During the years of 2000 – 2004, terror attacks were a regular part of our Jerusalem landscape. Life was with the dead. We would go to cemeteries, sit Shiva and go to the memorial service on the 30th day. Then at the conclusion of a year, we wept with those who wept. We mourned with those who mourned. Death and life were blurred, almost inseparable.
They were years of walking down the road, going from home to home, literally not knowing which home to visit first… the one of the widow, the one of the bereaved parent, or the one where the grandmother and the grandson were murdered. Entire streets in entire neighbourhoods would have the all too familiar signs of death posted on every doorway. Come the memorial days, there was not enough space in the synagogues, schools or community halls to accommodate the sheer number of families remembering their dead.
Some of the hardest hit were inevitably the poorest. Ir Ganim and Kiriyat Yovel in the south of the city, Pisgat Zeev and Neve Yaacov in the north. The Katamonim somewhere in the middle. Even Meah Shearim, the bastion of the Haredi world discovered to their shock that they too were penetrable, with terror touching as many as ten family members.
Men and women, Soldiers, pensioners, the Russian immigrant… pianist working in a kitchen, the Ethiopian domestic worker, the Moroccan Matriarch. Regular people, regular lives, regular day. All struggling to pay the rent. All struggling to put the kids through school. All shopping in the cheapest places to save a few extra shekels. All regular, normal, patterned.
But then, this one day where, nothing was normal. The regular bus was missed. Two minutes later another one came. The fatal bus which was blown up just thirty seconds after leaving the stop. That birthday celebration for a slice of pizza that cost not just shekels but claimed lives. How the normal, became death, in a split moment of time.
Being in the right place at the right time, was oh how wrong and dangerous. The wrong place could mean bullets in your brain, bullets in your belly that would kill your unborn child. Every movement was either a calculated risk or pure luck. Days when we would take our lives in our hands every morning not knowing what would unfold as the hours ticked by.
Days when atrociously underpaid security guards could have, and were, killed at any moment. Days when we no longer heard music on the bus, no longer hummed along grossly out of tune, no longer whistled. Days when usually friendly Jerusalemites became dour and suspicious. Tense, always on the lookout, we became skilled at ”odd man out.” We went about our business with a determination, do it and get out of there. As businesses crumbled and closed, memorial signs went up on doors….”The day the music died.” Times of psychological warfare. We sang the song ”we will not stop singing.” We will not forget, but we will go on.
For many of us, when we look up at the first clear blue skies of spring, we become wary. Blue skies and almond blossom can be oh so deceptive. A perfect day for a terror attack, the most glorious backdrop to lay the dead to rest.
In the aftermath of these years, we have observed the strongest men break. The saddest men pick up a bottle that becomes their strongest ally. We have seen young men with future become prisoner to the plastic container of methadone. We have wept when paramedics lost their mind and killed themselves from the sheer torture of memory.
The years apparently have passed. Time rolls on for the living. It stands still for the living dead. There are those who still wait at home for the son to return. ”Such things are not possible,” cries a grieving mother eight years later. “Children do not leave home in the morning and just not return. I have to wait at home, I have to be here.”
There are those who celebrate Shabbat by preparing food and arranging a place setting for the dead. There are those who sleep in the dead child’s bed. They have been swallowed up by death. There are those, the same regular faces who somehow have the ability to go on. ”Not for my sake…” they say ”but for my children, for the grandchildren.” So every morning at 5 a.m. they force themselves into a decision for life, for yet another day alone and without. Those who once were terrified by the sound of a falling leaf are now serving in fighting units of the IDF. Beautiful young women who fled the country for the sake of their emotional health, are now back here, married and establishing a new generation.
It is for both groups that Springs of Hope exists. To help those who are still oppressed under the shadow of death to cross that threshold into a place of life and living. And for those who have made that hard choice, not to forget, but yes to move on. We are here to hold their hand and walk with them for as long as needed.