Israel Diary, 1996.
In 1996, I took my son Isaac to Israel for his Bar Mitzah. The following is from my diary.
"Take now your son, your only son whom you love, Isaac, and get yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as a burn offering." Genesis 22:2
Sunday February 25, three days before our departure for Jerusalem, the number 18 bus is blown up by a person wrapped in explosives who got on the bus and detonated the explosives. We arrive in Jerusalem four days later.
Sunday morning, March 3rd, the number 18 bus was again blown up, only this time we are close enough to hear the explosion. Have I taken my son, my only son, that I love, Isaac, to this holy place to offer him up as a burnt offering?
The bombing did not change our plans for the day. Isaac and his mom joined the tour group, I went off to visit an old friend who lives in Bayit Vegan. He made calls for me to find out where Isaac and I could go to hear the Megillah reading for Purim, which began on Monday evening outside of Jerusalem, but would not be celebrated in Jerusalem until Tuesday and by that time we would have been moved along by our tour group. He wrote down the name of a synagogue in Ramot Daled - a suburb of Jerusalem, not considered part of the city itself and thus they celebrated Purim on Monday, not Tuesday.
I took the bus back to the city center during rush hour. Standing in the packed bus, we passed the bombed out shell of the number 18 bus that had been blown up that morning. Workers on cherry-pickers were still scraping pieces of human flesh from the side of the building next to the explosion. All human remains, identifiable or not, had to be collected for burial. In this crowded bus, no imagination was necessary. We would all die together and our bodies would become one mass of torn flesh.
Monday March 4th - Isaac and I left Jerusalem just as the news of yet another bombing - this time by Islamic Jihad in Tel Aviv. I told Isaac that we could take a cab to the suburbs, but we would have to take a bus back into the city. I needed to know if that was ok with him, since we had been witness now to three bus bombings. His mother didn't want him to go. "As long as it's not the number 18," was his reply. I have a sense of great pride in my son, Isaac, who is not afraid to live his life. That he would trustingly come with his father and enter a bus that might turn into his own funeral pyre, moved me and filled me with love for my son. He is the perfect gentle warrior.
We witnessed a remarkable transformation in Israeli society. Just a few weeks ago, Labor was sure to win the elections scheduled for May 29th, but as each day passes it becomes more and more clear that Hamas may actually sway the vote toward Likud! It is strange that Hamas should so easily manipulate Israeli politics and that they would want to push the Israeli government to the right. Of course, the last thing anyone wants is peace, not when you have the attractions of endless conflict.
Tuesday March 5th - Road to Jericho.
Our tour was scheduled to visit Jericho, a city considerably older than Jerusalem, which is under Palestinian Authority control. Our bus was stopped by Israeli border guards on the old Roman road to Jericho, and ordered to turn around. Jericho had was being closed off from Israeli society.
The vise tightens and each day more and more soldiers appear. Now there will be a complete separation of Israelis and Palestinians. What a tragedy. When we arrived, even after the first bombing, the Arab shuk in Jerusalem was open and jammed with tourists and Israelis. Isaac insisted on going into a small shop that carried Casio watches. I couldn't believe that Isaac had come to Jerusalem and wanted to spend his money on a Casio watch that he could buy at Walmart, but it was his money, so I sat myself down and wallowed in my disapproval and disappointment. Isaac bargained the price down from $190 to $100. Much later, after we were back home in America, I asked Isaac what the highlight of the trip was for him and without hesitation he said, "buying the Casio watch in the shuk."
Outside of Jericho, our bus, having turned around, stopped at a dusty roadside rest stop. It was nothing but bathrooms and vending machines, but there was also a tent set up where an Palestinian from Jericho had set out cheap trinkets before the curfew had been imposed. He was waiting for orders from the border police to pack his stuff up and get back to Jericho.
Isaac saw something that he had been looking for since the shuk and he called to the man in the tent to ask how much it was. A Canadian tourist who was with us on the tour started screaming at Isaac, "We are at war with these people. You cannot buy from them." I was livid with anger and bellowed back at the man, "You may be at war, but my son and I are not. How dare you raise you voice at my son." Seeing the commotion, the Palestinian merchant retreated further to the back of his tent. I turned to Isaac with tears in my eyes and said, "Isaac, I wish we could buy what you want, but you see how tense the situation has become. We are surrounded by warriors - some of the them foolish tourists and others serious soldiers. I would gladly buy you what you want, but we can't jeopardize the man in the tent. Believe me, I am sorry."
Looking back on it, I realized that Isaac was right. The high point of our trip to Israel was watching my son buy that Casio watch. There, in the Arab market of Jerusalem, my son and a young Palestinian merchant negotiated a deal. Both left satisfied.
If only it were that simple.