So That Happened

On Monday a bus blew up.

I heard a lot of sirens all of a sudden just before 6pm.  At first I thought it was a VIP and his entourage.  But then there were more.  And more.

Facebook.  A friend’s comment.  “Anyone know what happened on Derech Hevron?” And then the answers started flooding in.  It wasn’t Derech Hevron.  A bus.  Was it terror?  Wait.  The police don’t want to say that yet.  Definitely bus on fire.  Second bus also on fire.  Then the evidence pointed to terror.

*Sigh*  I remember those days.  I didn’t like those days.  I don’t want those days back.

Between 6pm and 7pm I had to make a decision.  My Tai Chi class is in the same neighborhood as the bus bombing.  Should I take a bus as usual?  Class wasn’t canceled (of course), so I decided to walk.  I walked in part because I could use the additional exercise.  The chance of another bus attack was pretty small, but it’s been so long since a bus attack that I just didn’t want to get on a bus.

It took 45 minutes and I was pretty pleased with myself.

On the way back, another choice.  As I was passing the bus stop, the bus came.  I could have gotten on.  There were plenty of people taking the bus right then.  But I chose to walk.

I was happy with the accomplishment of walking to and from class.  It was a good long walk and something that I had considered doing before.  But I’m bothered by the fact that the thing that pushed me to do it was a bus blowing up.

Two days later, I had a chance to ease my bothered feelings.  I took a train and a bus to where I needed to go.  I walked in crowded areas where I needed to run my errands and life was back to normal.

Since this is Israel, “normal” right now means high alert.  Over major holidays in Israel there is a much more visible presence of security personnel and starting today and for the next 48 hours the West Bank and Gaza Strip are closed off.

I am sure that upon hearing the words “West Bank closed off” there are those who would cry “oppressive occupation” and excuse all violence against civilians as “legitimate protest.”  I disagree.  Besides nothing being “legitimate” about blowing up a bus filled with civilians, as a citizen of Israel, I expect my government and our armed forces to protect civilians.  I expect to feel secure as I walk or take a bus in my streets.  And when I look at images like this, I’m glad that security personnel are doing everything in their power to keep us safe.

bus bomb

Screen capture from HaAretz

Originally, I had plans to write a nice Friday email about my first Passover in Israel, but this week provided many other potential topics – this bus bombing, a follow-up on Western Wall/Temple Mount issues, and Prince, another icon from my childhood, passed away.  Well, it will still be Passover next Friday and I may yet write about these other things too.

Wishing everyone a peaceful Passover!

A simmering pot

Last week Israel’s cabinet agreed to have a mixed gender prayer area near the Western Wall plaza that would be administered by Israel’s government not the (ultra-Orthodox) foundation that administers the Western Wall .

Yay for plurality! Hoorah for equality!

This is widely seen by the Jewish community outside of Israel and many inside Israel as a good thing because it feels more inclusive and is more open to the non-Orthodox communities who don’t feel connected to the Orthodox vibe of the Western Wall open air plaza. Now they have their own place. It’s close to the plaza, but at the same time they are not in each other’s faces about how they choose to commune with God.

But hang on…

First of all, this space has existed for quite a while. It’s not new. What is new is the entity that would administer it and the fact that it would be expanded. Until now, it was just a tacitly agreed upon space for Reform, Conservative, and various other streams of Judaism to gather and pray as they wish (mostly by not separating the genders).

Women of the Wall have been advocating for plurality and equality and part of the organization agreed to the mixed-gender space. The members who don’t agree feel that they should be allowed to pray in the women’s section as they wish – they don’t really want a mixed gender space. The problem they’ve been facing is that the Orthodox do not agree that a woman can be allowed to put on tefillin, wear a prayer shawl, or read from the Torah. They have fought this battle in court (and won), but have been harassed by both men and women at the wall and arrested for disturbing the peace for gathering at the Western Wall to pray.

Then there are the archaeologists who say that the new construction would damage the archaeological evidence that exists there – specifically, evidence of stones from the wall that fell during the Roman conquest.

Like any other decision, it’s complicated and there are naturally positives and negatives. Decisions get made with compromise and everyone has to give a little.

But there’s more. And this is why this article is called “the simmering pot.”

