Among recent terror attacks, this is our life; we have to know how to deal with it - comment

Perhaps all our prayers and recitations of Kaddish for the previous generations can make us deserving of better times. Perhaps someday the terror will stop.

 WORSHIPERS PRAY the afternoon service at the Jerusalem Central Bus Station earlier this week, after a security guard had asked if anyone left a suitcase unattended and just before he returned to evacuate the worshipers. (photo credit: DAVID JABLINOWITZ)
WORSHIPERS PRAY the afternoon service at the Jerusalem Central Bus Station earlier this week, after a security guard had asked if anyone left a suitcase unattended and just before he returned to evacuate the worshipers.
(photo credit: DAVID JABLINOWITZ)

Anyone who’s had the experience of saying Kaddish for a parent knows how the 11-month period brings with it countless challenges, which while demanding and difficult can also prove rewarding. I am currently in the midst of this period for my late mother.

The encounters with a cross section of people, different customs and different speeds of prayer are an eye-opener and an experience with which we honor our parents through our own perseverance to make sure we get to the synagogue three times a day, no matter where we might be.

A tremendous help which eases the process are the so-called minyan factories where one service after another is held each time a quorum of ten is cobbled together. There may be no set time at all. Just count. If you’ve got enough men, get started.

It’s especially common for Mincha, the afternoon service, when people need to pray when they’re away from their own synagogue. I have found my place at a minyan factory located in the Jerusalem Central Bus Station. The interactions among the worshipers are beautiful.

Unfortunately, an external force threw a monkey wrench into my schedule when I came to pray Mincha one day earlier this week. As soon as I walked into the Central Bus Station, there was an intercom announcement asking if someone had left a suitcase unattended.

I thought to myself about how these are tense security times but I didn’t think about the announcement all that much after that initial observation. I climbed the escalator one flight to the level where bus platforms for departing routes and the synagogue are located.

LOTAR forces taking part in the manhunt for the two Elad terrorists. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)LOTAR forces taking part in the manhunt for the two Elad terrorists. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

I made my way that late afternoon into the synagogue, and we began Mincha. While we were saying the silent Amidah, a security guard walked in and asked the same question as I had heard over the intercom just a moment earlier: Had anyone left a suitcase behind?

When no one replied in the affirmative, the security guard motioned almost apologetically and walked out of the synagogue, leaving us to return to the prayer.

But then, during the rendition of Amidah recited aloud by the hazzan, the security guard returned and this time he wasn’t apologizing. He requested that we leave the synagogue in the midst of Mincha – immediately – and head down the corridor away from an area that had been cordoned off in order to further examine the suitcase to ascertain if it was a bomb.

THE PROCESS was calm. Israel has known of suspicious objects – sometimes explosive, sometimes left behind accidentally – for decades. I can personally remember getting stopped on a street in Jerusalem as long ago as while studying in Israel for a year, still living otherwise in the US, back at the age of 18, and standing on that street for many minutes while a suspicious object was examined.

It’s happened again and again over the years since, sometimes a false alarm but other times the real thing.

In this week’s case, I managed to quickly get a bus from an area of the corridor at the central station that was not cordoned off. The drama was still unfolding as I left on my way home out of Jerusalem. But I heard nothing about it on the news later, so I assumed that it was not a bomb after all, and that all was well.

Still, I was in an interesting situation, yet another – unexpected – scenario in the Kaddish experience. I had prayed Mincha with a minyan. But I never got to the very end of the service when the Kaddish is recited.

So, when I arrived home, in the city of Beit Shemesh, I went to my local synagogue, did not pray the whole service, just the concluding portion and fulfilled my obligation as a mourner.

Another first: praying a service in two different cities, interrupted by a potential bomb threat.

This alert came amid these continuing difficult and indeed deadly times of terrorist attacks, yet another wave in Israeli history. And it wasn’t the first scare of my day.

On the bus that morning on my way to work, from Beit Shemesh to Jerusalem, a Muslim woman had boarded. I didn’t notice. Why should I? Contrary to what some would want you to believe, Israel is not an apartheid state. All law-abiding individuals are welcome to be a part of our amazing country; it should and does go without saying.

But first some background: on the way to Jerusalem, when this bus stops at several locations as it makes its way through Beit Shemesh, only boarding passengers are allowed. It’s an express route. Disembarking is permitted only later in the route.

At the final stop in Beit Shemesh, the Muslim passenger asked to disembark. It pains me to even distinguish her as a Muslim. But here’s what happened: the bus driver expressed surprise at her request, but of course let her off the bus.

THEN, AS we drove off from that stop and set out on our way, a passenger jumped and reacted with great concern over what had just happened. “Where was she sitting?!” the passenger asked with great alarm. A couple of other passengers scrambled to look around the area where the just-disembarked passenger had sat to examine if she had left anything behind – in other words, anything that might be explosive.

“Whose case is that?” a passenger asked anxiously looking at the upper storage compartment inside the bus. “It’s mine,” the driver assured the passenger.

We were setting out on the route that would include travel on two major highways to take us to the entrance to Jerusalem. There was a genuine fear; what if the woman had placed a bomb somewhere and that’s why she disembarked early before the major part of the trip?

The mood was jittery and even giddy among those riding on the bus. People were laughing, but it was at least partially from a sense of nervousness. The driver said he would give charity for our own well-being and for that of the Muslim woman because we seemingly were falsely suspecting her of terror activity.

Conversations were breaking out among passengers. A woman asked a fellow passenger, a hassidic man, whether there are certain blessings or prayers to say to help overcome these anxious times. The camaraderie among the people on the bus was heartwarming. But we knew this was not right.

On the one hand, people are being murdered in a spate of attacks. The country is on alert. On the other hand, to our dismay, we were making a generalization about a particular person. We are getting killed because we are Jews; we do not want to suspect someone simply because he or she is Muslim.

I raised the issue later, after the bus ride, with friends and acquaintances of differing political points of view and they were united in the feeling that the fear on the bus was justified, though the concept is obviously troubling. When I had gotten off the bus, I raised the dilemma with the driver.

He said two things: “Pray and give charity to help our situation.” Then he shrugged his shoulders and said: “In the meantime, this is our life and we just have to know how to deal with it.”

Perhaps all our prayers and recitations of Kaddish for the previous generations can make us deserving of better times. Perhaps someday the terror will stop.

The writer is the op-ed editor of The Jerusalem Post.