When I read about the recent murders of Yosef, Chaya, and Elad Salomon, I was reminded of a piece I wrote for the website Aish.com in 2002. I had just returned from studying in Israel for two years and was living in Philadelphia. Then, as now, life seemed precarious, precious, a gift.
November 2002 — I spent the last two years living and working in the Land of Israel. Now, back in the States for nearly five months, I’m often asked, “How could you do that?! Weren’t you afraid every day? What about the suicide bombings?”
Was I afraid? I try to explain, and I always begin with Jerusalem. If you’ve been there, you know: Jerusalem is a city brimming with activity, a fusion of the very new and the very old, a sleek modern metropolis built upon a foundation of ancient walls.
On the streets, Greek Orthodox priests speed by on shiny motor scooters. Arabs drive black Mercedes, curtains on the back windows hiding their wives and daughters from public view. Boyish IDF soldiers are everywhere, speaking to their mothers on cell phones while shifting enormous automatic rifles from hip to hip. Travelers wait outside the bus station to have their belongings checked for suspicious objects. Sirens wail in the distance and police cars patrol the streets. And everywhere, like clouds heavy with whispered entreaties, prayers float over the craggy hills and valleys of Jerusalem.
It’s funny — now that I’m back in the States, Jerusalem looks much more frightening. I watch CNN and I can’t believe what I’m seeing and hearing. But while I was there, waking up to the Mediterranean sun, walking the ancient streets, praying at the Kotel (Western Wall), enjoying the gardens, restaurants, theaters, and people, sometimes I forgot that there was a war going on. It wasn’t until I’d switch on the radio in the evenings that I’d realize just how bad things were.
But, I tell people, that’s what Israel is like. You get up and take the bus to work, sit at a cafe with friends, go to the symphony, movies, and parks. You hear about another bombing, another military action, more death. You grieve, crying over your tehillim (psalms), but life goes on because it has to.
So, when people ask if I was scared, I tell them this: Once, on a crowded city bus during the busiest time of day, I looked at the mother sitting across from me with her two small children, the young couple next to me, the cheder boys coming home from school all chattering at once — and suddenly everything seemed to stop and crystallize for a moment.
I looked around at these people, each one in a world of his or her own, and I realized, this is what it’s like the second before a bomb goes off: utterly ordinary, completely mundane — and then suddenly, chaos.
In that realization, I was scared.
So what comforted me, then and now? Living in a land in which everyday life can’t be taken for granted reminds a person of the enormous blessing, the great good fortune of having been granted life. It serves as a constant reminder that life itself is a miracle.
Now I drive to work every day, through the leafy suburbs of Philadelphia, safe in my own car, and I remember this lesson. The trees are so beautiful, the sky is so blue, and the air smells so clean. This surfeit of beauty never fails to take my breath away. And on every leaf, every blade of grass, every smiling face, I read the same words: “Life is a gift from G-d. Treasure it and use it well.”
By Lena Fleminger
Lena (Blynn) Fleminger studied at Neve College for Women in Jerusalem from 2000 to 2002. She and her husband Eli and their four children now live in Baltimore, Maryland. Lena is a blogger, a doula, and the CEO of www.lenaswigs.com.