The other night I was eating alone in one of my favorite restaurants on Jerusalem's Emek Refaim, enjoying a glass of red wine and absently watching a birthday celebration at a nearby table. Eight young women, all of them very pretty, clapped, smiled and sang as a sparkler flickered and flashed atop a tiny cake. It was lovely moment for the guest of honor's scrapbook. Cameras flashed as she beamed with pleasure, singing Yom Holedet Same'ah - Happy Birthday - along with her friends.
It suddenly occurred to me that I'd momentarily forgotten I was "in Jerusalem." Since my arrival in late July from California, the weeks of being a newcomer have faded into a pleasant familiarity and I find myself feeling at home most of the time. As for that particular restaurant, by now I know what I like on the menu, have a passing acquaintance with the waiter, and am more or less recognized by the Ethiopian guard at the door. Just then I glanced at him as he routinely inspected a woman's handbag and made a disinterested swipe with his metal detector across her husband's back pockets.
By then the sparkler was sputtering out, and for some perverse reason, it crossed my mind that this was the very kind of scene that had, in so many terrible incidents, been ripped open, blasted apart, torn into a million bloody little pieces.
A birthday party. A wedding reception. A bar mitzva. How many times has the story repeated itself in the newspaper or on television? Friends and families are sharing a carefree event, maybe just an evening out together, talking, singing, laughing, oblivious to what is about to happen. Then suddenly, with a deafening explosion, some angry young man who hates them more than he loves his own life murders or maims them all.
I took a deep breath and another sip of wine and tried to change my train of thought. But by now my mind was rushing beyond the guard at the door, even beyond the security fence that has, thankfully, reduced the threat of suicide bombs, causing terrorism's looming presence to shrink considerably here.
But meanwhile, week after week, another danger looms larger and closer - the nuclear ambitions of Ahmadinejad and his obsession with Israel's destruction. If he has his way, no security barrier, no diligent guard, no metal detector is going to prevent the kind of attack he envisions.
SO WHAT will stop him? Who? And when? In the months before I came to live in Jerusalem, I read three or four history books about the Jews, all of them culminating in the founding of the nation Israel. More recently, I read Six Days of War by Michael Oren and O Jerusalem! by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre.
All these books, in one way or another, reveal an almost supernatural tenacity, courage and determination that have enabled you, my amazing Israeli neighbors and friends, to bring forth a home for yourselves out of little more than ruins and rocks, swamp and sand. I've learned how you have innovated, created, improvised, made-do and invented astonishing solutions to an endless array of challenges. You argued and cajoled, charmed and bargained, begged, borrowed and even occasionally stole to get what you needed. Above all else, you defended your people - both in the Diaspora and in Israel - and you fought with all your hearts for the land of your fathers. You did it over and over again, despite intractable foes, in the face of international disdain, and against overwhelming odds.
To sum it all up into a sound-bite, Israel's history bears living testimony to the time-honored aphorism "Where there's a will, there's a way."
AS I looked around the restaurant I wondered about a couple of things. We all seemed relaxed and at ease, secure enough to enjoy an evening out without much thought of danger. Could we be living in a fool's paradise, refusing to recognize a menace far more horrifying than a suicide bomber? How seriously should we take all this apocalyptic rhetoric about hidden imams, nuclear bombs and eliminating the "Zionist entity"? Are we, as Victor Davis Hanson and other experts have written, actually living in a 21st-century version of 1939? Above all else, if the threat is real, can it be eradicated?
The answer seems, at least in theory, to be yes. Anyone who reads commentaries or blogs or listens to television pundits knows that there is no shortage of ideas being tossed around. Some strategists' brainstorms sound a lot more practical than others, some more politically correct, some more perilous. I don't know what is possible in terms of real-world diplomatic, political, military, technological or economic actions. What I do know is that, if history is any indicator, for Israel nothing is entirely impossible.
With all that in mind, I really don't think the question is whether there is a way. It seems to me that the question is whether there is a will. Is there enough Israeli fortitude, enough determination, enough hutzpa available right here, right now, to summon all the brains and brawn of this nation and put them to good use in stopping the Iranian madman and his mullahs in their tracks?
O Jerusalem, I hope so! Because as you have proved time and time again, if you possess the will, you will most certainly find the way.
The writer has authored or co-authored more than 60 books, primarily in the field of ecumenical Christian non-fiction. Her work includes the award-winning Their Blood Cries Out, co-authored with Paul Marshall, and the brief primer on Muslim history and beliefs, Islam at the Crossroads.
