’t get me wrong. I would go back to Israel tomorrow if I had a good reason to return. Despite everything we read and hear, Israel is an amazing place to be. Israel is no longer the backwater country it used to be — a place where you had to bring your own toilet paper.
Israel has become a world leader in technology, medicine, agriculture and cinema. A remarkable cultural renaissance has sprung up the past decade. The arts, music and theater scene are world class. New hotels, restaurants and high-tech parks have sprung up. New highways are sprouting everywhere, and tourism has been at record levels — until now.
This Matzav has darkened the picture. The hotel people and cabdrivers I spoke to told me that business is way down. Ben Yehuda Street, the usually mobbed pedestrian mall in the heart of new Jerusalem, is quiet. Few joined us for the free breakfasts at the King Solomon Hotel in Jerusalem because so few guests were staying there.
This Matzav is threatening a treasured aspect of Israeli society: its extraordinary street life. Take that away and you rip out Israel’s heart. Israel’s enemies seem to understand this.
These new acts of terror don’t come with grievances or demands. As they stab innocent people or ram their cars into children, the killers are not agitating for a higher minimum wage or better health care. They’re aiming to rip out the heart of a society that loves life.
It’s not just Israel anymore, as the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino make clear. A couple of Islamic State-backed New Year’s Eve terror attacks were foiled, thank G-d. But they were jolting.
In New York, the FBI arrested a man charged with planning an attack on a bar New Year’s Eve to prove to Islamic State, which encouraged the attack in an email, that he was worthy of joining the jihadists in Syria.
At the same time on the other side of the Atlantic, police in Munich warned of a “serious, imminent threat” by Islamic State suicide bombers and told people to stay away from the city’s main train station.
This time of year we read about the Jews in Egypt and how they began to expand. They grow and prosper so much that the new Pharaoh can’t stand it. So he enslaves them, but they continue to grow. He then commands the Hebrew midwives to throw the Jewish newborn boys into the Nile. But even this doesn’t work. The Jews continue to survive and grow.
And the Jews today will continue to survive, grow and thrive nevertheless. The world must stand firm against terrorism of any sort and thus tell Islamic State, al-Qaeda, Iran and whomever that it won’t work, that we will continue to live, to grow and to thrive.
When I think back on my visit to Israel, I think about that famous Israeli song that I began with: V’af al pi cheyn, v’lamrot hakol, Eretz, Eretz, Eretz Yisrael. Despite everything, Israelis and all Jews declare: Israel is here. We’re here. If you have a problem with that, deal with it!