When I’m back in Minneapolis, my hometown, I’ve been known to visit the Ridgedale mall. Ridgedale was among the first indoor malls built in the United States. These days, there are several such malls in the Twin Cities, including the world famous Mall of America. The original investors had a great idea, build a huge indoor space where people desperate to escape the scorching summer temperatures (not to mention the mosquitoes) and the double digit sub-zero winters, could spend their money and pretend as if they lived in a less hostile environment.
I worked at Ridgedale for a couple summers at the end of High School, I sold pants at a place called Chess King. The thing about Ridgedale, the one relevant point, is that it was entirely innocuous, and if you walked through its doors, it was like falling into a dream-like retail wonderland. I mention this only to contrast it with where I was today, the Old City in Jerusalem.
Two days ago, in exactly the same place I walked with my wife and kids this afternoon, two men were stabbed, and as the Israeli news outlet, Arutz Sheva put it, ‘they later succumbed to their wounds.’ When the New York Times, no doubt in an effort to be fair and balanced, reported the incident their headline read: ‘Two Palestinians Killed in Jerusalem,” which of course isn’t wholly untrue, they were in fact, killed – but only after having brutally stabbed the two innocent people in cold blood – (one of the victims was a teacher and father of seven children.) He was killed, along with the other victim, for the crime of walking Jewish. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.
This is an old story of course, and it’s reared its head again (has it ever really ceased) in a novel and obscene form in the last several months. There’s a new wave of murder taking place here, call it a new pogrom, whereby innocent people including old men and women, young girls, and babies have been stabbed, run over with cars, and shot at.
More than anything, these murders make me sad; as if that three-letter word – sad – could possibly convey the depth of my emotions. When I see my brothers and sisters being murdered I want to be near them, to stand by them, to show them that I am kin, to let them know that I am ready to come to a place that unfortunately, too few people are willing to visit these days.
Lately, walking in central Jerusalem requires that you keep your eyes open. It insists that you live with a running calculus: ‘is this person a friend or someone who wants to stab me?’ You learn to listen for certain languages, the safe ones and the other ones. You become accustomed to look for clothing that signals danger or to look for a threatening gait. Each person that passes by is assessed. This of course is not how one walks through Ridgedale. There you have only to get from one place to the next; from Chess King to Orange Julius, for example.
Today, sitting in our rented apartment as the Sabbath approaches, I am left with this question: How do we change a culture that wallows in death to such an extent that its children learn that murder is an acceptable, perhaps even an ideal way, to gain love and acceptance?
I fear the answer is out of reach and that for now, the problem remains intractable. As a human being, I believe we must nonetheless, strive to find an answer. And so it goes.