By Debbie Perla
Since September 11, I have sensed a change in attitude
from people in the United States. Almost everyone points
out that now they have some inkling of the tension and
fear we feel every day here in Israel. I dont
think they do understand. I say this not because I think
there is nothing to fear in the United States (there
probably is) or because people there really do not know
fear (I am sure they do).
Undoubtedly, people in the United States will now have
to adjust to a new reality that we in Israel have been
living with since before the state was established.
The truth is, that mostly, I dont think about
the dangers around me. In order to survive here on a
daily basis and not go insane with fear and worry, most
of us simply go about each day, working, playing, taking
the children to school and activities, and we push the
bigger issues of bombs, shootings and war into the subconscious.
So how do we protect ourselves? Primarily by rationalizing.
We somehow convince ourselves that there are safe
places and unsafe places. We, like many
of our friends, have set limits for ourselves in terms
of the physical spaces we will and will not enter. We
have decided, arbitrarily, which places are safe and
which are not. We then try to live by these rules, with
the belief that in this way we will be protected. The
truth is, though, that everywhere in Israel is fair
game to the terrorist. I remember when the Sbarro restaurant
downtown was blown up, I asked how people could be so
foolish as to go into such a crowded, public place.
Didnt they know there was potential danger everywhere
downtown? I, however, heard the news while at the local
swimming pool with my children, which was packed with
some 100-150 people and no guard at the door. Some of
my friends think Im wrong to go there. But these
are the limits my family and I have set.
My fears become conscious primarily with my family.
When I leave my children in their gan (kindergarten)
programs each day, I wonder how easily a terrorist could
enter the building, and subsequently, their classrooms.
The media has made it known here that terrorists have
plotted attacks against kindergartens and schools. I
think about all the horrible things that might happen
when the children are on tiyul (hike) with their
classes. But even these thoughts remain hidden in my
brain, locked away among the many other terrifying possibilities
of life in Israel. The concern is always there; the
fear and panic remain dormant.
Lately, however, the fear has been awakened more and
more. In October this year, there was a shooting in
Talpiot, the neighborhood we live in. My then seven
month old, Etai, spends four mornings a week with a
babysitter, almost entirely outside, in the parks in
our neighborhood. I was completely panicked and I could
feel the fear building inside. I turned on the radio
and heard that the shooting had taken place in the commercial
district about a mile away. I realized that Etai was
fine. Then I started to cry.
There is no doubt that when you deal with these issues
every day, and you have the choice to return to relative
safety in the United States, one has to ask, why stay?
And in fact, we know people who are considering leaving
for that very reason. We have South African relatives
who made a trip to Australia to investigate emigrating
there. Their children had been caught in a crossfire
between Palestinians and the Israeli army while on a
field trip. They were having regular nightmares. Another
friend has her own dental practice, a beautiful home
with several acres of land and a generally comfortable
life. She also lives in Hadera, a city in the north
of Israel that has seen more of its fair share of terrorism
lately. She has already applied for a license in the
So why do we stay? Because when it comes down to it,
the reasons that made us want to move here in the first
place continue to keep us here. I love the fact that
I am in the majority and not the minority and that the
holidays recognized by the state are my holidays. I
love using Hebrew every day and knowing that it connects
me to thousands of years of history. And with all of
this, and more, I still believe that there is no better
place to be a Jew and to raise Jewish children than
here in Israel.
So the next day, Etai was out with his babysitter,
playing in the park. I can limit the boundaries only
so much. If we close ourselves in completely, we will,
emotionally, suffocate. And then, our enemies will have
won the battle.
Debbie Perla made aliyah from Long Island in l989.
She received a law degree from Hebrew University and
practices law part time. Debbie and her husband, Dr.
Ezra Kopelowitz, have three children, Yaniv (5), Gabriella
(4) and Etai (8 months). They live in the Talpiot neighborhood
of Jerusalem, and are active members of Congregation
Maayanot in Talpiot.
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