Buses & Flowers


29 Shevat 5768
Erev Rosh Chodesh Adar
March 5, 2008

I question if I should be writing you about this. I don’t want to worry my family or friends. I know I could scare off potential tourists and stir up doubt for potential olim. G-d forbid, I risk bolstering the case of those who have no desire to be here at all. It happened on the afternoon on March 4.

My bus was shot at and it was terrifying.

I was on the Number One, settled into a seat somewhere in the middle of the bus. As we trundled through Mea Shaarim, I leaned my head against the window and closed my eyes and rested. It’s been a busy week, lots of details, lots of running around and little sleep, so I took advantage of these quiet moments. I felt the bus slow down, making its left turn onto Rechov Sultan Suleiman through a distinctly arab shopping district alongside the Old City walls. There was, as usual, lots of traffic and I continued to relax as we inched along. Suddenly, screaming and yelling that shook me to the bones bolted me into consciousness.

The screams were from inside the bus. Loud pops pierced the air outside. A wave of panicked fellow passengers poured into the aisles, pushed toward me, then, at the command of the driver, fell to the floor. At first I panicked, too. I thought there was a bomber on the bus, so I ran to the door-which did not open, and crouched there. Then I realized there was a shooter outside. A woman, kneeling on the floor with Tehillim in her hand, told me to get away from the glass door. I realized I was an easy target. I crawled back toward the seats and folded myself into the flattest smallest target I could, my head to the floor. Like bowing on Yom Kippur during Aleinu, I thought. Eyes shut tight, I joined the cries to Hashem with pesukim from the only Tehillim I could think of, number 23-when I got to “lo’ira ra, ki ata imodi”-”I will not be afraid, for You are with me,” I said that over and over again.

Terrified screaming and yells from the passengers to move the bus, and from the driver for us to stay down continued. There were more shots. The bus honked franticly. One tall chassid remained upright while everyone I could see stayed close to the floor. Dressed immaculately with perfectly curled reddish peyos, the chassid in his long coat and stockings kept weaving up and down the aisle, bobbing back and forth between seats, monitoring the scene outside the windows while speaking on his cellphone like a commander in battle, obviously calling for help. Eventually, the bus driver, bless him, picked up speed and rambled past the action, speedily turning to safety along the southern wall.

Shaken, we climbed back into our seats, looking around into each others eyes in relief. A elderly woman needed mayim and a large bottle was passed to her from several rows back. Young people whipped out cellphones to call home and say they were ok in case their loved ones had heard about the pigua, but they had not... this incident never made it into the news. In fact, my search of stories the Jerusalem Post stated just the opposite scene: “on the streets of east Jerusalem on Tuesday, there were no reports of major violence in the city. ...Vendors sold their wares on streets packed tight with shoppers and several tourist groups heading to the Old City's Damascus Gate...”

There were dozens of underreported provocations early this week, my bus was simply one of them. In truth, we may not have been a target; if one really wants to shoot a bus, one could probably hit it. However, from the reactions of the driver and passengers, there was enough reason to believe danger was eminent.

The doors finally flung open at the Dung Gate, crowded with trinket kiosks, tourists and armed guards. Our commander-chassid spotted a police jeep and without bothering to get out, yelled through a window the details of the attack to the two inside. As the rest of us got off the bus, we looked around at one another, eyes often locked. We seemed both anxious to get away and reluctant to leave each other. It was only then that I noticed everyone was a Jew.

Odd, because, there are always arab men on that bus. They invariably find a way to be subtly offensive. It's the only reason I do not like to take the Number One. Once a young man played obnoxious music on his cellphone and turned up the volume when a Jew gave a disapproving look. Sometimes they talk too loudly or leer at modest girls. Once I saw an arab man purposefully take up two seats so a Jew had to stand. They always get off the bus at exactly the place by Damascus Gate where we were shot at. But no arab was on the bus that day.

Since we went into Gaza last week to damage the infrastructure that has lobbed katushas every day into Sderot and, as the Orange People correctly warned they would, hit near several sensitive areas in Ashkelon, the PR Machine has been twisting the story against us. One method is, like the schoolyard bully, to taunt us to react, then ride high on the wave of anti Israel press. Condeleeza Rice is in town making peace and publicly buying into this. The day before my bus was shot at, two city workers driving through a major Jerusalem thoroughfare in an Arab neighborhood were attacked by a mob with metal bars and glass bottles, barely avoiding getting dragged from their truck and beaten, or worse. There have been more unreported “little” incidents like mine. The attacks are planned-- and their goal is to terrorize us and incite us to retaliate.

Yes, we were terrified. But we were all G-d fearing Jews on that bus, most on their way to pray at the Kotel. After we scraped ourselves off the floor, humbled by that momentary fear, “Baruch Hashem,” were the first words we all said. We were afraid for the moment, but there is a greater fear we share. Fear of the Almighty who loves us and does only good. We know there is a greater plan at work.

Yes, I was incited, too. My retaliation? Gratitude for my life-with all its trial and all its joy-He continues to give me. I am alive, no one was hurt. I am grateful that only words Hashem put on my lips: “I will not be afraid for You are with me,” were the most comforting words I could have said. I knew we were in danger, but He was there with with me, my head on the dirty bus floor, and I felt calmed.

