Rabbi Mishael Tzion, (the able Executive Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships which I had the privilege of leading many years ago) gives the following report after the bus bombing near his kids’ school. Mish is a second generation Israeli with Anglo parents–his mother is actually Dutch–but has always been connected to the Anglo community. His perspective as a native born Israeli has a qualitatively different flavor than some American Olim for whom “matzavim” are new experiences. By all accounts, the current situation has been more affecting than previous ones because of the perceived ubiquity of the threat, but Mish really captures the complexity, and confusion of inter-ethnic strife, geography, security and, yes, bigotry. It’s a microcosm that’s worthy of George Pelecanos, and it sheds more light than heat. I give you Mish…
I posted this piece in Hebrew on Facebook a few hours again and thought you’d appreciate it as well. You’ll see in it that I got very little done on behalf of the Bronfman Fellowships these last few days – so sharing this here is offered as a form of reparation to the community. ;-)
Thanks to Elisheva Urbas (mom of Avital Morris ’11) for the spontaneous translation.
Four Days in Jerusalem, and a Prayer for Parents in our time.
Tuesday, 7:10am. I order a Get-Taxi from home, en route to catch a ride out of town. Turns out that the taxi driver is a neighbor of mine: he lives in Tzur Baher and I live in Talpiot. I wait 3 minutes, watching his car cross the (until recently) invisible line that divides my home from his. In the taxi, we compare stories from the last few days. I say that we should pray for the children. He replies that we must pray for the parents. On our end, he says, it all depends on the parents; they have to persuade their children not to go out to the demonstrations. Some of the parents teach their kids to stay home (that’s the tradition in my village, he adds), and some think their main responsibility is to teach their kids to run away fast when they have to. It depends on the parents with us, too, I think. What they say at home, how they answer, how they explain. What they say even when they’re angry. I didn’t know that, that same morning, I’d find myself in the middle of an unusually intense parent conversation.
Tuesday, 9:45a.m. East Talpiot, Olei HaGardom Street, 122 meters from my daughters’ school. Later the older one will tell me that “we were in the middle of snack time and suddenly there were a ton of sirens and explosions. I sit near the window, so I looked out — I saw a bus and all around it a ton of police cars. Afterward all the kids gathered around the window, and it really bothered me because I couldn’t finish eating.” I’m stuck up north, when I get a message in the Fourth Grade Parents Whats-App group, updating us about the attack. Parents try to figure out what’s going on, to share information. And then one parent calms “Yes, everything’s all right in the school,” and immediately after that another parent “Great, but we have to get rid of the Arab cleaner.” From there, everything goes downhill. I debate whether to open my mouth (or my fingers). Against my nature, I join in the conversation. It’s the least I can do. Appalled by the attack. Appalled by the instinctive impulse to turn the school into an ‘Arab-rein’ zone.
Wednesday, 11:15a.m. I didn’t go to the office. Not much progress toward my goal of writing an article about Moses’ leadership, either. I find myself spending hours in the school, on the phone, in front of parents, with parents, with the security guard, with the principal. There are many security gaps in the school, and a lot that needs to be taken care of — and at the same time, we have to be careful not to fall into the easy racism of firings. I learn gradually to recognize people’s fears first of all, and I also learn that human faces need to be put on all of this. It’s not our school against all the world’s enemies. It’s a matter of Samer, the school’s maintenance worker for the last year, a single mother of two daughters, who lives in Abu Tor. A neighbor. And also: a religious woman; her head-covering covers a little more than the other women’s on the staff. I get in touch with the principal to give her an update and ask how I can help, and I see that she’s already five steps ahead of me. After a conversation that morning with Samer that made clear how frightened she herself is, the principal goes into every classroom and tells the students about Samer. Meanwhile the parents are still storming; most of them understand the complexity and write calmly, others… At the end of the day the Parents’ Association votes, with a large majority deciding not to fire her. Meanwhile the other parents appeal to City Hall. It’s clear that the work is just getting started.
Thursday, 10:20a.m. The principal calls me. “Samer is here with me, crying. Do you speak Arabic?” “I wish,” I say, and I head back to school. On the way I pass four checkpoints, separating Tzur Baher and Jabel Mukaber from Talpiot and East Talpiot. I hand out snacks to the soldiers, who rightly prefer the fruit I’ve just bought for the family. Back at school Samer, trembling, tells me that on her way to school four police officers came at her with drawn pistols, made her lie on the ground, dumped out her bag on the floor. “They’re afraid, too,” we told her. “I could see that,” she answers, “but why me?” Afterward she also got curses and abuse from some car passing on the street. She ran to the school: a place of safety.
Friday, 9:45a.m. Exactly three days since the attack. Samer asks not to come in today. Some of us parents volunteer to clean the bathrooms in her place. In the end there was no need. But I was struck by the number of parents who were happy to help, and especially by the number of parents on the fence, struggling to make a path between security and discrimination, between anger and revenge, between national conflict and racism or religious war. On the way home, by the checkpoint, some guys are handing out Israeli flags and singing “Am Yisrael Chai.” I hesitate to take them, but the children in the back seat ask to stop. They don’t understand the subtext: they come to this from a purer place. We head home, waving flags.
God of Fathers, redeem us.
Supporter of Mothers, redeem us.
God of Peace, awaken.
מגן אבות, עננו. משגב אמהות, עננו. מלך שהשלום שלו, עורה.
May it be a Shabbat shalom.