Opinion: A Jewish child's Christmas memories, By Sarah Shapiro
It was always magical, always a mystery, always the one day of the year that could be counted on to bring us together as a family
For some people, Christmas never keeps its promise. But for me as a child, Christmas never failed. It was always magical, always a mystery, always the one day of the year that could be counted on to bring us together as a family.
In other words, it was the one celebration (aside from Pessah dinner at Aunt Sophie's) that my father, Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins, wouldn't dream of missing.
But whereas Pessah was an obligation, Christmas was for him, and therefore for us, nothing but fun and a shimmering joy. And the fact that he could bestow it so guiltlessly upon his children represented, for him, America's wonderful liberation from his own parentsâ€š Old World ties and Jewish tribal bondage. Come December 24, no urgent meeting in Washington, no lecture in Des Moines, not even an editorial deadline, could ever have dragged him from our midst in snowy Connecticut.
My father may have yearned for freedom from ritual, but our observance of Christmas had many, and we guarded them zealously, inflexibly. The tree got decorated only on Christmas Eve, not before, and only tiny white lights were allowed, no multicolored ones. No one could open any present without everyone else looking on, so it took all morning long, opening everything one by one.
Then came the huge family breakfast, the only time all year we did such a thing, to eat breakfast all together, formally, in the dining room - with candles on the table and good linen.
And then, at last, the crowning glory: my father would appear in his annual Santa Claus costume, which as the years went by became more and more comical and absurd: Santa as an old woman, Santa as gorilla, Santa with little bells and a tin can hanging pitifully from his tail.
He succeeded so well, my father, creating a wonderful Christmas for his family, and for himself, he never guessed that somewhere inside me, something was missing.
AT 22, I started advertising to my family that I'd discovered my Jewish identity. I got work teaching English in the most Orthodox society I could find - Hassidic Williamsburg - and my first day on the job happened to be Sunday, December 25.
On the car ride going back to Connecticut a few days before the holiday, there I was in the back seat, my parents in the front, when I made my announcement. I was not going to be joining the family this year for Christmas morning festivities. I had a job. Not only was this a great touch as far as religion was concerned; it was also almost the first time in my life that I was going to earn a penny.
I remember now (with sorrow) how my father gripped the steering wheel and spun his head around. "Sarah!" It was as if he'd been struck. "What do you mean?"
"I got a job teaching English, and it starts on December 25," I explained proudly.
"But Sarah, this is a family tradition! We're always together on this day. You can't do that!"
My mother reached out and put one hand upon his.
"Oh, yes, I can," I shot back, my voice rising. "Christmas is a Christian holiday, and we're not Christian. I'm Jewish and so are you!"
"We don't look upon it as a religious holiday! It has nothing at all to do with religion!" His voice cracked. "For us it's a national holiday!"
I did go to my first day of work, and all the little girls seemed to enjoy the class, though the principal fired me politely when I showed up the next morning. Evidently some parents had complained that the new English teacher had had their daughters memorize a strange, gentile-sounding song about someone named Sally, that went: "I've got a bonnet trimmed in blue. Do you wear it? Yes I do!"
My parents would have joined right in. That song was one of our family traditions, dating back to my mother's Utah childhood. I'd shared it with my new charges with pleasure, and all their sweet and vivid voices had rung out: "When do you wear it? When I can. When I go out with my young man!"
Little did I know, coming from a family whose Christmas tree was at that moment standing in all its splendor in our living room, that little girls named Raizie and Feiga and Sara'le, from old Hassidic families in Williamsburg, have never heard of girls called Sally. Nor do they know what's so great about young men, much less that young ladies "go out" with them.
My shame was great. I had lost Christmas with my father, and the Hassidim in Brooklyn too. My show of independence had been a sham, and the Jewishness I was claiming as my own was not mine at all.
MY OWN children haven't had to go through this particular form of confused identity, this divided sense of self... this standing on the outside looking in. The rituals they have come to love are unequivocally their own.
They do not share my persistent sense of loss, whenever December 25 comes around... loss not of the Christian holiday that as a child I once so loved, but of the father who never knew we could have had our own magic, every Friday night. That's when Jews set apart one day each week to bring parents and children together - no matter what, kids, you can count on it - with special linen on the table, and singing, and candlelight.
The writer is the author most recently of The Mother in Our Lives (Targum/Feldheim) and Wish I Were Here (just published by Shaar Press). www.artscroll.com