Sunday was a beautiful day. Not too hot, not too cold, just pleasant. Taking advantage of the good weather – we’ve seen a lot of rain these past weeks – I decided to head over to a neighboring town to shop for my son’s upcoming bar mitzvah.
On the first Sabbath after my son turns 13, he will lead services in our synagogue and read the weekly Torah portion. Thankfully, I have a lot of family flying in for the special occasion, which is what brought me to the paper goods shop. I was deciding color schemes and picking out items that would make the weekend special.
On my way home, my mind was already three months from now, feeling the joy at having my family join us here in Israel for this momentous occasion. Then suddenly, as if I had been awakened from a trance, I realized that something was terribly wrong.
I was almost at the exit of the town when I saw police running and heard sirens blaring. Then I saw countless medics arrive on the scene, putting on their bright orange vests. Soldiers appeared next. It all happened so fast, and though it took a moment to process, I knew that I was in the middle of a terrorist incident.
What frightened me most, however, was when I saw civilians running toward the exit of the town – the very exit I was headed toward but stuck in traffic. The reason why that scared me was because I thought that they could be running away from a terrorist who was still inside the town. I didn’t know if the incident happened inside or outside. I didn’t know if there were knives or guns involved.
I didn’t know if I was safe or in danger.
And I was stuck, in my car, with nowhere to move, unsure if it was safe to get out, unsure if it was better to get out and run, or stay where I was. For that terrifying moment, everything was unknown, including if I would get out of there alive.
I called my husband to ask what was happening. He didn’t have any answers as nothing had appeared yet on the news. I posted on Facebook and, thank God for social media, within seconds someone responded that a stabbing attack had just taken place near the entrance/exit – the one right in front of me.
Thank God the terrorist was already neutralized. I was still shaken, but realized the incident was most likely over. It took me more than an hour to make the 10-minute drive home due to army activities and investigations. When I did arrive home, I was in a totally different state of mind than when I had left.
Later on, we learned that the terrorist was a 23-year-old woman from Bethlehem. Security footage circulating the Internet showed her calmly walking up to the security guard at the town’s gate. She looked pleasant and spoke nicely to him. Then all of the sudden, instead of pulling out the requested documents from her purse, she pulled out a huge knife and lunged at the guard, wounding him before he could stop her. Thank God, the guard was able to reach his weapon and stop the terrorist before she could do more damage.
My experience taught me what terrorism is really all about: fear of the unknown. It’s about sudden, unexpected danger. It’s about a lack of control. That’s what is keeping people indoors these days — because of what might happen, what is highly unlikely, but could happen. It’s about not knowing what will happen. Terror takes away our sense of security and makes us feel vulnerable. And most people don’t like feeling vulnerable.
I couldn’t help but think of verses from the Bible about Israel’s archenemy Amalek:“Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt . . . they met you on your journey and attacked . . .” (Deuteronomy 25:17–18). In the original Hebrew, the word for “met you” is literally translated as “happened upon you.”
The Amalekites were the first terrorists. They launched a surprise attack on the innocent and vulnerable. Physically, Amalek lost that battle. But spiritually they won, and the battle rages on. They succeeded in planting fear and doubt in the psyche of Israel – and they continue to cultivate those seeds even today.
One theory recently circulating as to why the weapon of choice in this wave of terror is a knife (similar to a sword), as opposed to more modern weapons, is because God wants us to know that the war we are fighting is a very old war. Whether or not that’s true, the message certainly resonates. As much as we are fighting a physical battle, we must recognize that it is also a spiritual one – and we must wage war accordingly: with powerful prayers, unwavering faith, and acts of loving kindness.