New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg came to Jerusalem on Tuesday (Aug. 26) for a nine-hour lightning solidarity trip that included visiting survivors of the recent bus bombing that murdered 21 Israelis, and lighting a candle at the spot where the attack occurred.
He also visited the Western Wall, and then took a ride on bus #2, the route on which the bomber struck. It happens to be the same bus I take home every day from work at Aish.com's offices near the Western Wall. I didn't plan it, but I found myself on the same bus as Mayor Bloomberg -- along with Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, 30 security guards, 40 reporters -- and 10 other regular passengers like me crammed in the middle. [And I had to pay for this ride?]
I told the Associated Press reporter who interviewed me how I thought it was terrific that the mayor came to show his support, and that everyone should do the same. I would have told Mayor Bloomberg directly, but the cameraman's elbow pressing down on my chest -- not to mention those 30 security guards -- prevented me from doing so.
When I got home late and told my wife -- who has pleaded with me to stop taking buses -- about my surreal bus ride, she was relieved. "I was hoping you would end up taking that bus home. It's the only one I knew for sure wouldn't be bombed."
She had a point. With all those mayors on the bus -- not to mention the 30 security guards -- we were totally safe.
Then it hit me: why am I or my neighbor or some guy named Mayer any less worthy of a safe ride than Mayor Bloomberg? Is Israeli blood so cheap? Shouldn't we all be able to feel safe and secure riding the bus home?
Part of the problem is how we define victory over the terrorists. I hear it all the time: if you're afraid to go out for dinner, to ride the bus, or to send your kids on an outing, then you're giving in to terror and letting the terrorists win.
Mayor Bloomberg's ride on the #2 bus was meant to send a message to Arab killers. "You cannot let terrorists win," he said.
I said the same thing to the AP reporter who asked how I felt traveling on the bus. "You have to carry on living, otherwise you're giving in to terror."
On further thought, perhaps the truth is exactly the opposite. Carrying on with normal life as if nothing really happened is giving in to terror. Just imagine if after last week's horrific suicide bombing 500,000 Israeli citizens said, "Enough! We are no longer taking the bus. We are no longer going downtown. We are no longer sending our kids to school -- until we can feel as safe as Michael Bloomberg."
That would be a powerful statement of our unwillingness to accept the terror -- and our government's reaction would be very different from what it is now.
Israelis refer to this relentless onslaught as the "matzav", which means "the situation" in Hebrew. Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post points out the danger in this label. A situation is something we learn to tolerate; we get used to it. After a bombing or a drive-by shooting, we're shaken for a few hours, at most for a few days. [The daily failed attempts at murdering our people no longer even register.] Yes, it's terrible, but we need to move on and live with it.
By accepting the "situation," we are giving in to terror. We need to start calling it what it really is: a war.
By accepting the "situation," we are giving in to terror. We need to start labeling this for what it really is: a war. At stake is not our willingness to take the bus; at stake is our very survival on our ancient homeland.
Wars need to be fought and won with the conviction that victory is the only option. They are not tolerated.
As Jews, we recognize that our response to this ongoing war of terror needs to be not only in the physical realm; the underlying spiritual causes need to be addressed as well. The physical world reflects the spiritual realm and can be used as a window to understand the specific areas of growth we need to work on.
After a terrorist attack, we frequently fall into a similar trap vis-à-vis our spiritual growth, by viewing our personal shortcomings as a "matzav", a situation that yes, we need to deal with, but all too often learn how to tolerate. Perhaps we feel a fleeting sense of urgency to work on genuine change -- a brief insight, a moment of inspiration to take on an area of growth and become truly different -- but then it fades and we slip back to the same negative habits. We remain the same and get accustomed to our personal situation, no matter how ineffective it may be.
As a response to last week's bombing, let's start calling the need to tackle our personal shortcomings a "war" -- a war against our yetzer hara, our lower selves, that must be fought with the conviction and dedication to win. No more toleration.
It is the beginning of the month of Elul, the period of introspection leading up to the High Holidays. Let's not allow ourselves to go back to "normal life" and the way things were before the bombing. It's time to say, "Enough! I'm going to work on being different." With the merit of this collective spiritual growth, may the Almighty bring true peace to the region and to our own inner lives. And may there be no need for those 30 security guards on Mayor Bloomberg's next visit to Israel.