Victims, families at Park Hotel, Netanya.
(photo credit: Courtesy One Family)
It’s April and Passover is upon us.
Here in Tel Aviv, the natives have
spent the last month or so in restless anticipation, glancing outside their
windows every day to check the weather and asking themselves the tired old
question, “Will today be a beach day?” It didn’t look as if the weather would be
forthcoming this year. Passover usually marks the beginning of the months-long
stretch of summer sun, but this time around winter blues continued to sweep the
coastline well into March and only last week the coastal city crackled and
rumbled as thunder and lightning fractured the night sky.
Avivians breathed a sigh of relief when the festival finally ushered in some
long-awaited, beach-apropos weather last Friday. It was not going to be a rainy
Passover after all.
The last time I can recall a Passover with
unseasonable weather was a decade ago in 2002. That year, the weather acted like
a wild woman – thrashing and gesticulating as bullets of hail rained down on the
country. I recall people observing that “hashamayim bochim” – the heavens are
And it wasn’t for no good reason. It was the year of the
Passover massacre in which 30 people lost their lives when a suicide bomber blew
up the Park Hotel in Netanya.
My parents and brother had come from
overseas to be with me that Passover. A few days before the festival, my brother
was with me in my apartment in central Jerusalem when we heard the sounds of a
blast not far off.
He looked at me quizzically, and I responded with a
horror-stricken expression. “It’s a bomb,” I said definitively.
my brother answered, “it must be construction work or a sonic boom or
something.” I shook my head sadly. We were living in the epicenter of the second
intifada and, like most Israelis at the time, I knew the drill.
less than 30 seconds later, the screams of sirens pierced the air heralding the
arrival of emergency vehicles at the bomb site in downtown
Less than a week later, my family was sitting down to begin
the second Seder when I went to check the news. The images of the Park Hotel’s
bloodied frame remain embedded in my mind today. I couldn’t believe it. Earlier
that month, my extended family had gathered together in that very hotel to
celebrate my cousin’s bat mitzva. I picked up the phone and called my aunt, who
was understandably hysterical. She told me that during their own Seder they had
heard the bomb explode, after which no one in Netanya had any appetite to
continue reading the Haggada. She cried, “How can we celebrate freedom when we
are still imprisoned by daily terror attacks?” And then she told me it was my
duty to report the attack to my family who were in the adjoining room observing
the second Seder, as prescribed for Diaspora Jews.
So I did. My mother
uttered a strangled cry. Her tear ducts split like the Red Sea and she just
sobbed. My father put his head down and shook it from side to side. “I already
knew,” he whispered, “Somebody told us in shul this morning. I didn’t say
anything because I didn’t want to ruin Yom Tov.” And immediately I felt guilty
for mentioning it. And then my guilt turned to anger. I was just a teenager; I
had no idea what the “right” way was to respond in the face of such a surreal
yet horrifying reality.
It was a reality that turned people into
paranoid, jittery drones and made everyone suspicious of everyone
That Passover, my parents and I rode the 480 bus from Tel Aviv to
Unlike most buses at the time, there was no security check
prior to boarding the 480, as is still the case today. Halfway through the
journey, one passenger – an elderly woman – pointed at a dark man with Semitic
features and cried out, “Mehabel, mehabel!” (Terrorist, terrorist!) A ripple of
panic swept through the passengers and my mother started saying the Shema prayer
quietly in her seat. The driver pulled over onto the highway shoulder and
requested that the “suspect” get off the bus together with his backpack. The man
obliged and the driver escorted him some distance away from the vehicle. A few
minutes later they both returned; it had of course been a false alarm. By way of
apology, the old lady murmured to the man, “you can never be sure,” to which he
responded gallantly, “that’s all right. I understand – I often get mistaken for
an Arab.” The bus journey resumed and I recall wondering what I would have done.
Would it have been “right” to have said something, even if I knew for sure the
man was an Arab? Was the driver’s act of heroism of escorting the man off the
bus and checking his bag the “right” thing to do? The Park Hotel atrocity wasn’t
the only terror attack of Passover 2002. Over the next four days, five more
suicide bombings took place across the country and by year’s end, the toll of
terror attacks had numbered over 130. Tel Aviv, a city that is usually known for
being both insular and insulated, was not immune from the horrors that took
place that Passover. On Hol Hamoed (the intermediate days of the holiday), a
bomb ripped through a café on Allenby Street, killing one person and injuring 30
TEN YEARS later and there has been no official commemoration of
the Park Hotel massacre or any of the other atrocities of the intifada. While
the US and the UK hold remembrance services for 9/11 and 7/7 respectively,
Israel chooses not to remind its citizens of what happened. Is this because we’d
rather forget? Is it a testament to our nation’s resilience and its proclivity
to just get on with the business of living? Is it our way of saying “you can’t
touch us” to those who seek our destruction? I do not know the answer and
neither do I know if the “right” thing to do would be to commemorate suicide
bombings on a national scale. What I do know is that something is not “right”
about the disconnect between Tel Aviv and the rest of the country.
not to say that all Tel Avivians live in a hazy bubble of complete oblivion, but
there is an overarching attitude of minding one’s own business that pervades the
Just a few weeks ago, rockets were being fired into the South from
To put things into perspective, the euphemistically termed “South”
includes Ashdod, a city that is a mere half-hour journey from Tel Aviv. Yet the
buzz and hubbub of Tel Aviv life belie the reality of bomb shelters and sirens
only 40 kilometers away.
Indeed, I include myself in this critique; I’m
wrapped up in my own life and, apart from scanning the headlines every so often,
I spare little thought for the residents of the South whose lives are
interrupted by rocket fire on a daily basis. The situation is so absurd that it
seems that the only feasible reaction is not to react at all. The mind-boggling
nature of past and current events in Israel simply invokes numbness. I’m certain
that this is not the way it should be, yet once again, I’m unsure of the “right”
way to react.
In the meantime, my trip to the beach to soak up the Hol
Hamoed sun pushes all other thoughts out of my head, including the question of
“will the rockets ever reach here?” I hope that Jews all over the world emerge
from this Passover celebrating the freedom that the festival
Freedom from having to decide what the “right” thing to do is
in the face of extreme adversity and freedom from being absorbed in our own