The violence (aka the knife intifada) that began last year is based on a perception that Israel is trying to change the status quo on the Temple Mount. In October 2015, UNESCO voted on a draft proposal that tried to declare the “Western Wall an ‘integral part’ of the Al Aqsa mosque compound.” That was eventually dropped, but in November Mahmoud Abbas insisted that Israel was trying to change the status quo on the Temple Mount by protecting “settlers” who were “violating” Muslim and Christian holy sites. (The “violation” being prayer. Jews are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount and are arrested by Israeli police for doing so.) And now, with the vote on the mixed gender prayer site, the Waqf (the Jordanian authority administering the Al Haram al Sharif [Temple Mount]) has declared this vote Israel’s newest intention to change the status quo by “Judaicizing the holy site.” The “holy site” in this case being the Western Wall.

Let’s look back to September 2000. Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount to show that all Israelis have a right to visit the site. And then we had the Second Intifada. (Yes, that is a wild oversimplification.)

A vote for a mixed gender prayer site seems like a small thing. But this is Israel. The Western Wall supports the Temple Mount compound where the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock stand. Context and interpretation are everything. And so the pot simmers on.

1 Fun Thing; 1 Serious Thing

Hmm.  What happened this week?


If you don’t know what this is, then I don’t even know where to begin.

Star Wars!

No, I didn’t go to the premiere in Israel, though I read a great review about it. It was a pretty big deal here.  And I have to say that I’m glad people went out and made a fuss.  Terrible things continue to occur in the streets, but come hell or high water, nothing stops Star Wars.  (It did actually rain a lot recently, so the high water remark was not just a throw-away line.)

The great thing about being in Israel for the premiere is that we saw it before you all did! (Neener, neener, neener!)

I will see it, but I may wait a while because the idea of a hugely crowded theater kind of turns me off.  On the other hand, Star Wars.  No spoilers please!

And now for something completely serious.

There are a number of debates in Israel right now about many things, but one that bothers me, and one that I don’t have an answer to, is the directive issued by the Israeli Medical Association.  They said that the wounded in a terror attack should be treated in order of severity, no matter who they are.  What this means in practice is that if an attacker has more severe wounds than a victim, the attacker will be treated first.

A volunteer emergency services organization, ZAKA, has refused to comply.  They said that they will treat Jewish victims of the attack first.  Their rationale is based in Jewish teachings: “He who is merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful.”

One of the incidents that caused the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) to make this ruling was an attack in Beer Sheva where an Eritrean ran away from the scene and everyone in the area thought he was the attacker.  So he was beaten and kicked by the bystanders and eventually died from his wounds, in part because he was ignored by the medical services personnel.

On one hand, I can see the humanity of using triage to rank all the wounds of all the people.  Who really knows with absolute certainty in the middle of chaos who the attacker was?  On the other hand, is one horrible situation the measure to use for making the rule?  How do you explain to the family of a victim of an attack that you treated the attacker first?  What if the victim is permanently disfigured or perhaps even dies while the attacker survives because of the triage decision you were forced to make?

Attackers are treated in Israeli hospitals by Israeli doctors and stay in rooms probably down the hall from their victims.  The news reports of the case in October of the 13-year-old stabber showed him in Hadassah Hospital.  In the same hospital, his victim was put in a medically induced coma and miraculously woke up (*he celebrated his bar mitzvah this week and claims to be 95% better).

I heard an interesting/troubling comment after the IMA announcement was made.  Security services may feel that they shouldn’t shoot to stop an attacker, but actually shoot to kill so that the attacker will not take a victim’s place in triage.  I’m not sure that is the intent of the ruling, but it could be a consequence.

I was also troubled by the phrasing of the ZAKA response.  I hope that they meant all victims of an attack, not just the Jewish ones.  I hope that they wouldn’t set aside an injured victim who was a Druze, Bedouin, Christian Arab, or Muslim Arab simply based on the fact that he or she isn’t Jewish.

In the middle of chaos, emergency services need to know what to do, so they need some kind of directive.  But which one is “just”?  Which one is more “humane”?  There are no simple, easy answers here and we find ourselves in the gray area yet again.

ScreenHunter_01 Dec. 18 20.01

And that will do it for this week!

To those of you who are going to see Star Wars, DON’T TELL ME ANYTHING!  Thumbs up or thumbs down would be okay though.

