It was the sirens that were the first hint that something had happened. I was in the middle of a lesson towards the end of the school day when I heard them. Living in any big city means that one gets used to sirens, but this time there were many of them together. Something was going on.
I continued the lesson ignoring the sirens. If anything, I was surprised that the pupils hadn’t drawn attention to them themselves, after all pupils always look for opportunities to disrupt the normal flow of a lesson. It occurred to me only afterwards that perhaps they had been too young during the second Intifada of the early noughties to have had their senses honed to slightest whiff of a terrorist attack in
. I, in comparison, was a seasoned veteran and when the lesson ended, it seemed that my instincts had not been dulled during the period of relative calm that Jerusalem had been enjoying for a number of years since the second Intifada ended. One of the girls in the class on checking her cell-phone (a reflex action that occurs as soon as a lesson ends) suddenly announced that there had been a terrorist attack near the central bus station. Jerusalem
My brain went into gear. Terrorist attack –
– central bus station. I put all of the information together to see how I was affected. At one time, when my kids were younger, I would have been less concerned. During the day they would have been in kindergarten in the neighbourhood. When they started going to school they had a private bus that took them. It was only when they were older that they started taking public transport and the worries began. I needed to take an inventory now to see whether any of them could have been in the vicinity. Jerusalem
Ironically, I suppose, the safest out of the kids was our eldest, Hadas , who is in the army and therefore not in the city. The next down, Amichai, caused me a few moments of concern. He finished school last year and decided to put off his army service and do some volunteer work for a year. He works as a counsellor in a boarding school near Tel Aviv. He had actually been at home during the day and was due to travel back. He certainly would have had to pass nearby. I tried calling, but with little luck. The whole cell-phone system had probably become overloaded by people making calls to check on their nearest and dearest.
After several failed attempts, he finally phoned me. “I’m okay” is all he said as he is not the most verbose of our off-spring, but it was enough. He had already made it back to Bnei Brak.
A quick reckoning in my head ensured me that Ariella, twin number one, was okay. Even if she had come out of school already, her bus route took her nowhere near the troubled area. Na’or, twin number two, however, studies in a school past the central bus station. Although he doesn’t have to, he often changes buses there. At that point, we all thought that the explosion had taken place on a 74 bus, one of the buses that can take him home. (It had actually taken place outside which accounted for the fact that it had been far less devastating than attacks where bombs had gone off inside buses.)
Moments of anxiety followed. I tried phoning his mobile but to no avail; there was still no service (anyway he tends not to switch it on which is very helpful.) I tried to get through to the wife again without any luck. Then I realised that she would probably be at home already. All I needed to do was to use old-time technology i.e. a landline. I went to the teachers’ room picked up the phone, dialed and in an instant I was talking to the wife. No word from Na’or, but she reckoned that he hadn’t finished school yet. A bit of relief there then, but still no final confirmation.
About 15 minutes later he checked in. He hadn’t left school yet, but when he did he passed the scene of the attack and later was to tell us excitedly that he had seen the damaged bus.
I am sure that whilst all this was going on, I must have uttered a silent prayer requesting that my kids be safe. When thinking about this afterwards, I realised that this might constitute an ethical problem. When I asked for my kids to be okay, knowing that there had been casualties, was there in fact a hidden text to my prayer which requested that the loved ones of others be hurt instead? One man’s relief is another man’s grief, I suppose. (If you use that last ditty, please give me some credit as I just made it up.)
I am sure that most people would advise me not to give this too much thought and just be thankful that nothing terrible had happened to anyone dear to me. But I can’t help feeling nostalgic towards an earlier period in my life when I actually cared about everything.
When I was a teenager, the state of humanity was my foremost concern. Every time that I would an article or see a TV documentary about yet another downtrodden minority group in the world, I would begin to sympathise with its plight. From blacks in South Africa to Bolivian tin miners, I could not ignore the suffering of any human being. I think I asked my mum once why people didn’t care more. We all did, she answered, it’s just that when you get older you have to worry about your family. Now I see that she was right. For better and for worse, my own world has shrunk. From being once globally aware, I am now merely tribal.
Okay, so it’s a natural process. It happens to all of us, but I sometimes think that if the world were run by naïve, caring teenagers, it may not be in the state it is today. ( Though, on the other hand, when I think of some of the little fascists-in-training that I come across daily in my line of work, it may not be such a good idea.)