One Day in Jerusalem

November 21st, 2010

I wrote this that afternoon. I spent most of my walk letting these thoughts grow in my head into this narrative. When I got home, I wrote it all out in one go with very little editing. I wanted to get across the progression I went through during the day. After some minor editing, it was published by New Voices in their March 2002 issue.

Sunday, January 27, 2002

It was a gorgeous Jerusalem day; the sun was shining and there were people out in the streets. The temperature was at that in-between point where one could not decide whether to put on a hat or take off a sweatshirt. I left the apartment around 11:00 a.m. to go run some errands. I needed to talk to a friend at the bank downtown, get a new alarm clock, and buy some double-sided tape to hang a tapestry on the wall.

As I passed Tzarfat Square walking along King George Street, there was a loud crack that reverberated through the air. My first instinct was to try and write it off as construction noise, but inside I knew that was a lie.

Things were surprisingly normal for half a minute or so. Traffic continued on. Pedestrians continued on. The calm before the storm. Slowly things became eerily quiet, so quiet I could hear the tapping of the footsteps of my fellow pedestrians. Traffic had almost completely disappeared, and no one was talking. Maybe people were pretending they had heard nothing or hoping they had heard nothing, but they knew that something had happened, and because of the sudden lack of traffic, it must have been close by.

The quiet lasted only a short while, and was broken by the wail of ambulance sirens. Even after the ambulances started passing by and there was the constant wail of multiple sirens piercing even the most stubborn mind, there were still people chatting aimlessly, waiting for buses, continuing on their way. I was part of that, too. Walking towards the sirens, instead of away.

I slowed my pace and tried to take in the scene. As I got closer, there were more and more people coming out of office buildings just to stand there and look down the street. What did they expect to see? Despite only being three or four blocks from the sirens, they could see more on the television than on the street. Yet they still continued streaming out.

I found a public phone and called friends to let them know I was okay. By the time I got off the phone, the police were already set up to redirect traffic. Against my better judgment, and reason, I continued in the direction of the commotion. I briefly considered trying to get close to the action. I might be able to help, or just gawk. Maybe I could translate for someone who spoke English but not Hebrew. But suddenly I was worried for my own safety. Would an angry crowd turn on a heavily bearded young man? I was dressed like an American, but would that matter? Why was I more scared at that point of the crowd than of another bomb? None of what was going through my mind made any sense, so I continued on to the bank.

The bank is about a block down King George Street from the intersection where the ambulances were gathered. As I walked up to the bank, a manager was telling the security guard to lock the door because they were going to close early. I caught the door before it closed and asked the guard to let me in. He shook his head and closed the door on me.

I turned away from the door, not sure of which way to go. A short old woman banged on the bank door, said something to the guard, and he opened the door for her and let her in. I looked at him with a “What the hell am I supposed to do now?” look, and he let me into the bank. As I entered, I heard the bank manager telling the employees and customers that the bank was closing early for security reasons. It had little effect on me; I was just there to ask our friend at the bank if we could move the Shabbat dinner we had invited her to back two weeks. She was not at her usual desk, and the woman next to her said she was not in today but would be there tomorrow.

I left the bank and stood on the sidewalk of King George Street contemplating my next move. There were people all over the place. Some were huddled together in tears, some were on the bank of public phones, but most were staring off to the left in a daze. They were standing at bus stops, as if any bus could get through the mass of police cars and ambulances that had gathered. Part of me wanted to yell at them for being so stupid.

I wanted to check out one of the cheap electronics stores in the area for alarm clocks, but after my encounter at the bank, I decided that there would be no stores open in the area. So I headed off the way I had come, back home.

King George Street was now completely empty except for the police cars parked in the middle of every intersection. For a while I walked undisturbed down the middle of the street. There were still people standing at bus stops expecting buses that could not possibly come. Were they deluding themselves, or did they really not know what to do or where to go?

I turned down Azza Street; there was a hardware store there where I could get the tape I wanted. As I passed a small pizza place, I noticed a small crowd gathered around the television. I stepped inside. And there was the scene, live on the screen. It was no longer a collection of sirens at an intersection. There were pictures of body-laden stretchers being carried off, pictures of sappers in bomb-disposal suits, pictures of policemen and -women seemingly running in all directions in a mass of confusion. My perspective of the events changed from just some ambulances to people actually being hurt. There were some injured, numbers not known, severity not known. It was real for me now. The anchor repeated what little he knew, that a bomb went off about half an hour ago. It did not seem like that long. My sense of time was warped.

I stepped out of the pizza place and continued down the street. Every shop had either a television or a radio, and every television or radio had a small crowd. I crossed the street and went into a hardware store. I found what I wanted and handed the man behind the counter some money. What do you say to a stranger at a time like this, with the radio in the background reporting live from the local hospitals? I managed to squeak out a “thank you” as he handed me my change.

By this point I had left the commercial areas behind and was now safely back on residential side streets. They were quiet and calm, but I knew that behind most of those doors was someone glued to a television watching the events that were happening only a short walk away.

There were kids out in the street in bright orange vests with hand-held stop signs taking their turn as school crossing guards, and people going about their usual daily routines. As I approached home, I felt a drop of rain. At some point in the last hour the sun had disappeared, and it had started to drizzle. I finally arrived at home; no one can hurt me at home.

Postscript: The bombing in downtown Jerusalem on Sunday, January 27, 2002 killed one man, along with the terrorist, and wounded over 100 people. The bomber was a Palestinian woman. The bombing attack was the first such attack carried out by a woman since the beginning of the present Intifada.

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