By: Inna Rogatchi (C), October 2015—
My husband, artist Michael Rogatchi and I flew to Israel for the beginning of Sukkoth, to spend a few weeks there and to participate in the Special Commemorative Film Series of my The Lessons of Survival Film marking the 10th anniversary of Simon Wiesenthal passing. The series were hold in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and Haifa.
We are staying in Jerusalem at the moment, breathing the air which is thickening with danger and anxiety, together with our friends, family, and the people of Israel amidst the intensifying wave of terror here.
At the beginning of Sukkoth, two weeks ago, one could hardly move on the busy, bustling, happy streets of Jerusalem filled with people, joy and music. At every corner, another celebration was happening, creating a multi-threaded mosaic of life and celebration here.
There were thousands at the Kotel (the Western Wall), both believers and tourists from all around the globe. We all know what it is like the High Holidays in Israel and especially in Jerusalem. The magnetism of the place had been attracted people here for well over three thousand years. And as it comes from my experience, the more often you are coming here and are breathing the air of the place, the more stronger and deeper this magnetism is felt. It strengthen one’s spirit and it is nourishes one’s being.
The festivities and uplifted spirit of the people in Israel had been broken on the night of October 3d, just after the end of Shabbat, which had been a special Shabbat of the ending of Sukkoth in Israel, when we all have heard on the brutal, pre-meditated murder of Rabbi Henkin and his wife in front of their four children aged from nine to just four months. My husband has told immediately: “It is only the beginning; they are plotting quite a holiday to us all here”.
And indeed, the terror attacks in the best and most important place of the world started to unfold with a diabolic speed.
We all were grieving over the barbaric murder of the one of the most talented Jew in his generation and his wonderful wife; we all were numbed thinking on those four orphans who saw their loving parents being slaughtered by the creatures for whom a word ‘ human’ shall no reason to be applied.
But only more attacks were to follow, all are typically set: young Muslim fanatics of both sexes, with knifes, not only indoctrinated successfully, but obviously trained to attack civilians, were aiming to take Jerusalem and the other places in Israel under their siege.
The next day was the ending of High Holidays of the Jewish year 5676 (2015), the holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simcha Tora. With our friends, we went to the Kotel to meet the holiday there, at the most sacred place of the Judaism. We knew that Simhat Torah, the Joy of the Torah, is unparalleled time in Israel and especially at the Kotel. We knew that tens of thousands of people representing the all rites of Judaism are going to be there, singing and dancing with Torah scrolls, with the celebration getting late into the night. We were in the hurry, not to miss a bit of this elevating joy of the Jewish spirit, and also to get a good place to pray and to see. We were joined by friends who were new to Israel and who were anticipating everything what was going on here, with trepidation.
We were at the place well in time. The Western Wall plaza had been unusually quiet. We were thinking that more people would be coming, that it is only a matter of time for the plaza to be filled with them. Although the men’s section had been happily filled but certainly not overcrowded, there were only about three hundred women in our section. We were stunned.
The atmosphere had been very good though, nice, serene, devoted, very enjoyable and fully focused on the reason of all of us being at the sacred place. But it was a bit surreal, to witness the Kotel plaza empty beyond the place for prayers, doubly so on the Simcha Tora eve.
The next night, some of our Israeli friends were almost terrified while hearing that we have spent the previous night at the Kotel: “Oh, do be careful, please!” – they were saying to us emphatically, and it was clear that they meant it. They were exchanging it between themselves: “Have you heard? The Rogatchis with their guests went to the Kotel last night!..” – Why not?” – was instant respond by our close friend, a second-generation Jerusalemite and a very senior official in the city. – “Well, because is clearly dangerously, that’s why” – another of our good friends, a many- generation Jerusalemite and notable public figure has responded in full seriousness. For the first time during my tens of visit to Jerusalem during over a quarter of the century, I felt that there is something real that bothers even the bravest people living there. I just felt it, and I knew that it is very real.
