I live in a great neighborhood. It’s beautiful and green (except in the places that were burnt by arson terror last December). There is the feeling of quiet seclusion, despite being right next to one of the main areas of town. While I don’t have a direct view of the sea from my house, when you take a walk outside, it is visible from many different angles, in between the houses.
Born in Detroit, I am very aware that my current neighborhood is not to be taken for granted.
As a child in the USA, I could not play outside without a grown-up watching. I certainly could not go around the block on my own. Homes had to have alarm systems and violent robberies were common. My elderly neighbor across the street was raped and murdered by men who had grown up in the house next to hers. A few times I saw people with guns which scared me very much. They were obviously unhinged and God only knew what they could do…
The neighborhood I live in now is safe. It’s one of the better areas of Haifa. I can walk outside, alone, at any hour of the day or night without worrying about being mugged or assaulted. There are no bums, no drunks or drug addicts on the corner. When I go for a walk, my biggest worry is preventing my dog (who only likes female dogs) from picking a fight with a male dog bigger than him.
And people say they are afraid to come to Israel.
Not all neighborhoods in Israel are as nice but many are and some are better. In most areas kids can play outside on their own. There are still places where people don’t need to lock their doors.
Obviously, not everything is perfect. There are some very dangerous neighborhoods in Israel, such as the south of Tel Aviv. There are criminals and even mob families but on the whole, most of Israel is pretty darn great.
Or at least it should be.
When I walk with my dog and hear a car coming too fast, I cringe. The muscles in my back tense up and sometimes I find myself looking for something to step behind – in case the car swerves up on to the sidewalk to run me over.
Once I caught myself calculating how long it would take me to run to safety if a terrorist got out of a car and attacked me with a knife.
I know it’s not likely to happen because it would be silly to waste a car ramming attack on a single individual but I also know that there is a possibility.
Do people who live elsewhere even consider the possibility?
There is a difference between being afraid and being alert. I think it is fair to say that most Israelis are hyper-alert, all the time.
Can you picture it?
There is a hospital in my neighborhood so there is good reason for many people who don’t belong to the area, to be there. The hospital (like all Israeli hospitals) serves Jews and Arabs alike, has Jewish and Arab employees. I find myself watching the people coming and going. Who are they? What do they have in their hands? How can I tell if they are walking behind me to go to their car or to see if there is an opportunity to stab me in the back? How can I know before it is too late?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not walking around scared. I am not afraid of the Arabs that work in my neighborhood or those that use the facilities in my area. Jews and Arabs live side by side, we work, shop, study and go out for entertainment in the same places. That’s Israel and that’s the way things should be. There is absolutely no reason we can’t live together.
Except for the people who want me dead, just because I’m Jewish, living in my homeland.
I should be able to walk my dog in peace and enjoy my beautiful neighborhood. And I do. At the same time, I am forced to consider things that should never even cross my mind. That one person who decides to come to my neighborhood to stab a Jew. The one person who comes for another reason but decides to seize the opportunity to attack a Jew.
While I don’t expect any of these things to happen in my neighborhood, I am forced to be alert to the possibility that they could. It could happen to me. From a very young age, Israeli children are forced to recognize the fact that it could happen to them.
And yet Israelis do not walk around, full of fear. Maybe a better way to put it is that, Israelis are full of courage – courage is not lack of fear, it is recognition of the danger and doing what is necessary anyway.
While other people might complain, Israelis are busy curing cancer, bringing clean water to Africa (and to California as well), making television programs your tv stations are snapping up and inventing life-changing technology. Healing wounded Syrians, ignored by the world, is just one more thing to do. We don’t have time to complain about the reality we live in. We’re too busy.
But it shouldn’t have to be this way. The threat is real. The constant hyper-vigilance is damaging to physical and emotional health.
And that is the Israeli experience when everything is ok, during “normal” times.
Is taking a walk with the dog, in peace, being able to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of my neighborhood, with no worries, no stress, too much to ask for?