Saturday, July 29, 2006

Seattle News

I have a very vivid memory of one particular Rosh Hashanah when I was a little girl. I think it must have been the fall of 82, so I would have been nine. I think I had a dress I really liked, although I don't remember what it looked like. My parents would have been a couple of years older than I am now. We walked to Temple Emanu-El on Lake Street from our apartment, and the weather was incredible, perfect yontiff weather, sunny with deep blue skies, but not warm, crisp and cool. The SFPD was standing around the building, checking people as they came in.

I don't remember how old I was when it really occurred to me that Methodists don't have security in front of their churches on Easter day, that most ethnic and religious organizations don't have elaborate security measures. About the time I talk about above, one of my close friends and I used to worry about synagogue bombings all the time. It was something we'd discuss together.

So. A guy who may or may not be crazy, who probably, we think, acted alone, walks into the Seattle Federation building and opens fire at a bunch of women, one of them pregnant, working on a Friday afternoon, about to close up for Shabbos. Because he's a Muslim American, and so it follows, angry at Israel. I am reminded of something an elderly man, raised in Egypt, said once at a conference I attended: "We are all Zionists, whether we like it or not."

The Balabusta's mother works in a Jewish agency, so there's just a slight personal edge here to my anger and fear. (OK, a very sharp and serrated personal edge. How did he get past security? What was the emergency plan? How come all these Federation bigwigs were home when this happened, leaving their secretaries in the line of fire? Why the hell didn't someone hit him with a car when he shot someone out in front of the coffee shop? Do I care that the spokeswoman was making challah when she got the news? Can we ask for the death penalty? Who put this idea into his head? Where did he get the gun? Oh God.)

You know--with all of this, we cope. We speak out, we comfort each other, we plan for the future and revamp our security measures. You realize, at some point, if you're going to live as a Jew in the world, that this is the score. My rabbi, who has made it to his mid-eighties with his sense of humor and his cute German accent intact, made a point of telling the congregation after 9/11 that he was still driving the Bay Bridge--this was when the whole SF area was a little nutso about the bridges. (They attract people with problems. Most of those are self-destructive, rather than homicidal, but the bridges do seem to turn up regularly in terrorist planning stages.) He's not a fatalist, his point was that if you change everything you can think of to avoid danger, you end up boxed inside, having ceded your whole life to your fear, and those who want to make you afraid. But you know what they say. Paranoia is when you think they're out to get you. Jewish paranoia is when you KNOW they're out to get you. You live in world. You do what you can to stay safe.

And now a woman working at Federation on a Friday afternoon--safe enough, no?--is dead. Now five others are wounded. Now I'm jumpy again. No new realizations. I've lived with this a lot of years. But being reminded, especially with a death, is never pleasant.


Anonymous said...

Hey, nice to see you again! You know since I got back from Israel everyone has been saying to me that they are glad that I'm home and safe. But to tell you the truth, I feel safer in Israel than I do in the states- security is much tighter there and there is so little crime. And at least in Israel you now who your enemy is- not like here.

Sheyna Galyan said...

We took our kids to their swimming lessons today at the local JCC and there was an armed and very visible cop at the entryway where we show our IDs (something we didn't have to do before 9/11).

On one hand, I was glad he was there and almost went and thanked him for sitting there waiting for some maniac to barge through the doors. On the other hand, it reminded me that simply by virtue of being Jewish, going to swimming lessons had taken on a life-or-death dimension.

The back of the hill said...

Operational paranoia.

Meaning the habit of being aware of surroundings and nearby people, staying in well-lit places, having a flight rout in mind, and not taking the same root home all the time.

Took years for that to abate after returning to the US (grew up in Europe during the Vietnam war).

I have this prickly feeling.