The day after another during last ten days, the situation – and the atmosphere – in Jerusalem, around and beyond it, here in Israel has been aggravated with daily terror attacks – knives, rocks, explosives, cars, physical violence unleashed in the wild determination of the Muslim fanatics who disrespect lives of anyone including their own. These fanatics hates as a normal human being breathes. Importantly, they had been brought in this fashion – on the EU and the UN funding for their sick text-books and barbarian school programs. Also importantly, they had been trained and motivated to attack people with knives, to pelt them and their vehicles by stones, to apply the physical violence by attacking people, suffocating them, beating, grabbing weapons from the soldiers and officers, spitting on the bleeding victims, mocking them, – just happily demonstrating the best of the fanatical Islam appliance towards humanity.
They are celebrating their daily murderous attacks in Israel to the best of their bestiality all over the country – and it must be done a documentary on this subject exclusively. It truly would be the best verification of all that endless financing of the Palestinian Authority and its institutions by their devoted friends in the US, EU, and the rest of the civilised – or is it? – world.
Our family and friends here in Israel started to call us repeatedly asking us to stay indoors, to refrain from going to the Kotel, to avoid going to the famous Mahane Yehuda market and the other crowded and popular places. “Please, stay inside. Please, do not go anywhere”, – we are told repeatedly and daily. “What, are you going around ( the city)? Do not do it! And do not go to the Kotel, please” – our friends and family are insisting. But we are going around, and we are going to the Kotel – just being focused on what’s going on around us on the empty streets of Jerusalem. It was really painful to see an elderly Rabbi who was walking next to us in the centre of Jerusalem and who was looking behind his shoulder every meter or so. I felt really down observing his anxious face turning behind his back all the time.
We all are living here in Jerusalem accompanied by sirens and sounds of helicopters daily, several times a day. It is very uneasy to pray inside the Synagogue while sirens are loudly screaming nearby. People here are saying that during the previous attacks on Israel in the summer 2014 sirens meant a rocket attacks alarm, and at least they have had 90 seconds to run, often with a small children, to the basements. ‘But knives attacks has no siren, and we all, each of us, everyone, is in imminent danger now”, – as Sarah Tuttle-Singer wrote in her recent blog.
The difference between the previous troubling security situations in Israel and the current one is that previously there were tourists who were afraid, but now it is the Israelis who are nervous, tense and anxious. And it is utterly and fundamentally wrong for people to be afraid and to live in progressing security jeopardy on their own land, in their own country. This is a massive violation of basic human rights – and it shall be applied and fought for, despite all the hostile attitude towards Israel, at the international forums, whatever they are. If we will not fight for preserving our rights, against all odds, no one else would be interested in doing it.
In the empty stores, sale persons are thanking you profoundly for any purchase and all are telling you – “do be careful”, “look around very carefully”, “have a good – and safe – day”. The solidarity is palpable around here, and it is warming up, but it also painful to witness such wide-spread, universal concern, at eevery inch of life in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and the other places in Israel nowadays.
People are cancelling meetings – not because of themselves, they are coming to their working places regularly, but because of you; because they do not want you to go to the streets, to use the public transportation, to be at the vulnerable security-wise busy junctions. Usually busy, not these days though.
Everyone is preoccupied with news only, and people are checking their smart-phones every ten minutes in order to check what is happening.
Important conventions that were planned to be run at the places which are vulnerable security-wise at the moment, such as a special convention of the Ministry of Education at the Kotel, has been cancelled. Travel agencies are reporting that a series of cancellations has been started now, as well. There are no business in restaurants and stores, usually very crowded at this time of year. The economy will be suffering in Israel again.
But the Jewish spirit is not giving up, importantly. We have had a very long training, indeed, to keep it strong. On the Shabbat at the peak of terror, my husband returned from his Synagogue in a great spirit. “The synagogue was absolutely full, both in the men and women section, not a single empty seat. We were singing in unison, with incredible unity, force and joy. Unbelievable, great joy. And then, when I was returning home, all windows on the both sides of the street were opened, with lights and candles on, and people were singing at their homes on the arriving of the Shabbat everywhere, just everywhere. My only thought both in the Synagogue and on the way home was that it is impossible to overcome the people with such understanding, calm and devotion”.
