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Home January 2016 What’s in a Word?

What’s in a Word?

0116simantovWe screamed the word, but no one heard. The word was “terror,” and over time it failed to stun those it was meant to awaken from a communal stupor. Some yawned, and others grew annoyed, from our pushy insistence that someone take notice of our plight.

In the early days of this recurrent siege, the West split hairs in trying to determine whether the culprit was called Islam, radical Islam, ISIS, Hamas, all-Arabs, some-Arabs, not-bad-people-only-those-who-behave-badly-type-people. We might have weighed-in on some of the discussions, but time flies when stemming blood flow, calling for emergency medical help and concurrently performing CPR. In our Israeli world of “normal,” elementary-school children are routinely taught to tie a tourniquet and leave the knife in place.

I try to explain to dear ones that driving to Bet El for shabbos is dicey, only to be asked, “Why, did something happen?” Or, from those who saw videos of the wedding celebration of  Sarah Techiya Litman and Ariel Beigle, hearing a reaction such as: “That’s no wedding; it looks like a job-fair.” Blinking back tears, I think to myself, “Are we truly the same nation? Did we really stand shoulder-to-shoulder at the foot of Mount Sinai and receive the same Torah?”

This sense of isolation felt akin to despair, when a former high-school classmate wrote on my Facebook page the by-now anemic bracha, “Stay safe, Andrea.” Unfairly, I wanted to lash out to this kind sentiment with: “What does that mean?”

Was my neighbor Richard shot and stabbed on the neighborhood bus because he forgot the “remain vigilant” warning? If I don’t remember every utterance of “stay safe,” “be careful” and “watch yourself,” in case of the worst, G-d-forbid, will I be accused of complicity in my own demise? When I responded to my “stay safe” classmate that I felt frightened for America because, unlike Israel, I fear that the government underestimates the magnitude of this external threat, she answered me snappily, “Don’t worry about us. After 9/11, this government knows exactly what to do.”

Really? Safety is no longer assured at Christmas parties, community centers, cinemas or classrooms. At one time Americans looked at blood-drenched Israel and, like Passover’s recalcitrant son, asked, “What does this have to do with me?” Today they know.

So the next time your local paper devotes an inch or two to the Israeli citizens who are cut down as they purchase a container of milk, bring food to a homeless shelter or sit down at their Sabbath tables, please don’t turn the page because it has nothing to do with you. Stop. Look. Recognize.

It’s called Terror. And we are you.

New York-born Andrea Simantov is a mother of six who moved to Jerusalem in 1995. She frequently lectures on the complexity and magic of life in Jerusalem and can be contacted at

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