This past Saturday night just before four in the morning, I woke up for no apparent reason. A few minutes later, my 5-year-old came into my room to tell me that his eye was bothering him. Half asleep, I quickly made him a warm compress to put on his eye and told him to lay down in his bed. Except this time he told me that he was scared (which he never does), and since I was so tired and my husband was out of town, I told him that he could sleep in our bed (which I never do).
As I was drifting off back to sleep, I heard a commotion outside. At first I thought that a neighbor’s teenager had come home really, really late. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw my cellphone blinking with messages. My friends and I have a WhatsApp group where we say the book of Psalms repeatedly every day or week. I saw that many of my friends were awake saying Psalms – at 4:15 in the morning! So I texted the group and asked why everyone was awake. And that’s when I found out.
Our town had been infiltrated by a terrorist. Not only that, but the working assumption was that he was somewhere on my street. I said some Psalms and took some deep breaths.
Then I saw the messages from our mayor and security staff declaring that this was a true security breach and everyone was directed to stay safely inside. I rushed downstairs to check that all doors were locked, windows closed, and shades down. I turned on all lights outside so my property wouldn’t be an ideal hiding spot. Thank God, my four children were still asleep.
“The Soldiers Are Here!”
What do you do next? What would you have done?
I spent the next two hours praying, messaging family in the states, my best friend across the street whose husband is also overseas, and checking for updates. Around six in the morning we heard that the terrorist had been found. He had been hiding less than a minute away from my house when he jumped out from behind a bush and stabbed a soldier in the stomach, wounding him seriously. In seconds, shots were fired and the terrorist was “neutralized,” meaning the Israel Defense Forces fired shots to stop the terrorist but not to kill him. Of course the question still loomed – was there another one?
My children began to wake up for school. First my 5-year-old wanted to go downstairs as usual to eat breakfast. But I was still on my phone trying to figure out what was going on and if schools were going to open. I told him to look outside because he would get to see some army trucks as they had been coming in droves for hours through our neighborhood. My son saw one army vehicle and got excited, as 5-year-old boys do.
A few minutes passed as he continued to watch. Then my son exclaimed, “Mommy! The chayalim (soldiers) are here!” I replied, “That’s so cool honey! Did you see another truck?” But my son said, “No, they are here! At our house!” Then I looked outside and saw four soldiers with their rifles out searching my property!
Astonished, I opened my window, and one soldier asked if we were all ok. I managed to stutter that we were and asked if it was true that the terrorist had been caught. The soldier assured me that he was and wished me a nice day. I wished him a nice day as well. The exchange was like we were in the grocery store, two customers picking out cucumbers. But we weren’t. This was my house, these were my son’s toys and bicycle they were walking by with guns pointing in every direction.
As my other children woke up they were both unnerved by the whole thing, yet excited that school might be canceled, like a snow day. School was canceled, then it wasn’t. Parents had to get to work, kids had to get to school, and we scrambled to get ready all while army vehicles and soldiers passed our home. I dropped my kids at school with a few extra “I love you’s” and then it is was “back to normal.”
But of course it wasn’t. We are all thinking about what had happened, and God forbid, what could have happened.
The Beautiful Part
So that’s our story. It’s sad and disturbing. But there was also a beautiful part.
Three things happened right after this incident which were wonderful and so reflective of life in Israel. Minutes after getting the “all clear,” residents of our town were outside bringing the soldiers hot drinks, cold drinks, even chocolate milk and cookies. People were so grateful for their help, and they didn’t just think it — they showed it.
A little while later, the man who lived in the house where the terrorist was found announced that in the evening there would be a barbeque in the same spot where the incident occurred to celebrate life, thank our soldiers, and express gratitude to God for the miracle He did for us.
Finally, we all remembered in the deepest way what really matters in life. Everyone was extra nice to each other throughout the day. We all realized that our mundane worries and petty arguments were nothing at all. We had the clarity that such events bring about.
We recognized that as much as we like to feel like we are in control, we are not in control. And that is true for everyone. Our terrorist event coincided with the bomb that went off in Manhattan this past weekend. Whether we are in New York, Israel, or anywhere, we are not in control – but God is.
This is the Hebrew month of Elul, during which we prepare for the upcoming High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Every day of this month, our custom is to recite Psalm 27 which begins: “The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear?” The psalmist’s words remind us that while disaster can strike anywhere, God can protect us everywhere.
During this time we also blow the shofar, the ritual trumpet, as a daily wake-up call. It calls us to remember what is most important. It beckons us to change and improve ourselves as we approach the High Holy Days. It calls us to return to God and recognize Him as our King.
Here in our small town outside Jerusalem, near God’s holy city, we all got one big wake-up call – literally. We heard it loud and clear. I pray that God hears us, too; that He will hear our prayers for security, protection, and peace in Israel and around the world.
-by Yonit Rothchild, a senior writer with The Fellowship who lives in Israel.