My mom and I were up North last week for a two day mini-vacation. Our first stop was Zefat, a spiritual haven for kabbalists, artists, Jews (both lost and found) and tourists. It's a special place and we enjoyed looking in the art galleries and chatting with artists. We asked a few people where we should eat and everyone pointed us toward the Yemenite pizza guy where indeed we had delicious Yemenite style pizza (the crust is similar to the spongy injera bread you get at an Ethiopian restaurant). While we were sitting there a family came in and we overheard them speaking in Spanish to each other and Hebrew to the pizza guy. The mother was cute, about my age, with three kids, each a little older than mine. I asked where she was from. Mexico City. I asked if she was here on vacation and she said she had moved here a year ago. Me too! I asked her why she decided to leave Mexico. She said she felt much safer in Israel.
Much safer in Israel. This after an eight day war where 1500 rockets fell in populated areas all over the south and parts of the center of the country. This after constant threats from Iran and other neighbors. It got me thinking about safety. About who is safe. About what it means to feel safe. Did I feel safe here? Safer than in America?
That was on Thursday. And then Friday happened. And a young, disturbed man with his mom's semi-automatic weapons broke into an elementary school in America and mowed down a class of first graders and the adults who dedicated to their care and education. And that school had a security system and a locked gate. Our old elementary school in California just had a gate and it was usually open. The school across from our old house was an open campus.
And so I asked myself again, after I wept for those kids and those families, do I feel safe? Did I feel safe when we lived in America? We lived in a fairly diverse community, heavy on the Hispanic. In fact the school across the street had a highly regarded bilingual immersion program. Lots of day laborers hung out at the 7-11 down the street. Lots of police cars patrolled by. Once someone threw a whole bag of pot into our bushes to avoid incarceration. There was also a murder suicide at the dry cleaners on the corner. The owner shot his ex-wife (the co-owner). Pretty tragic. But in spite of all that we often left the door unlocked. Once we even left our garage open for an entire weekend. I would regularly cross my six year old and let him ride his bike on the school blacktop carrying his walkie talkie and checking in periodically. I didn't tell many friends because I knew they would think I was crazy. But I felt safe. I knew my neighbors. They knew me and my kids. I felt like we looked out for each other and we did.
And I feel even safer here in Israel. I often leave our door unlocked. My kids ride their bikes around our little corner neighborhood and I am not outside watching them. I let my son walk up to our grocery store alone. He walks to piano lessons alone. He did that last year too and he was seven then. We live in a gated/fenced community and there is a guard. So yes, I feel safe.
But there are holes in the fence and Palestinians come in and out everyday. Some of them even come to my house to see if I need help with anything. Mostly I don't so I just make them coffee and we chat for a few minutes. Sometimes I give them a ride home if I'm heading in that direction. I'm absolutely cautious, especially when it comes to my kids, but I don't live in fear.
So I don't get why regular citizens need semi-automatic weapons for personal use. For protection? From what? An enemy invasion? I'm sorry but isn't the civil war over? Even then I'm pretty sure North and South got by fine with just their rifles. Or is it the power that we like? Or is it just for fun? I can think of so many other ways to have fun. Or is it because we really are afraid? Shooting rampages like this one appear to be happening all the time in the United States. And why is that? Is it because there are too many untreated mentally ill individuals there? Or too many guns? Or the kind of media coverage that assures future shooters worldwide noteriety? Or maybe it's the triple combo platter.
I think many of us are desparate to place blame. We can blame the shooter or his parents. We can blame the NRA. We can blame the health care system. We can blame the media. We can blame processed foods. We can blame video games. We can blame ourselves for watching the same scene play out again and again in cities and town across America without demanding policy change. That's the category I fall into.
But I refuse to feel frightened that this could happen at my school. Or the schools where my nieces and nephews learn. I refuse to let fear control the way I live. This coming from someone with a very active imagination and a penchant for watching Law and Order SUV so it takes a substantial commitment to keep my fears at bay. That's why I turn off Nancy Grace and I allow myself to feel safe because it's the only way I can keep hope alive in these uncertain times.