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Living Out Loud in the Face of Terror

January 7, 2016
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Over the last months of 2015, Israel found itself in the grip of the worst terror onslaught since the dreadful days of the Second Intifada (uprising) when Palestinian suicide bombers turned civilian buses and restaurants into raging infernos. International media has dubbed it the “The Knife Intifada,” while Palestinians proudly refer to it as “The Jerusalem Intifada.” To Israelis, it is simply known as “The Wave of Terror.”

The surge of violence started in early September, when a slew of stabbing, shooting and car ramming attacks transformed Israel’s streets into battlefields. In less than three months, 135 attacks claimed the lives of 22 Israelis. Hundreds more were wounded. The youngest victim was but a few months old, the oldest in her 80s. The statistics are atrocious. Yet no digits or data can touch on the horror that recurrent terror inflicts on the day-to-day existence of ordinary lives. Parents think twice about something as mundane as driving the kids to school. A trip to the grocery store or waiting for the bus can turn into a deadly outing.

We Survived

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Yet even in the face of mortal danger, life goes on. It must. But how do the people of a nation, living normal lives manage to go about normal everyday activities when something as abnormal as terror stalks women, children and the elderly like a menacing presence? The answer lies, perhaps, in the legacy of a people, woven from the threads of persecution, near annihilation and a tenacity to live that defies all odds.

There is a Jewish anecdote that is told and retold at every feast and festival in the Land of Promise. Fathers and grandfathers repeat it to sons and daughters as families gather around tables set for holiday celebrations. With wry wit it is said to offer the crux of every significant event in Jewish history: “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.”

Dark humor? Perhaps. Yet the element of truth is undeniable. The sweeping saga of Jewish endurance started in ancient times, as Hebrew slaves trudged through the burning sands of Egypt. It continued through generations as the Babylonians, Greeks and Romans left their scars of destruction on the tiny nation of Israel. Yet the people survived.

Then came the Crusades, followed by the Spanish Inquisition, the pogroms and finally the Holocaust. And still the Jewish people remained. “They tried to kill us. We survived.” Yet the anecdote tells but half the story. The Jews did not merely survive. When the enemies came against the people of Promise in a flood of destruction, their answer was to cling to life with determined joy.

Life Goes On

Today, Palestinian propaganda, hate and incitement have once again turned the threat of terror into a daily reality. As the news of the first flood of attacks broke, a horrified hush crept over the nation. Israelis everywhere wanted to gather their loved ones close within the safety of family homes and apartments. For a few days, a mournful quiet clung to Israel’s bustling cities. Teeming pedestrians vanished from streets, leaving the usually congested sidewalks eerily bare. Near-vacant buses sped past deserted bus stops. And waiters sat idly in empty restaurants, hoping for customers that did not come.

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 Yet the people of Israel know that even in the face of mortal danger, life goes on. Just like countless times in the past, the Jews answered the flood of terror with a dogged determination to live. As terror continued to stalk city streets, the people of Israel left the safety of their apartments to get on with life. In a steady trickle the bare sidewalks, vacant buses, and empty restaurants filled with people again. They appeared somewhat weary, always watchful but never cowering.

Faced with the prospect of running into a knife or ax-wielding terrorist on the bus or in the market, the nation stocked up on pepper-spray. And when no more pepper-spray was to be found, the people of Israel got creative. Pictures on social media showed an elderly lady going about her daily routine, a rolling pin peeking out of her handbag. Another showed a Jerusalemite brandishing a spray bottle filled with oven cleaner and a gentleman with a frying pan tucked into his belt.

With Determined Joy

Soon the streets of Israel echoed with the sounds of busyness. On Friday afternoons before Shabbat, yeshiva students once again joined hands with soldiers at the Western Wall to sing like a mantra: “Am Yisrael Chai!” (the people of Israel live). And so they do.

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Ariel Biegel and Sara Litman celebrate their wedding with Sara Netanyahu and 10,000 guests. (Photo: Ashernet)

The best example of answering terror with life is arguably the story of Sara Litman. Five days before her wedding, the young bride-to-be’s father and brother were gunned down by Palestinian terrorists. The wedding was postponed. Yet as the family sat shiva (seven-day mourning period), Sara issued another wedding invitation. This time she called on all of Israel to come to her wedding, to sing with her, to dance in the face of tragedy and show that the Jewish people would not cower to terror. The invitation concluded with the words from Micah 7:8, “Do not rejoice over me, my enemy, for I have fallen but I have gotten up.” More than 10,000 Jewish people from Israel and around the  world showed up to sing and celebrate with the courageous young bride.

Generations of near extermination and seventy odd years of Arab violence have taught the Jews that there can be no cowering, no crouching and no hiding away. Mere survival is, after all, only half an existence. In the face of terror, when the threat of annihilation or death crouches close, the people of Israel know that the only answer is to live—out loud, on purpose and with determined joy.

Source: By Ilse Posselt, BFP News Correspondent

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