Madness or courage?

by Rivka Levy

The day after two people were stabbed to death by the Lions’ Gate in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, my teenaged daughter asked me if she could go to the traditional end of Succot event there. 

The plan was to dance around with a bunch of Torahs, going from shul to shul in the Old City, and to show the arabs that we weren’t scared! There was just one problem with the plan: I was absolutely terrified for my daughter’s safety. Having a bunch of defiant, idealistic Jewish teenagers congregating in the very spot where Jews had just been stabbed to death by murderous Arab terrorists did NOT sound like my idea of a fun night out.

We got into a huge argument, because I live in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Morasha which is a 5 minute walk from the Old City, and all of my daughters’ friends live in what you’d call ‘arab hot spots’. A bunch of them live in the Muslim Quarter; in fact, my daughter’s closest friend lives in the same building as the Lavi family, one of the victims from last shabbat’s double-murder.

While I was busy telling her that she was crazy for even thinking to go into such a dangerous situation so soon after it was all still happening, her friends were telling her how important it was to show solidarity, and Jewish unity, and to prove to the Arabs that Jerusalem is our home, and that they can’t scare us away.

My heart sank.

Usually, I have a fairly good grasp of right and wrong, sensible and crazy, good idea and bad idea. But my usual tools for deciding things simply weren’t up to the dilemma I was being faced with. On the one hand, the argument that Israel is our home, and that God is in charge, and that nothing happens to anyone without His explicit say-so seemed to be pushing me towards letting my daughter go with her friends.

On the other, my maternal gut reaction was that I would have to be stark, raving bonkers to let my kid even walk out the door at the moment, let alone go dance around in middle of the Muslim Quarter.

There were so many factors at play, not least that while I felt I had the luxury of avoiding the Old City because I didn’t actually live there, one of my kids was still in school there, and the other one was being pulled into making a statement that had huge import for her friends. If I refused to let my daughter go, it would be sending the very clear message that her friends were living in a dangerous place, which simply wasn’t safe for any right-minded normal person to be in.

The problem was that the ‘dangerous place’ in question was Jerusalem, the holiest city in the world for Jews. Not simple. Not simple at all. After years of fending off barbed comments from people in the UK about why we’d chosen to live in ‘dangerous’ Israel – because it’s the Jewish homeland! Because it’s the holy land! Because God wants Jews to live here! – God was now testing our arguments to breaking point.

While my head was starting to spin from confusion, my daughter told us that there would be a lot of policeman guarding the event; that big rabbis were coming to it; and that they were expecting thousands of other people to show up. In the event, she was right about the last one.

My husband and I decided that he would escort my daughter into the Old City, and that if he got uncomfortable at any point, they would turn around and come straight back home, no questions asked.

They left, and I said a silent prayer that I hadn’t just made a huge mistake. My husband told me later that my daughter’s 14 year old best friend came to meet them, and traipsed through the Muslim Quarter at night, alone, draped in a huge Israeli flag. He was secretly impressed with her courage and bravery.

I also was, but it also perturbed me greatly: how could she not be scared? And if I was so scared, did that mean that my levels of trust and faith in God were not anywhere near where they should be? Or did I have it all wrong, and my daughter’s friend was bonkers (albeit very impressively so), and I was correct to be reacting so cautiously and fearfully?

Around two thousand Jews showed up to the hakafot shniot cum impromptu memorial event that night in the Muslim Quarter of Old City. They danced together, they sang together, they mourned together. My daughter and husband came home safe and sound, and even a little uplifted.

And me? My questions and confusion continue. Do I let my child go to school, or keep her home until it all calms down? What if it doesn’t calm down for another 3 months? Do I continue to live in fear, or do I take the decision to continue on, business as usual, come what may? Does God want bravery and defiance, or introspection and change? More prayer to solve the spiritual root of the problem, or more punishment meted out to our enemies? 

I don’t know.

The only thing I do know for sure is this: God is behind the latest wave of Arab terror to hit Israel. God has a plan for Am Yisrael, and none of this is random. And sooner or later (hopefully before I lose my marbles…), it’s all going to turn around for the good.


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