Red Lines

by Brian on January 12, 2006

in A Parent in Israel,Living Through Terror


It was only a matter of time before one of our kids demanded access to
what may be the most rebellious, dangerous and terrifying activities
known to parents in Israel.

In this case, the culprit in question was twelve-year-old Merav, and her act of teenage defiance? She wanted to ride the bus.

In normal circumstances, this shouldn’t cause fits of apoplexy. But
these past five years have not been normal times and no one in our
family – nor most of our friends – has taken public transportation
since September 2000 when suicide bombers began regularly targeting
buses, making getting from here to there a matter of life or
death…literally.

Merav didn’t set out to deliberately challenge our value system. She simply wanted to go see the latest Harry Potter movie at the Malcha Mall. She had gotten together a group of friends, but our five-seater Toyota Corolla wasn’t large enough to schlep them all. None of the other parents were available to drive at that hour.

“All my friends are allowed to take the bus,” Merav argued. Not an
entirely convincing argument as far as I was concerned. If their
parents don’t mind them taking a chance at getting blown up, how is
that my fault?

But the truth is, it was more than just Merav’s wanting to experience
the joys of standing packed like a jar of gefilte fish at the kosher
mini-market the night before Passover while a surly driver yells “nu, chevre…get to know your neighbor and move on back…beseder?”

At twelve years old, Merav was tentatively trying on a tad of pre-teen independence.

The unspoken subtext to her request was that, if granted, she and her
friends would be loosed on the mall on their own with no parents
hovering nearby, no chaperone at the theater, no one handing over the
money to the pizza parlor cashier and suggesting that maybe she forego
super-sizing that Coke and take a swig from the bottle of water she had
sensibly carried with her from home instead.

Taking the bus, then, was part of the overall package, the first link in a
chain of freedom. This was more about girl power than confronting
terrorists.

As I mulled over how to respond, I thought about a lecture I had heard only the night before by David Horowitz, Editor-in-Chief of the Jerusalem Post, given at the Moreshet Avraham
synagogue in Jerusalem. His thesis was that Israelis managed to
cope with the last five plus years of violence by creating entirely
imaginary but mentally manageable “red lines” of what was or was not a
permissible security risk.

Some of us stopped going out to eat in restaurants and cafes entirely for
awhile, and when we returned it was only to those that had armed guards
posted outside. Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s colorful fruit and vegetable
market, became off limits after a spate of bombings there. And most of
us thought twice before taking the bus, justifying tedious carpools and
expensive taxis before stepping foot again on Egged, our national
carrier.

Despite the fact that, statistically, one always remained in far graver
danger of winding up in a traffic accident while traveling in a private
car, Horowitz characterized our pastime of picking and choosing as
ultimately essential. The situation of this last half decade has not
just been one of inconvenience, he said, but of a true existential
conflict.

Had our resolve broken; had Israelis either retreated to cower indoors
afraid to confront the reality which was forced upon us…or fled
entirely to what we perceived as safer shores someplace else, we
wouldn’t be sitting here having a conversation about Harry Potter or
pizza at the mall at all. We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves,
Horowitz concluded, if creating these fictional red lines helped save
our sanity, if not the State itself.

But maybe it was time. After all, security has improved dramatically.
Downtown Jerusalem, which for a time had become a depressing ghost
town, is now packed with tourists and locals alike. One block of Jaffa
Street alone sports a brand new Aroma Café followed by a Café Hillel
next door to the first Jerusalem branch of the American chain Coffee
Bean and Tea Leaf
.

Our synagogue just voted to remove the volunteer armed guards that have
protected the entrance to the building during Shabbat services for the
past five years. My wife Jody and I are once again traveling on roads
and to places
we wouldn’t have deemed passable just a short time ago.

And riding the bus in Israel is not just a means to an end; it’s been a
source of national pride. Before September 2000, it was common to see
kids as young as six years old alone or with a group of friends on
their way to and from school, clutching their cartissia (or monthly
pass). Adults would look out for the kids; drivers would go out of their
way to make sure no one got lost. It was part of the Israeli mystique
of freedom, where walking through a public park after dark poses scant
danger of a midnight mugging.

And I thought: was it now time for us to drop the public transportation taboo too?

But Merav had already decided for us. At 4:30 PM, she headed out to
meet her friends at the corner from where they would walk to the bus
stop. One of the girls was planning to meet them at the mall. At 5:20
PM, the girl called us at home. Where were Merav and the other girls,
she wanted to know? They hadn’t arrived yet.

We told her to wait at the entrance to the movie theater while I immediately checked the Internet. No news of a bombing.

But 20 minutes later, the girl called again. Still no sign of them. We
had been trying to give Merav a little independence (as long as we’d
let her go in the first place) but at this point, Jody broke down and
called Merav on the cell phone she’d borrowed from me.

“Where are you?” I heard Jody say to Merav. Then to me: “She’s still on
the bus…stuck in traffic.” Then back to Merav: “Call us when you get
there, OK?”

We didn’t hear from Merav again until she arrived home at 10:30 PM.

“How was it?” I asked innocently when Merav strolled in the door still flush from her big night out.

“Disappointing,” Merav replied.

“Really?” I said.

“Yeah…they changed too much of the movie from the book.”

“I meant how was the bus ride.”

“Oh, that…it was a little boring.”

“So you won’t be doing it again?” I asked, my hopes rising slightly.

Merav looked straight at me and with a slight downtown of her lips
coupled with an almost imperceptible narrowing of her eyes, she shot me a
look that could wither the muggle Prime Minister or perhaps Professor
Dumbledore himself.

Really, Abba…” was all she had to say.

I guess that’s one more red line we’ve marked off.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous January 18, 2006 at 1:44 am

Huh. Interesting. I don't know any Israelis, even American-born Israelis, who don't take buses in Israel. Including my parents, sister, who liev in Raanana, and many friends in Jerusalem. It would never really occur to me to stop taking buses in Jerusalem.

2 Anonymous February 10, 2006 at 2:03 am

Cool…Very useful article, thanks!

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