My trip to Talpiot

A natural reaction to a chilly, rainy morning.

A natural reaction to a chilly, rainy morning.

This week’s post is a “day in the life” story.  Join me on my trip to Talpiot – a neighborhood known for being the place where people shop for basics at no-frills stores at discount prices.

On Sunday morning I had an appointment in the neighborhood of Talpiot.  Just as I arrived at the bus stop, bus number 34 arrived.  It wasn’t crowded and I could have taken a seat if I wanted to.  I arrived half an hour early and had a chance to visit the newly remodeled mall in the neighborhood.

I never liked that mall in the past.  It was dark, dingy, and somehow seemed to retain noise and bounce it off the walls.  It felt old and oppressive.  I had to steel myself for a mission if there was any reason I had to go there.  But now, it was a different world!

Every mall has metal detectors and security guards.  They are more worried about what you might bring in, not what you might take out.  At the entrance, I handed over my bag and noted that the security guy was talking to a mall cleaner and based on his accent I guessed that the cleaner was Arab.

The mall was just starting to open, so there were not many people and most of the stores were in the middle of opening their doors.  The coffee shops were quite busy already, because it’s not possible to start the day in Israel without coffee.  At first everything seemed the same, so I strolled around.  Hey, there’s a proper food court!  Oh, look at all the new stores!  They’re having a sale!

Then I noticed an escalator where there hadn’t been one previously, so I went up. A second floor!  Here were the big name brand stores that were never seen before in Talpiot.  There was a seating area with a lovely view that I never knew existed from Talpiot.  Wow!  Jerusalem is beautiful from every angle, even from Talpiot!

As I was walking around the nearly empty second floor, I heard two young men speaking Arabic behind me.  I found myself wondering if it was possible that they would stab me in the middle of a mall.  Was I safe?  Well, maybe they were just ordinary thieves.  Should I hold my bag closer?  Then I was troubled by my own thoughts.  Why would I assume that just because they were young men speaking Arabic that they would either be terrorists or thieves?  As these thoughts crossed my mind, I noted the thoughts and kept my slow strolling pace and held my bag in the same way I had been holding it before.  Paranoid thoughts were not going to get the better of me.

They were walking faster than I was and passed me.  Walking close to each other as friends, they were talking happily about something, and went down the escalator ahead of me.  They didn’t give me a second look.

After my appointment, I took the bus home.  Again the bus was not too full, but Talpiot is early on the bus route.  My trip would be nine stops.  At the third stop, a soldier got on the bus.  He was in uniform with an automatic rifle slung across his chest with his hand on the pistol grip.  He walked the length of the bus and got off.  His partner was waiting outside at the stop.  At the fourth stop, the same thing happened.  At the sixth, seventh, and eighth, a soldier got on the bus leaving his partner outside, walked the length and got off.

It was a security check.  Back in the days of bus bombings, we had security on the buses all the time.  Even today, we have security on the light rail.  But this was the army doing a security check.  One could guess that they had a viable threat and they increased security on public transport to counteract it.


On Monday, two Palestinian pre-teens (12- and 13-years-old) stabbed a security officer on the light rail in Jerusalem.  Half an hour later a 37-year-old Palestinian attacked guards at the Damascus Gate in the Old City.

The Arabs I saw at the mall just want to do their work and get on with their lives.  But that doesn’t make the security threats any less real.  I don’t enjoy the fact that the army is doing security checks and that living in Jerusalem requires being in a state of alert.  On the other hand, if your city is struck by a crime wave that involves individuals using knives, cars, Molotov cocktails, and rocks to cause chaos, you do what you have to do.

How did I feel?  I’m glad the army is responding to threats.  I don’t feel particularly nervous when soldiers are obviously doing a security check on a bus with their weapons at the ready.  At the same time, I know that they are looking for potential threats and they are profiling.  They are profiling the same way I profiled in the mall just an hour before.  The only thing that gave me pause was that the security threat seemed to be heading toward my neighborhood.

Do I live in a police state?  No.  I live in a place where the nation’s sons and daughters proudly serve in the army.  The soldiers I saw on the bus are someone’s son, brother, husband, or father (some looked older than regular soldiers so they are likely reservists).  And they want to keep all of us safe.

Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall

Here are the mandalas from this week.  This is also an experiment to see which pictures Facebook will post as links to the blog post.

Mandalas of the week (and experiments for the Facebook post)

Mandalas of the week (and experiments for the Facebook post)



Here in Jerusalem it rained.  I went out with an umbrella a few times and it was just an average October for me.  After sunny and hot for months, I was pretty happy about the rain.

Rainy day and a pot of jasmine green tea

Rainy day and a pot of jasmine green tea

Down in the valley it was apparently apocalyptic.  Record setting rainfall.  Floods.  Power outages.  Some wanted to declare a state of emergency.  Keep in mind this is about 60 km (40 miles) away from Jerusalem, but 800 (2,600) meters difference in elevation.  For pictures and video.

Morgan Freeman in the House!

In awesome news this week, Morgan Freeman came to Jerusalem to film his documentary “The Story of God.”  But he didn’t just come to Jerusalem.  In these really tense times, he went to the Old City and filmed at the Western Wall and at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  Of course he had body guards, but as a celebrity, he would have had guards anyway.  He didn’t make a statement about the situation, but his actions said that he wasn’t going to stop filming because of the tense situation.  That’s good enough for me.  (The documentary is due out in April 2016.)

Screen shot from the Times of Israel

Screen shot from the Times of Israel

A Word of Hebrew

The word “matsav” means situation.  It can be used as an informal greeting, “ma hamatsav?” (what’s going on?) – though it usually sounds like “ma matsav?”  It can also be literal as “ma hamatsav po?” (what is the situation here?) when you are asking for an evaluation of a situation.

Matsav is also a kind of euphemistic term Israelis use when referring to everything going on in Israel at any given time.  Even English speakers will throw it in an English sentence because it’s so heavy with additional nuance.  “The matsav is just terrible.”  “What is the government doing about the matsav?”

A Few Words about the Matsav

Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a press conference last Saturday and stated four main points:

  1.  Israel respects Jordan’s special role as custodian of the site (via the Waqf).
  2.  The historical status quo will be maintained, that is, Muslims pray there, non-Muslims visit.
  3.  Israel has no interest in dividing the site and rejects any attempts to do so.
  4.  Israel welcomes increased coordination between Israel and Jordan to ensure restraint and respect on the site.

The takeaway is that it is not Israel’s policy to change the status quo on the Temple Mount.  There are Israelis who are actively campaigning for the right to pray there, but that does not make it Israel’s policy.  In fact, there is disagreement among the Jewish community itself about praying on the Temple Mount – for religious reasons, not political ones.

The other takeaway from these points is that the Temple Mount is administered by Jordan via the Waqf.  The Palestinian Authority is not involved and never was, even before 1967.  Israel does not administer the site, but is in charge of the security.  It’s complicated and messy.  So when Jews try to pray near the Al Aqsa Mosque, they are arrested by Israeli police.

Netanyahu also said that he would welcome CCTV on the Temple Mount (Jordan’s idea) to be able to respond to incitement from either side and possibly prevent violence before it happens. Full article.

Who is against the idea of CCTV on the Temple Mount?  Palestinian leadership and the Jewish activists who want to pray on the Temple Mount.

Why does it matter?

Sheik Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the guy in charge of Al Aqsa, got on Israeli TV news this week and announced that there has never been any Jewish Temple on the site – not 3,000 years ago, not 30,000 years ago.  Al Aqsa Mosque has been on the site since the beginning of time.  It was apparently built by angels in the time of Adam.


Let’s say for a minute that he means it spiritually; Al Aqsa has been there spiritually since time immemorial.  But he rejects any evidence that there has ever been a Jewish presence there.  Biblical references.  Rejected.  Archeological evidence.  Rejected.  Historical documentary evidence.  Rejected. What he actually means is that the Jewish people were never here and have no connection to the land and thus, Israel has no right to exist in this space for any reason.

Is the current wave of stabbings because of Temple Mount?  Not really. (Palestinian leaders have said so.)  Is the Temple Mount important in the big picture?  Absolutely.

And that’s the matsav from here.

Let’s all have a Shabbat shalom and a great rainy weekend!

And for everyone who’s celebrating, Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween from the Dark Knight!

Happy Halloween from the Dark Knight!