I’ve not been so calm since then, though. I jump at loud sounds and misread at children's happy screams, I did not sleep that night, and I worry too much. The people of Sderot go through this every day, all day, for years. We left Gaza, it was not enough. We supply energy, food and humanitarian needs, but it is not enough. So, they attack our sovereign towns full of unarmed citizens and we retaliate, but then we are told: that is too much.

It's hard to keep my head (in la-la land some will say) focused on the big picture and go on with my day, build my life, set goals for the future-while katushas and falsehood fly around us. But that is my retaliation. To live in Israel if Hashem wills it, feeling gratitude, even if my first pigua is not my last.

Yesterday I found myself in a dilemma. Once again in town, the quickest way home was the Number One. Of course I was going to take it. I was, after all, one of the few mothers who gave my seminary daughter permission to ride the busses several years ago after a wave of bus bombings. Its my right to go wherever, right?

So, I came out of Center One, approached the light to cross the street to the bus stop. The light was red. Before it turned green though, I continued down Jaffa. Past the bus station, past Machane Yehuda, past Café Neeman, Ben Yehuda and Sbarro. I did not stop walking until I reached the light to cross Rechov Shlomo haMelech and home was in sight. Sirens blared in the oncoming traffic. It was not an ambulance, thank G-d. It was Condeleeza Rice’s entourage, back from a day of peacemaking.

Come home soon, we need you here.
-Renee & David

P.S. Thursday, Rosh Chodesh Adar 10 P.M.
I finished this letter just a few hours ago. Tonight a terrorist walked into Yeshiva Merkaz haRav, hatefully gunned down eight pure souls and seriously wounded another eight. While the news changes the count every minute, we hang on to every update hoping the toll will fall. Arabs celebrate in the streets tonight, passing out candy to their children and shooting the guns supplied by Peres, just as we supplied the shooter tonight with a lethal weapon to kill our children.

Erev Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh Adar 12 noon
What is the Jewish response? Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar, ended his heart wrenching eulogy today with this, “Let us arouse to distance ourselves from all hatred and disunity, and let us increase love, brotherhood and Torah study...”

It’s our only recourse.

One victim lived here in the Rova, he was a friend of Mr. Cahan (who helped us in our erev Shabbos flood). Mr. Cahan said Yohai Lifschutz was a budding tamid chacham, a brilliant life with a sweet love of learning. Yohai’s father followed the Mishna Brura and refrained from eulogizing his precious lost son on Rosh Chodesh Adar, a day of simcha. Instead he praised his son for giving them close to Chai-18 years, and praised the Jewish people for doing the will of Hashem, “When the Jewish People sit and involve themselves in the simcha of Torah, Hashem says to His Heavenly entourage "Look, look at my beloved children who forget about their own distress and involve themselves in My simcha." We trust in the Big Picture, even when we are in too much darkness to see it-and we rejoice. That is the retaliation of the Jew.

The oldest, Doron Meherete was 26. Lazer Brody knew him and tells his story: An Ethiopian immigrant, Doron’s background was not solid enough to land him in the caliber of yeshiva he sought. After being rejected from Mercaz HaRav, Doron said, "If you won't let me learn Torah, will you let me wash the dishes in the mess hall?" For a year and a half, Doron washed dishes. But, he spent every spare minute in the study hall. He inquired what the yeshiva boys were learning, and spent most of the nights and all of his Shabbatot with his head in the Gemara learning what they learned. One day, the "dish washer" asked the Rosh Yeshiva to test him, the next day he became a bochur at Yeshiva Mercaz HaRav. We channel our energies to rise above our limitations. That is the greatness of a Jew.

And finally a last story, that can happen only in Israel told by Sharon Milendorf: The number 35 bus from Givat Shaul to Jerusalem passes by the yeshiva Mercaz HaRav. On Sunday morning after the attack, the bus stopped in front of the yeshiva and the driver shut off the engine and stood. With tears in his eyes, he told everyone on the bus that one of the boys killed on Thursday night was his nephew. He asked if we would mind if he spoke for a few minutes in memory of his nephew and the other boys who were killed. After seeing head nods all over the bus he began to speak.

With a clear and proud voice, he spoke beautifully about his nephew and said that he was a person who was constantly on the lookout for how to help out anyone in need. He was always searching for a way to make things better. He loved learning, and had a passion for working out the intricacies of the Gemara. He was excited to join the army in a few years, and wanted to eventually work in informal education.

As he continued to speak, I noticed that the elderly woman sitting next to me was crying. I looked into my bag, reached for a tissue and passed it to her. She looked at me and told me that she too had lost someone she knew in the attack. Her neighbors' child was another one of the boys killed. As she held my hand tightly, she stood up and asked if she too could say a few words in memory of her neighbor. She spoke of a young man filled with a zest for life. Every Friday he would visit her with a few flowers for Shabbat and a short dvar torah [Torah thought] that he had learned that week in Yeshiva. This past Shabbat, she had no flowers...

Eight boys- eight flowers.
may they remain a fragrant reminder of who we are

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