Adina is the daughter of one of my best friends and one of my daughter’s best friends. My aunt and uncle and many of my cousins and friends live within a short distance of Adina and her family. This is her story.
We overslept this morning. Instead of our usual 6am wake up, my husband woke with a start at 6:50. I was nursing the baby while he got up to brush his teeth. Within minutes he returned, handing me his phone silently. “Terrorist apprehended in Zayit neighborhood of Efrat, one wounded, all residents told to stay indoors.” I handed his phone back to him and said, “oh.”
Sometimes there is no response to the unthinkable. Sometimes there is no response to what is almost inevitable and yet we hope and pray so desperately to avoid.
If you exit my home you’ll find a set of stairs. Go up the stairs, turn left onto the next street and walk twenty five paces up the hill. You’ll see a small park with three colorful slides and a see-saw. My kids call it “the crinkly slide park”. Cross the street and look behind the first house. You’ll see a dirt access road. The road is lined with olive and fig trees. Sometimes my kids and I like to go pick figs on that road. The last time I went there I tripped on a large rock and scraped my knee. Right there, behind the quiet houses and the fruit-bearing trees and the wooden swing and the swirling orange dust of the dirt road, a terrorist hid last night. He crouched in a bush for five hours while two knives in his pocket whispered murder into his heart.
I don’t know which village he came from, I don’t know how long he was planning this for. I don’t know if he was a desperate pawn or a brainwashed ideologue or a frightened, manipulated teenager. I don’t know if he’d tried to kill people in the past and been thwarted. I don’t know if this was his first time in Efrat or his fiftieth. But I know that this morning the cold clutching terror yet again clawed up from its spot of refuge to grasp me with its icy tentacles.
My heart is shattered, but in familiar places. It breaks each time we are reminded of our fragile lives here in Israel and repairs itself as time heals the worry and the wounds. But those breaks are fault-lines and they run in predictable patterns, breaking and healing repeatedly as we navigate our staid lives interspersed with heart-stopping, heart-breaking terror. A soldier was wounded doing his job this morning, but we all know what could have happened instead. As we scrupulously lock our doors, day and night, we remember the could-have-beens and the what-has-beens of Israel’s reality. We smile and nod, shop and laugh, gather at parks and restaurants and shows, relying not only on our soldiers and our God who leads and protects them, but also on our desperate need for normalcy.
We hadn’t told the kids yet what had happened and my three year old saw soldiers combing the street below at 7am. Excited, he ran out onto the balcony to see better, but I called him inside and shut the glass sliding door. Why? My boys asked. Why can’t we go outside? To children, soldiers are exciting — brave and strong and impressively geared. To me, soldiers are a frightening acknowledgement of our tenuous hold on this country that has been the longing passion of our nation-soul for eons of persistent dreaming, yet ours for only sixty eight fragile years.
“A bad man came into Efrat last night, but the chayalim (soldiers) caught him,” we tell the kids, “they’re here to make sure there are no more bad men.” They accept this simple explanation with the purity of their belief in the endurable power of goodness to vanquish the dark.
The lock-down is lifted and by 7:30 parents are leaving for work and children are waiting for school busses on the street corners. It’s as if life is back to usual, except what seems like the entire IDF has gathered onto our small hill. Friendly soldiers are giving children candy and concerned mothers are bringing the soldiers cold water and fresh chocolate chip cookies. Our community will have a barbeque tonight for the chayalim at the exact spot where the terrorist was caught. The joy and deliverance bubble over from within our deep gratitude and appreciation for being saved from unthinkable horror this morning, yet they cannot fully hide the anxious tinge of concern that floats underneath the surface of our brave posturing. When will it happen again? Where? And next time — at what cost?