If I Forget You, Yerushalayim

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Taomon Cafe, Jerusalem
08 May 2017

I am jealous of my son. He is going on a field trip to the Old City of Yerushalayim tomorrow. As much as I would love to go with him, I was surprised to learn that not all of the mothers of his classmates feel the same way. About a year ago, when all of Israel, but especially Yerushalayim, was experiencing an upswing of terror attacks, an acquaintance told me that his son’s class was going on a field trip to the Old City, and he asked the principal to reconsider, out of safety concerns. The principal told him that if he was too scared to let his son go to the Old City, maybe he should move back to America. This sounded like a very harsh answer. I didn’t imagine that just a year later, I would be on the flip side of the conversation. Last week, when my son’s field trip was announced, a few Israeli mothers took to the class WhatsApp group, airing their fears. “It’s dangerous. Things have happened there! I don’t want to send my son…” I was shocked. I found myself and another Anglo mother defending Yerushalayim to a bunch of Israelis!

The first time I visited Israel was in the summer of 2001. The middle of the Second Intifada. The summer Sbarro’s was bombed. The Jerusalem-based program I attended, NCSY Michlelet, had much lower attendance than the previous summer. From the perspective of parents in America, watching the news helplessly from across the ocean, I understood their hesitation to send their children into the unknown. As a teen on the program, I was thrilled to be fulfilling the dream of thousands of years of Jews in exile to return to Yerushalayim. I had attended a Zionistic Hebrew Day School and learned in high school about the mitzvah of living in Israel and the meaning of the prayers we say every day. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and after graduating from high school, I came back for good.

  I lived in Yerushalayim for thirteen years, and though I moved to a suburb in recent months, my heart is still there. From the second half of the Second Intifada through last year’s terror wave, I was proud to write Jerusalem as my home address. I rode busses in seminary when most of my friends took taxis. My husband was learning in Mercaz HaRav the year of the deadly massacre. Five years ago, I worked in the Old City for about a year, and though it took me a few weeks with my awful sense of direction, I learned the shortcut through the shuk from Sha’ar Yafo to the staircase into the Jewish Quarter. With each footstep striking the worn stones, I would think to myself, “How did I earn the privilege to be living in Yerushalayim and working in the Old City? My grandparents could never imagine such a life. Ten years ago, it was still a dream to me. This is what we daven for every day!” A few times, I literally pinched myself to make sure it was real. Last year, living in the neighborhood of Kiryat Moshe, near the entrance to the city, the Central Bus Station, and the Chords Bridge, I regularly heard sirens signaling an attempted stabbing, car ramming, or other attack. Through all this, I felt privileged to be living the dream of living in Yerushalayim. I am not fearless. Show me a cockroach or a roller coaster, and I’ll run the other way. Turn on an ambulance siren in front of my home in Yerushalayim, and I may start shaking, but I’m staying put. I know that Hashem is watching us wherever we live.

  Perhaps it is precisely because we made the choice to live here that it was the Olah mothers speaking so strongly in favor of our Holy City. Someone who grew up here is here by default, knows no other life. Though they may feel threatened, there is nowhere to run. The truth is, ever since my first visit, back in high school, Israelis have been asking me why I want to live here, how I could leave my parents behind, why I don’t go back when there are so many terror attacks here. Maybe the questioners didn’t have the same education as I did, pushing me to hold onto Yerushalayim with all my might. Or perhaps, they don’t feel as strongly because they didn’t sacrifice in the same way to attain it. A young man who grew up wealthy and takes over his father’s successful business may consider selling out much faster than his friend who grew up without running water and worked his way through school and into the business world. Likewise, it may be easier for some native Israelis to take our home for granted.

I can’t speak for all his classmates, but my son is going to the Old City tomorrow.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.