I am spending this summer in Israel as a volunteer medic with Magen David Adom (Red Star of David). I spent this past Shabbat in the holy city of Tzfat. It was very relaxing amongst the crisp mountain air and beautiful, spiritual surroundings.
The next morning, my friend and I were planning a gorgeous hike in the Golan which runs along, and through, a river that runs at the bottom of the cafe. Soon after we awoke, I received a phone call from a fellow volunteer medic in Haifa. "Did I hear there was a bus bombing in Tzfat?" I did not, but after asking some people it turned out that a bus had exploded at the Meron junction, a few minutes from Tzfat, near the resting place of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
Eventually I made my way down a back country road to the junction and came upon the bombing site. What I saw I hope that none of us ever has to see again.
I reached the bombing site after almost all the wounded were evacuated... but the dead bodies had not yet been. The first thing I noticed was what looked like a toy bus that was crumpled by a child. The front, side and roof were blown off the bus. The windshield was blown some 300 feet and the surrounding bush was burnt.
At first I couldn't quite place the smell; it was a mixture of burning flesh and rubber.
The next thing I noticed was the smell, which at first I couldn't quite place, and then realized it was a mixture of burning flesh and rubber. It is a smell one can never forget. The carnage defies all description but I will try. If you are weak-stomached please skip ahead, but I feel it is important to share the truth, because the sanitized picture in the media is not the truth.
All around the area there was wreckage, most of it covered in blood, spread out. There was much clothing and bags as well, as many of the passengers were soldiers returning to their bases. Lying by the front door was what looked like one of those dummies they have in haunted houses, except it wasn't fake. It was a man, or more aptly, the remains of a man. His whole side had been blown off and his insides were hanging out.
The Zaka volunteers were allowed onto the bus; they are trained to collect and identify every bit of remains from an accident or attack, to ensure that the victims are given a proper burial. As I moved to get a better look, I noticed a plastic ziplock bag, such as one we would put lunch in, except this one contained body parts of what was once a soldier, a young man with dreams and hopes like each of us -- who earlier that morning kissed his parents goodbye and ensured them that he would be home next Shabbat...
All throughout this ordeal the stench of burning flesh hung in the air. Another body was found. This time it was a woman, identifiable by her body, since her head was missing. The list goes on.
There were over 40 wounded. The media likes to break them into categories, light, moderate, serious. Yet truthfully, in a terrorist attack there are no lightly wounded. In one incident, a woman with a scratch on her chest walked to the ambulance. In the hospital the scans showed a nail in her heart.
Besides the physical wounds (some of which will heal, most of which will not), there is the psychological trauma. The fear of public places and buses, the recurring nightmares and bed-wetting, the incessant crying for no apparent reason, the inability to function normally anymore. This is what terrorism is. This is the horrible, uncensored reality.
It's about keeping children from playgrounds, and forcing us to place armed guards at kindergartens.
The terrorists' aim is not only to kill many people, but also to destroy as many people as possible. To keep us from living life. It's about keeping children from playgrounds, and forcing us to place armed guards at kindergartens. It's about cars being checked before entering the shopping mall parking lot, bags searched before entering a movie theater, and deciding which restaurant has better security.
It's about nervously eyeing everyone on the bus as you look for your seat, and then watching the front door as others get on.
It's about being fearful to sit in your favorite cafe or park, and about being afraid to drive to another town to visit your family.
It's about fear and helplessness, and the feeling of abandonment by the world. And this is only the beginning. Without living here day in and day out, you can never truly understand the fear and the bravery of our brothers and sisters living here.
SAVE A LIFE
But all is not bleak. Life goes on here. People struggle and fight in their own ways. Some go to the movie theaters and cafes, others continue going to school after its been bombed, people show up for reserve duty years after they have completed it, people still open their homes and cars to strangers, the Western Wall still has its worshippers, and life goes on despite all.
This middle-aged, non-intimidating man was commanding traffic.
I would like to share one such story that touched me a few weeks after I came to Israel. I was on an emergency call and the ambulance was driving with its lights and sirens blaring when we got stuck in a busy intersection. The cars on the road weren't moving. All of a sudden a complete stranger starts walking up and down the street knocking on windows and ordering the cars to move, even onto the sidewalk, for the ambulance to get through. This middle-aged, non-intimidating man was commanding traffic.
Then he went into the middle of the busy intersection (which in Israel might mean risking one's life!) and stopped all traffic. He refused to budge or let one car through until we had cleared the intersection. For him for the important thing was that we had to save a life.
This is one of the many reasons I love Israel and being Jewish. Your people are so holy, God, despite our mistakes, and we are crying out to You.
OVERCOMING DIFFICULT TIMES
Many of you are probably feeling frustrated, watching the news, and not knowing how to help. Well that is something we can all change. The only way we will overcome these difficult times is if we change our ways and come back to our people. We have to start acting better toward one another, with more love, understanding and patience.
The next time you feel like yelling at someone, say "Good morning" instead. If you have an extra dollar, give it to tzedakah, anonymously. If you have an extra few minutes, say Psalms, or learn a chapter from Pirkei Avot. If you never kept Shabbat, try lighting candles and making kiddush with your family. If you have an extra afternoon, go visit someone (even a stranger) in the hospital, or visit an old age home.
Say a prayer before you go to bed, in your own words and from your heart.
Say a prayer before you go to bed, in your own words and from your heart, asking God to take us once again under His wing, and put love and Torah into our hearts, and give us the will to do His will, and watch over our brothers and sisters who are fighting so that we may have a place to call home.
If you hear someone saying something bad about one group of Jews or another, admonish him or her politely. If you hear someone speaking loshon hara (gossip), walk away, or better yet try to change the topic of conversation. You'll both get a mitzvah, and God knows we need them.
This is the only way we will be able to defeat our enemies. We must be strong of heart and faith, and help one another, to make it past these days and merit to see the redemption of our people, when we will all live in peace, in our beautiful holy land, in the ways of Torah, when no nation shall live up sword against nation, and neither will they learn war anymore. When the word of God will go forth from Zion, and love will gush forth like the strongest rivers.
May we hear only good news, and hear the voice of joy and laughter throughout Jerusalem. May it be speedily and soon.