I had thought it would be fun to learn Krav Maga. What better skill to learn in Israel than the renowned IDF martial art? However, my third class had just ended, and I was delivering my resignation. “I’m sorry, Ellen,” I told my classmate who had organized weekly sessions with the martial arts instructor for any of us who were interested. “I was super excited to do this, but it’s just – well – a lot.”
“I know. I understand,” Ellen replied, and I believed she did. I was certain she would quit herself, if it wasn’t for the fact that if another person quit, the instructor would stop doing sessions with us. “Like when she said that no Palestinians were allowed because she wouldn’t teach her secrets to the enemy – that definitely felt weird.”
“Yep. And when she said that we should be wary of pregnant Palestinians because even they could stab you. That was too much.” Indeed, the instructor had been, for lack of a better term, a paranoid, racist bitch. This combined with the fact that she made me defend myself to the point of exhaustion against a pack of pimple-faced boys who enjoyed it way too much, made the class a virtual nightmare that I immediately learned to dread. I felt kind of weak for quitting – I really did want to learn how to defend myself. But let’s face it, I wasn’t cut out for this shit.
Of course, I didn’t admit that to Ellen - I hoped the ‘racist bitch’ would be reason enough.
So much for showing Stav my Krav Maga skills….
I was going out for the evening with a group of classmates. We walked down to the train station from the dorms and found that the trains had been stopped. There was a cluster of soldiers surrounding a backpack that was sitting alone on a bench. An announcement was looping on the intercom that anyone who had lost a bag should come claim it. So far, no one had come and a soldier told us that they were waiting on the bomb squad, so it was unclear how long it would be until the train started running again. We debated amongst ourselves whether or not it was worth the wait to watch a backpack be blown up. We decided it wasn’t, so we headed up the hill toward the bus station. Suddenly, one of my classmates, Ellen, turned to Tyrone and me with wide eyes and whispered that she could swear she saw a man with a knife running up the hill, away from the train station. We told her that if she was sure, she should tell the police. She said that she was not that sure and she didn’t want the guy to get shot.
So we continued on (up same hill she swore she may have seen Knife Guy run up). We soon encountered two orthodox teens running and yelling like crazy down the hill toward us, so Tyrone and I decided that we should probably head back down the hill as well. We told the group to turn around and we all ran back to the train station. When we arrived, a policeman asked us why we were running and we told him what we saw. He laughed at us and pointed to the orthodox men who had apparently made it to the station just fine. It was unclear why they had been running to begin with.
Regardless, the backpack had now been disposed of, and the train finally arrived. We all had a good night drinking cocktails at a 1920’s Prohibition-themed bar.
I was riding a bus bound for the center of Jerusalem. The Paris Attacks had happened the day before, the images creeping within my mind and churning my stomach. Tonight, it felt like the world was closing in, constricting my breath. I was listening to Creedence Clearwater’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain", while the rain pounded on the metal roof and streamed down my window in tiny rivers. A Palestinian bus pulled up beside us. It was very crowded inside and there was a girl wearing hijab and headphones looking at me through her window. I wondered what she was listening to.
We passed a woman lying lifeless on the sidewalk, surrounded by a group of soldiers. A few miles later, the bus pulled over and a soldier got on. He scanned the passengers and we made eye contact. The tip of his Tavor rifle brushed my leg as he moved by. He got off the bus and we continued on.
I got off at our usual meeting place at Jaffa Street where Stav was waiting. We wandered around while he told me about his week at work. We turned down a side street and he told me that his co-worker killed a terrorist on this street yesterday. He showed me the video footage, in which a young man approached him from behind with a knife. Just as the man moved in to stab him, he turned around and shot him in the chest. The man crumpled instantly as if he was never alive to begin with. It was over within seconds.
“It’s getting to me here,” I told Stav. “I don’t know how you do it.” He didn’t have any answers.
We continued wandering while Stav ranted about his slobby roommate. I brought up the Paris Attacks. He just shook his head and changed the subject. Nowhere is safe, I thought.
We decided to go to a café and get drinks. It was a cute little date place with outdoor seating and candles. “Christmas is coming,” I gushed over my hot chocolate peppermint Schnapps, feeling lighter inside. I described to him our Christmas traditions at home, like how the singing of Christmas carols was encouraged from the first of November through well into January. He shook his head cynically. Christmas in America was over-the-top and perverted by commercialism, he said. I called him a Grinch and sang every Christmas carol I knew while he begged me to stop. I continued singing as we left the café and returned to our wandering.
Near the park across from the Old City, we ran into his co-worker who had killed a man the day before. He had just gotten off work and was still wearing his bulletproof vest. He seemed agitated and in a hurry. Stav talked to him for a while in Hebrew but didn’t introduce me. I was grateful he didn’t, because I had no idea what to say.
As we headed back toward the bus stop, a man was running toward us. He was wearing plain clothes and had a machine gun strapped to him that was bouncing wildly at his side. He didn’t appear to be a threat, but I couldn’t help holding my breath until he passed. “Don’t worry,” Stav chuckled, “If anything happened, I would take care of it.” I wanted to believe him, with all my might. Yet, I knew deep in my gut that, at the end of the day, I alone was responsible for my safety.
We got to the bus stop and Stav held me close while we waited, stroking my hair gently and kissing my forehead. For a moment, I found a bit of the comfort I had sought in meeting him tonight. My hand slid down his back, coming to rest on his pistol. The warmth inside me diminished. I kissed him goodbye and got on the bus. I waved at him through the window and watched him walk away. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be seeing him again….
I’ve noticed there’s some political unrest going on in Jerusalem and I wanted to check to make sure you’re doing OK. Let me know if there’s anything you need.
It was the first message I had received from my abroad counselor since arriving here a month and a half ago. All I could do was laugh. I waited a whole week before I sent my reply:
I’m fine, thanks.