Center Field: This family's answer to the menace of terrorism

We'll stick to our routine, clean the garden furniture, go to baseball and swimming. We will show that we will not be moved.

mercaz harav funeral 224 (photo credit: )
mercaz harav funeral 224
(photo credit: )
Last week was what I am starting to think about as a typically strange week in Israel. Even before the horrific attack on Mercaz Harav here in Jerusalem we were living what I think of as the great Israeli disconnect. On the one hand, our major focus was on sticking to the shigra, a new word I learned this year - the routine. My wife and I spent much of the week juggling. On Thursday for example, we worked on helping our 10-year-old son with his shishim shana Israel-at-60 school project, getting our seven-year-old son to the stress test he had to take to play in his baseball little league, dropping our five-year-old daughter off at her swimming lesson, and preparing our 12-year-old daughter for her youth movement tiyul - trip. On the streets of Jerusalem the big headline was that the winter had lifted, spring was in the air. The meteorologists actually warned of sharav, a hot and dry spell, as our friends in Montreal struggled with another storm - this time 18 centimeters of snow mixed with 5 centimeters of ice pellets. In Jerusalem, the weather shift was so swift it felt as if someone had just flicked a switch. All of a sudden, the air was lighter, more fragrant, the sun brighter, more welcoming. Looking at the delightful explosion of red, blue, pink, purple, and white flowers suddenly blooming in our yard, I learned what a kalanit - an anemone - actually looks like, rather than simply thinking about it as some lyric in romantic Hebrew songs. I spent part of Thursday afternoon uncovering and cleaning garden furniture. I AM NOT smart enough or deep enough for this age of terrorism. I don't know how to square all that routine beauty with the pain of Sderot, the trauma of Ashkelon, the horrible choices Israeli soldiers and their commanders had to be making in split-seconds in Gaza, again and again as we enjoyed our Jerusalem spring. I cannot reconcile our borderline-boring but oh so safe and soothing familiar family routine with the tragedy of Roni Yihye the 47-year-old father of four with whom I identify (for some strange reason) killed last week at Sapir College, the heartbreaking stories of Palestinian children tragically or cynically caught recently in the crossfire, or the despairing families of the three soldiers killed this week - one of whom was a 27-year-old Beduin volunteer with eight children, including a baby born just last month, another of whom was an essential hearing and speaking link for his two deaf parents. It seems that headlines roll over everyone here in Israel at an astounding pace that you get inured to it, until the horror actually happens to you. And then the trauma of Thursday night hits. At approximately the same time as the terrorist was shooting up the seminary, a holy place of learning, I was showing two young guests from San Diego our neighborhood, Jerusalem's German Colony. We reached Yemin Moshe, standing at one of Jerusalem's many stunning overlooks, soaking in the entrancing beauty of the illuminated Old City walls. We then blithely strolled along the shops and cafes of Emek Refaim with no idea that at least eight young men, who probably had done the same thing many times, were having their lives cruelly taken from them at that same moment, on the other side of town. SO WHICH is the reality and which the illusion? I don't really know. And yes, the first human tendency is to hide, to run, to sweep up your children, hug them tightly, and keep them far away from the violence. But when you think about the cold-blooded killer, spraying hundreds of bullets at defenseless students, or the barbarians in Gaza and the West Bank who celebrated this bloodbath in a house of learning with victory shots in the air and candy thrown in the street, it becomes clear that we cannot hide, we cannot run - because they will never stop, they will never be satisfied. It sounds demagogic, paranoid, unenlightened, and most unscholarly but alas true: it really is yesterday Sderot, today Jerusalem, and tomorrow the West. And we all have to do what we can. Some, like one of the older students at the yeshiva, Yitzhak Dadon, age 40, will hear the shots, scramble up to a roof, look through the window, and eventually help stop the tragedy with two shots to the terrorist's head, followed by a 29-year-old Paratroopers Capt. David Shapira, who ran from bathing his children across the street, ignored police warnings that it was dangerous to enter, and actually killed the terrorist. Some, like friends in Montreal and all over the civilized world, will stand in silent prayer or loudly voice their outrage at rallies. And some, like my family and I are privileged to be doing right now, will stick to our routines, clean our garden furniture, go to baseball and swimming, make that presentation at school and enjoy the outing. And in doing that we will show that we, who love democracy and yearn for peace, will not be moved. We will not be discouraged. And we will enjoy this high quality of life, appreciating life, because that is what it means - to be a free people in our homeland, as we send warm regards, proudly, safely, calmly, happily, to our concerned friends and loved ones from Jerusalem. The writer is professor of history at McGill University, on leave in Jerusalem since July. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. His next book Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents will be published by Basic Books this spring.