HomeJanuary 2014Take Back the Night

Take Back the Night

The lawyer looked at us across the faux-wood tabletop and asked, “Are you sure this is a good investment?”  I was stunned, or, more accurately, I was hurt and angry.  He may have been my attorney, but he’d been a friend first, and I thought he understood what a major decision and accomplishment this was for us, buying an apartment.
“What do you mean?” I asked, somewhat incredulously.  “We looked at seventeen places in affordable corners of the city, and this is the winner.  It wasn’t a callous decision!  We’ve done the homework. . . ”
He was merely asking, he said, because of our proximity to several Arab villages in the south of Jerusalem.  Property values might be compromised if political conflict erupts or crime increases.
My husband and I took a moment and restated our thinking:  “‘Fear’ has no place in our narrative; this is a mixed city.  We do not want to live in a ‘safe’ ghetto that is void of spirit, grit and the presence of the ‘common man.’  And on a more practical level, scads of young couples with babies are relocating to this neck of the woods, and if youngsters are investing in a neighborhood in which to raise their children, we want to be part of the action.”  In the end, we got the mortgage, signed the contract and, both wary and happy, moved in.
It felt unusual after all these years to share a power-walk route with Arab women or observe regular car traffic on Saturday in the Sabbath-sensitive city of Jerusalem.  And when I once ran out of milk before guests were to arrive, my husband and I drove down the road to the Arab grocery that we’d never thought to frequent.  The interactions between our two people in this wee section of the city are clearly cool, but they are not hostile.  People go about their business, but no one can call us “integrated,” even if we are next door neighbors.
And so I ignored the talk that said it would happen sooner or later.  After all, if I were to think about all the terrible things that can happen when one lets her guard down, I’d never leave the house.  Or send my son back to his army base.  Or buy cheese with more than 0.5% fat.
So when a group of teenage boys from Tsur Bahar threw a large rock at a passing car – down at the end of my street – and dented the skull of two-year old Avigail Ben Zion, a frenzied hew and cry erupted from this ordinarily quiet, near-corny neighborhood where  bake sales and folk-dancing evenings are the carte-du-jour.  Our community Facebook page was immediately peppered with calls for volunteer sentries and greater police visibility.  Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was excoriated both in print and the electronic media as having little time or interest in Jerusalem’s perimeter neighborhoods, and the Sabbath table buzzed with uncertainty as folks considered a possible drop in the price of real estate.  (In between reciting the appropriate blessings over wine and bread, of course. . . .)  Not satisfied with merely hurling rocks to terrify their Jewish neighbors, after the identified assailants were taken into custody, a spate of additional acts of aggression were unleashed, as though to say, “You think arresting us is a deterrent?  Think again!”
Suddenly, the funny observations of being a Jewish minority in a supposedly Jewish neighborhood weren’t all that humorous.  I’d never before blinked while supermarket shopping or waiting for a flu shot, even though I was frequently the only member of the tribe in sight; But now the other faces in the waiting room or check-out line looked suspicious.  And this made me angry.  “Fear” is heavy, weighs a ton and “anger” weighs even more.  It was becoming harder and harder to believe that “we” and “they” wanted the same things from our lives: I hate hating.  But still, when my husband came home last night he commented that more and more guys in synagogue were wearing their licensed guns; he was thinking of taking his out of the safe and making it ready, just as a precaution.  “Say what?” I asked, “You’re going to carry a gun again?”
When we’d begun dating and he was still living in Bet El, there was a comfort knowing that middle-of-the-night drives came with an added measure of protection in an area that had suffered greatly during the Second Intifada.  In fact, I was not-so-secretly excited to be in the presence of a trained marksman who would/could rescue my inner-damsel; a New-Age Sensitive Guy who could protect the homestead and, at the same time, grow weepy while listening to a CD of Andrea Bocelli’s greatest hits.
It might be mentioned that American Secretary of State John Kerry does not live in my neighborhood, and that is why I will ignore him when he affectedly warns me, my husband, children and neighbors that we must further kowtow in order to avoid a Third Intifada.  It behooves me not to question whether or not Arabs are grossly offended by this warning!  And are we again being admonished to be good-gooder-goodest Jews and stop agitating our enemies?  That we have not earned the right to say, “Enough.  Enough prisoner releases.  Enough land-for-nothing.  Enough free education and tax-deferment and medical services while we cower within bullet-proof buses and upgrade our gas-masks”?
Not only is “fear” heavy.  It is exhausting and there are too many things to accomplish during the day, week, month and life I live for me to waste time being frightened.  Groups of thugs prowl the local Promenade, frightening women and couples and engaging in petty crime and frightening people to stay away.  Not me.  No way.  No how.  I will NOT bypass the scene of the aforementioned rock-throwing incident; on my watch, thugs will not be rewarded with empty roads or streets.  Defiantly, I will walk the dog at all normal hours of the evening and refuse to hide behind a closed door in a neighborhood that I call mine.  It will take more that a nationalistic hoodlum to bully me into driving inconvenient alternative routes in the hope I’ll stop behaving as though this neighborhood, city and country are mine.

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