Do you want to know, minute by minute, what a terror attack feels like? No, I don’t mean living it and I don’t even mean, seeing it (thankfully) but just living in those moments when you know it’s happened, but not where; and then finding out where, but not knowing what. And then finding out what, and simply watching others as they too understand. It’s happened again.
As I walked to the train in Jerusalem this morning, I heard a siren. Big city, not uncommon. Women go into labor, car accidents, someone falls. With over half a million people, ambulances in Jerusalem are constantly on the move. Another siren. Your mind begins to think; your heart goes a bit faster. Another. Oh God, you think. Please…
Three ambulances have gone past, including one that is an intensive care one. It is capable of treating a severely injured person; it is capable of being a station from which 10 people can be treated.
A police car. Another. A motorcycle police officer. The ‘Yasamnikim’ – special police unit on motorcycle – two men, heavily armed. Please, please, please. No…but I know already it’s happening. I see the light rail guards. They are standing a bit different, looking around more, scanning, checking their phones.
I walk up to one, “what’s happened?”
He looks at me and in a voice that is half anger, half resignation, says, “Sha’ar Prachim” (Herod’s Gate of the Old City). That is the where and confirmation of an attack. It is a 10 minute walk away; three minutes on the train and then a 3 minute walk. “Two police officers stabbed.”
“How bad?” I ask. The Hebrew is really a request for their medical condition but the translation would simply be – tell me what happened.
“Both moderate, maybe one critical.”
I don’t know whether to continue walking to work or wait for the train. I wait; I check the news. One is a young woman…only 19 years old, doing her national service with the police. The other is a 45 year old man. She was stabbed in the neck and is on a respirator in very serious condition; he was stabbed in the chest and is in moderate condition.
On the train, we hear more sirens. Now it is police cars and motorcycles continuing to stream towards the attack. At the Damascus Gate, I see two train guards on alert. An Arab with a backpack walks towards them. They call out to him to stop; to hand them his identification. They tell him to hand them his backpack, and he does. He looks…resigned. The guards look…I don’t know what the word is. They are watching all around them.
The two policemen were attacked from behind. Stabbed multiple times before the terrorist was neutralized. The Arab is told to lean against the wall; they are going to search him. What is the option? This is the 7th attack in just a few days; there could be more. We are minutes from where the attack took place; where they are struggling to treat and then move two badly wounded people.
The train moves on and as it glides past the Old City walls, everyone is looking. Another gate that offers access to the Muslim Quarter…or maybe it is the Christian Quarter, I’m not sure, is jammed. A police car is in the middle. They are clearly checking everyone.
I get off a stop early. I can’t stand feeling closed in and I need to walk. Please God, let them be okay. Don’t let them die. Please.
As I walk through the center of Jerusalem. All over, I see police. I feel so bad for them – two of their own are fighting for their lives in a battle that cannot be fought by others. All they can do, is their job and so they are doing it. Everywhere, they are standing a bit more forward, a bit more alert.
But I sense the sadness inside of them…or perhaps it is the sadness in me. I get to the building where I work, and I see a man speaking with another. And then he pulls out a shofar, a ram’s horn. It is the month of Elul, which precedes the month of Tishrei. The holidays are coming – Rosh Hashana, the New Year; Yom Kippur, the Day of Judgment; Sukkot, a holiday in which we remember that all is transient, temporary, ordained.
Elul is the month in which we work on ourselves; ask forgiveness from those we have hurt, including ourselves. And we blow the Shofar, the ram’s horn, as a call to repent, a call to arms, a call to our very souls.
I saw the man blow the shofar and asked if I could take a quick video and he agreed. And then he leaned towards me and said, “it’s Elul and we need the shofar, especially this morning. Two police, did you hear?”
“Yes, I heard,” I answered sadly.
“They should have a complete recovery.”
“Amen,” I answered and watched as he blew the shofar. It was short and then he smiled at me. A reminder, that smile. A reminder that we live and God willing, the police officers will too.