A Witness to Death in Jerusalem

A Visitor Finds Himself at the Scene of the Latest Bombing

Deadly Attack: One person was killed and more than 30 were injured in a March 23 terror attack at a busy bus station in Jerusalem.
Getty Images
Deadly Attack: One person was killed and more than 30 were injured in a March 23 terror attack at a busy bus station in Jerusalem.

By Ari L. Goldman

Published March 24, 2011, issue of April 08, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

I saved the visit to my father’s grave for the last day of my trip to Israel. It’s not that I don’t like going, it’s just that there are already so many reminders of death in Jerusalem.

Both Arabs and Israelis point to bullet holes in Old City walls, each one a testament to a war, a skirmish, a killing. These holes are never filled; they are preserved as monuments to deaths gone by.

Everywhere, it seems, there are streets named for fallen heroes and soldiers. And on many of those streets are small granite markers attesting to those killed in a bus bombing, the terror weapon of choice for Palestinian militants until a few years ago. There is a sameness to these markers: a list of names, a date and a bus line number — the 18, the 14, the 2.

It was raining on the last day of my trip so I took a taxi to Har Hamenuchot, a sprawling cemetery where my father is buried at the Western entrance to the city. As I entered I thought of seeking out the fresh graves of the five members of the Fogel family, killed in a particularly horrific act of terror in the settlement of Itamar just two weeks earlier. I thought of stopping by the shrine for Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, whose music has been so important in my life.

But I was a man with a purpose. I made my way straight to my father’s grave. In my pocket was a slim paperback edition of the Psalms with the inscription “M. Goldman” on it. (My father had a habit of putting his name in all his books, even pamphlets.) It was the same booklet that my father used to pray at the graves of his parents.

I never know what to say at a grave. Do I talk about my children? Do I tell him about my students and how I just traveled with them through Israel? Do I bring him up to date? Do I reminisce? Do I talk politics? Torah? Is anybody listening? Am I beginning to look like a crazy person, tears streaming, talking to stones?

My father’s little book helped. I prayed in the same language he prayed. He helped me find the words. After a short while, I put a stone on his stone and left the cemetery.

The rain had stopped and I was in the mood to walk. I walked up the winding hill to an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood called Givat Shaul. I got a little bit lost wandering the streets and alleys and watching the people. There wasn’t a taxi in sight, but I did see a bus coming up the street. The computerized sign announced “Sha’ar Yaffo,” Jaffa Gate, as good destination as any, I figured.

I paid my fare, found a seat near the window and put on my headphones. I guess that is why I missed the sound of the explosion. Our bus suddenly came to an abrupt halt just after passing Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station and, out the window, I could see soldiers running with their rifles at the ready and policemen emerging from everywhere. Many were in plainclothes and donning folded caps with the word “Mishtara,” or police, on it.

Our driver opened the door and some ran away from the scene and others toward it. Within seconds, the sirens of arriving ambulances and military vehicles filled the air. A helicopter circled overhead. The police were just beginning to cordon off the area and pushed back the group of onlookers that I joined. It was a cross section of western Jerusalem with haredim, tourists, secular Israelis and foreign workers all jockeying for a good vantage point. Just a block away we could see two crippled buses and medics carrying away the injured on stretchers.

Rumors swept through the crowd. People got reports from their cell phones and from web sites and from each other. A Filipino woman was shaking and crying, saying that she ran for the bus when there was an explosion. Another woman fought with an officer guarding the scene, saying she had a child on the bus and wanted to pass. Many expected to see body parts and the burned out shell of a bus, the hallmarks of a bomb detonated by a suicide bomber. But this was not as grisly a scene.

Suddenly someone shouted, “There is another bomb!” Some people peeled away but most of us did not know where to go. Is any place safe? I looked around nervously and held my ground.

Luckily, there was no second bomb. And the bomb that went off was not on the bus as in previous incidents but left at the bus stop in a suitcase and detonated as two buses pulled in to pick up passengers. The final count, we found out later, was one dead and 30 wounded. But the toll was much higher: a city traumatized, a peace process in ruins, so little reason for hope.

And I realized that soon one more granite marker of a death would be set up on a Jerusalem street. Perhaps on my next visit to my father’s grave I will stop by this street and place a stone as a symbol of memory and blessing.

Ari L. Goldman, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, is the author of “Living a Year of Kaddish.”

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.