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Coming Back
by Judy Lash Balint
Israel Insider
September 7, 2003

Jerusalem--Coming back to Israel after a few weeks abroad is always an exercise in reality therapy. The day to day concerns of Israelis are so much more existential than the topics that take up the lives of most American Jews--it makes opening the morning paper the day after coming home almost viscerally shocking. The death of the 22nd victim of the last Jerusalem bus bombing; our failed attempt at killing off Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin and his subsequent threats against "the Zionists," and the burial of two more 20 year old IDF soldiers killed hunting Arab terrorists that quitter Mahmoud Abbas was supposed to be disarming.

But out on the streets of Jerusalem life goes on in all its multicultural complexity despite the high level terror alert that was announced last night in response to the Hamas threats.

Everyone here has their own response to such pronouncements. Generally, I ride the buses because they're convenient and it's a normal way of getting around a city. I make an exception on Sunday mornings, since so many bomb attacks have taken place on the busy first day of our workweek--it's not really rational, just my mishugas, just as several friends won't ride the bus at all, preferring to take cabs or walk.

Today, Sunday, with lots of errands to do in town after being away, I automatically jump on a crowded #14 bus from Emek Refayim before realizing I had violated my Sunday rule. It's less than a 10 minute ride but dark thoughts go through the mind.

At the bank in Zion Square, a short security officer with a neat black beard, glasses and a white knitted kipa mans the door and coos over the newborn baby of the young Arab couple in front of me. The wife, dressed in the long grey coatdress and traditional headcovering of religious Moslems doesn't seem at all surprised by the smiling attention of the guard as he politely holds open the door for her family to enter.

Near the bank, an optimistic business person has opened a new espresso bar at the end of the Ben Yehudah Mall, but just across the way a venerable stationery and general store on the corner has closed its doors leaving another ugly deserted downtown shopfront.

The regular beggar is at his spot over by the Great Synagogue on King George Street, but he's now been joined by an elderly tired-looking woman sitting on the sidewalk next to a box of woven kippot she's trying to sell.

Renovations of the imposing Terra Sancta building at Paris Square seem to have been completed, but it's not clear who the new tenants will be. Built as a Franciscan monastery and used by Hebrew University when access to the Mount Scopus campus was limited before 1967, the structure occupies a prime piece of Jerusalem real estate right next door to the Prime Minister's residence--site of frequent demonstrations.

Along the billboard wall next to Terra Sancta, new posters advertise the return of organized trips to Hebron and Rachel's Tomb. Sponsored by the Hebron Fund, the adventure costs just 20 NIS ( approx. $4.50) from Jerusalem and includes the opportunity to pray at the Cave of the Patriarchs.

Another sign of the times is the sukka that has already gone up at the King Solomon Hotel. Generally, the sound of hammers against wood that signifies preparation for the Sukkot festival when Jews live in the fragile booths for a week, starts after Rosh Hashana--but it could be that the hotel is getting a jump on its festival preparations. A travel agent friend told me that there isn't a hotel room to be had anywhere in Jerusalem during this coming Sukkot, and air space in and out of the country is at a premium for the holiday.

Last year the Peugot car company sponsored artists who decorated dozens of almost life-size lions that spent a few months gracing public places around the city and were then auctioned off. Now, a new crop of the colorful beasts have appeared to brighten various corners, just in time to delight the high holyday crowds.

The only evidence I see of the heightened security alert is at the middle school down the block from my apartment. In place of the regular security guard, there's a police car and two heavily armed officers patrolling up and down the street. Our intelligence sources say that schools and places of entertainment are major targets for our cowardly enemies--it's our reality.