It should have been a fairly typical Friday night dinner.
Along with other families, we were invited to the home of longtime friends the Segals in East Talpiot. Only a short fence, a couple trees and a modest yard separate their split level home on the edge of the post-1967 Jerusalem neighborhood from the main street of adjacent Arab village, Jebl Mukaber.
In the aftermath of the previous night’s firebombing that killed 18-month-old Ali Bawabshe (and later his father, Sa’ad) in the Palestinian village of Duma, some young residents of Jebl Mukaber did what has become commonplace since the first intifada began in 1987 – they threw rocks over the fence at the Segals’ home.
That explained the dozen Border Police officers in full combat gear gathered on the sultry evening at the cul-de-sac across from the outside staircase leading down to our hosts’ home.
The rocks – around a dozen ranging in size between golf ball and tennis ball – were arranged by the Segals in a neat pile at the bottom of landing by the front door, a tradition they’ve kept to for decades.
This time, nobody was outside during the barrage and there was no damage to the house. But the Segals weren’t always so lucky. They’ve had to replace their living room picture window over a dozen times, and they can’t keep track of the firebombs and rocks that have landed inside, outside and around their house. They’ve been featured in the pages of The Jerusalem Post and in foreign media, and former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek was a regular visitor during particularly dark times.
Back during the first intifada, the Segals helped organize and participate in meetings between Jews in East Talpiot and Arabs from Jbel Mukaber.
But that project proved short-lived, and by the second intifada over 10 years ago, their home was once again fair game. More than once their Shabbat nap has been shattered by the commotion of security forces traipsing through their yard in chase after rock or firebomb-throwing youth from the village.
But life goes on, and – unable or unwilling to relocate – the Segals long ago vowed to live a “normal” existence despite the disruptions and danger. That routine is what brought the dozen guests around the Shabbat table that night.
Through the Kiddush, motzei and the tasty vegetable soup, the only sounds came from banter and lively conversation.
It was only after the main course of baked chicken, sautéed liver and roasted potatoes was winding down that the first harsh cacophony from outside rattled the walls.
“That’s only stun grenades, don’t worry,” said host Benjy Segal, an accomplished Masorti rabbi and evidently a munitions expert, to the beginning- to-worry guests. “The police are probably just trying to disperse some rock-throwers.
Who wants dessert?” With the dinner dishes cleared, and the crumble cake and tea on the table, the tranquil Friday night spirit returned, bolstered by a few Shabbat zemirot hymns.
That was until a sharp burst of light flashed by a side window off the living room. A few seconds later, a tree and brush in the yard next door to the Segals’ place were ablaze where a firebomb had exploded.
“We’d better take care of that,” said Benjy, jumping out and rushing outside to unravel the garden hose. With the help of some of the younger guests, the fire was doused, and with smoke seeping into the house, we gathered around the table again.
“This is how you live, with this craziness around you all the time? How do you do it?” asked one of the guests.
“You get used to it, and luckily, nobody has ever been hurt,” said Benjy’s wife, Judy.
“Does anyone want any more cake?” On the day Israelis were rightfully beating their breasts and searching their souls to find an answer to how Jews could have committed the Duma atrocity and the Gay Pride Parade stabbings in Jerusalem, a home in Jerusalem was being stoned and firebombed by Palestinians.
It wasn’t aimed a remote West Bank outpost or settlement, it was in the sovereign capital of Israel.
The next night, thousands of somber and angry Israelis gathered in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa to condemn the terrorism from within. But nobody seemed to remember that there has never been a respite in terrorism directed at Israelis from without – sometimes from the next street over.
The Segals can’t help but remember, though. It never leaves their thoughts, even as they bid their guests farewell after what turned out to be quite a unique Shabbat dinner.
“Don’t linger on the steps when you go up. Nobody’s been hurt yet, we don’t want that streak to end,” said Judy cheerfully.
At the top of the landing, the border police were back at their perch following the earlier activity. Their helmets off, they were munching on some food that neighbors had brought out.
The warm evening had turned very quiet, as if the action of a few minutes earlier had been on a wide-screen TV as part of a suspense film instead of the reality of a Friday night in Jerusalem.
Like the Segals, the security forces were attempting to enjoy the brief wash of tranquility.
They knew that the night was still young – and those inviting picture windows were an enticing target.