Special to Jpost: A new year ringing with gunfire

"Today I lived what every Israeli has lived multiple times in his life. Of all the emotions that I felt today, the two strongest were thankfulness and anger."

By LILY SIRONI
January 3, 2016 01:50
Tel Aviv gunman opens fire on Dizengoff Street

Tel Aviv gunman opens fire on Dizengoff Street. (photo credit: Courtesy)

A girl and her best friend sit in a casual cafe agonizing over their term paper for one of their more difficult courses on the History of the Modern Middle East.

Between cups of coffee they discuss the intricacies of the Turkish move toward a republic as they sit facing a large picture window overlooking the intersection of Frishman and Reines streets.

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One police car passes, then another. Two minutes pass and three ambulances come screaming past the little cafe in the direction of one of Tel Aviv’s favorite shopping boulevards. The girl looks out the window through the rain to wonder at the cause of this tumult and utters a small prayer for whoever may be involved. A few minutes later the waiter notifies the girls that a gunman has opened fire on a pub two blocks away from where they are sitting and that the shooter fled into the immediate area.

The girls resume their seats and start another cup of coffee to begin the wait for the all clear from the authorities. Suddenly, a lone figure rushes into the intersection.

He is wearing dark clothing and some form of a small hat, with a large assault rifle slung around his shoulder. He glances in the direction of the cafe and the girls utter a unified cry as they recognize the lone man as the gunman from two blocks up. On the other side of the glass is the man who has just shot and killed two along with injuring many others. Instinctively the entire cafe stands to its feet and retreats from the windows as the shooter pauses to consider his route. In another moment he is off down a side street to continue his flight from the police.

Seconds later the police are on the scene and begin to fan out in the surrounding area. The girls take a moment to register the shock that they have witnessed and find themselves shaking. It is decided among the patrons of the cafe that they will wait an hour until they decide that it is safe to leave. When the girls finally gather the courage to exit the cafe for their dash home, they stop to ask the advice of a policeman. He takes their destination into account and urges them to take Dizengoff Street due to the fact that it is now teeming with law enforcement because it is the scene of the crime. The girls walk in the rain until they reach a large crowd milling about the red line of police tape outlining the crime scene. Medical staff are frantically working on the injured whom they have moved inside and hurriedly taking statements from witnesses.

In despair the girls come to the realization that they are on the wrong side of the crime scene and will not be able to get through in order to continue the journey home. After a short discussion it is decided that they will backtrack a street over until they have looped around the pub where the shooting took place and then continue on to Dizengoff and home.

However, as they round the corner they are swept into a mass of dozens of shouting police officers who all seem to be converging on a certain apartment. The girls are caught off guard and panic when they realize that they may be within reach of the shooter for the second time. Emotions are high as the girls link arms and desperately hurry down a side street to escape the drama and flee. The feeling of being trapped like mice in a maze tries to overcome the twosome.

Suddenly the girls find themselves alone on an eerily silent street. The only sound is their ragged breathe and stifled sobs. The girl begins to pray aloud in the hopes that she will be able to calm herself and her friend. She prays for the protection of God and the safe return of herself and her friend home.

The next moment a man rounds the corner and begins down the street toward them. The girls stop dead in their tracks. In concerned Hebrew the man asks if the girls are headed home. The girl orders him to stop and not come closer.

The man assures the petrified pair that he is an Israeli and that he means no harm. The next second he reaches into his pocket and the girls’ hearts catch in their throats.

A sigh of relief is released by the both of them when only a wallet emerges from the pocket and an Israeli ID card greets their eyes.

The stranger offers to walk the girls home. They reluctantly agree, but ask that the man walk in front of them. He agrees and immediately begins to comfort the girls by telling them that he will get them home safely and they will recover from their shock shortly.

The trio walks in silence as they startle at every passing motorcycle and sharp movement. The man leaves the girls a block before theirs and tells them to go directly home. After quick hugs and tears of thanks the group part ways.

The girls practically sprint the remaining distance and race up the stairs to their apartment. Once inside with the door shut and locked, the pair freezes. They stand rooted to the floor blinking and unable to move, soaking wet and shaking in shock. Then all at once they sink to the floor in wrenching sobs as the adrenaline wears off and their bodies move from flight to fright. For minutes that seem like hours all the girls can do is cry. They are spent and have no control left to muster. Frantically the girls call their families to assure them that they have made it home safely. This only brings on another wave of tears as they relate their story to their shocked parents. In the next few hours the girls try to calm down and care for each other the only way they know how, hoping that someday this day will fade into a memory.

This story was my reality today.

Today I lived what every Israeli has lived multiple times in his life. Of all the emotions that I felt today, the two strongest were thankfulness and anger. Thankfulness to God for protecting me and sending an angel to get us safely home, and then anger at the normality of our situation. This reality is something that Israelis live with.

Many of them would even count us lucky, because we didn’t witness the actual attack. As a world citizen you realize the threat of terrorism in modern society, but it does not become your reality until you lock eyes with it in the streets of Tel Aviv.

Perhaps the most notable effect of my day was the steely determination that was built within me.

This is the same grit that every Israeli is determined to possess.

It is a decision not let the terrorism of today affect your actions tomorrow. Tomorrow Erin and I will go out for breakfast and resume our writing in another cafe of our choosing, because just as Israel has continued to grow and thrive in the midst of such senseless violence, so too will we.

We have been called to this place and no devil in hell or gunman with a rifle is going to dictate that we live our lives in fear.


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