The roads between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv are blocked every day, but the traffic police trying hard to open it as soon, as possible; the other roads in Israel are regularly blocked too, due to the ongoing security operations. The parents are very nervous about the children’s safety at schools, the guards at the schools now are paid for the longer than usual hours of their work. The Jerusalem municipality has opened a special Centre for people in need in psychological comforting, those who has been affected in different ways by the recent wave of terror. And those are many. Practically everyone we are talking with these days is saying: “You came here at the wrong time”, “Those are terrible times”, “We are concerned very much by what’s going on here daily”. We are replying to our concerned friends that there is no a wrong time to visit Jerusalem and Israel, ever.
People’s mood has been changed here in Jerusalem, as well as in Tel-Aviv, Haifa and the other places where we had visited, quite substantially. Entering caffee with friends, we all are agreeing, semi-jokingly: “Let’s watch each other’s back, each of us”. Sipping fresh mint tea at the street caffee, we saw a car coming a bit too close to our table by its rare. Our friends stopped to drink their tea at once and were piercing at the car’s trunk. “Well, just to be sure that nobody will get up from there suddenly, with a knife in his hand”, – they’ve mentioned. We all tried to smile, but nobody felt any spark of humour at the moment.
The terrorists started with the stones, then they switched to knives, attacking people with a visible on the tapes pleasure. After that they started to attack buses and cars. And now the peaceful for many years streets of the western part of central Jerusalem are burned with Molotov cocktails thrown by terorrists whom are far too many among us here in Israel. There is an understanding in Israel on all level of society that the third intifada is in progress here now.
“There had been 20 attacks in 7 days, with many casualties among the civilians – why the world is silent? Why really?!.” – those questions are asked by the friends of Israel world-wide. The US administration waited for full two weeks to start to condemn the terror against Israeli citizens, but did it in equalising the Palestianian terrorists and Israel, the same as the EU did; the UK Foreign Ministry dared to express their ‘concern’ over ‘the use of force by Israel’. Kafka would feel very lonely in the real jungle of the international policies of today. His wildest fantasies are truly very pale in comparison with the realities of utterly dishonest and unfair parody on the international governance today.
The mayor of Jerusalem is calling for arming the citizens, the deputy mayor suggested a curfew shall be introduced in the Old City. The citizens are arming themselves with all range of possible defence tools, from pepper and anti-wasp sprays to iron bars, long screwdrivers and even a long umbrellas. There is no hysteria in Jerusalem, all is quiet, but people are focused and cautious. And there is no joy here at the moment at all. Too many people Israelis are burying daily these days, too many people are in hospitals. And the toll is rising on a daily basis.
It is very hard to imagine that just two weeks ago, there were overcrowded streets here, with energising musical chaos all over, as there has been a concert of its own at every corner.
But the Jewish melody did not disappear, it had been not swop away by the wave of animalistic terror. After the vile attack on the bus claiming three lives of the Israelis with over 20 more people wounded, we were slowly going through the empty and sad streets of the heart of both Jewish and non-Jewish world, while seeing many Israeli flags reining in front of us over the Zion Square. The flags were hold by girls, aged between 15 and 20, their faces were enlightened, they were smiling gently and peacefully. People around were listening the songs that were performed by few mid-aged very good musicians in support of Jewish life and Israeli spirit. People were coming from all directions to the place. After days of increasing terror, the faces at that improvised concerts radiated serenity and love to their county, their people, their land, their history, their families, and their nation, our nation. And the music was beautiful.
“ We will never be won over, by none of those bastards”, – said my husband. As everybody else at the Zion Square at that moment, we both were smiling, too. The Israeli flags were reining in the rhythm of the eternal Jewish melody. And our kids were smiling, keeping our flags in their hands very firmly.