My day to day life in Jerusalem after Hamas terror attack on Israel

Joshua Rozenberg reveals, through his diary extracts, how he is coping in the Israeli capital


TOPSHOT - A Jewish man walks past the Western Wall, the last remaining vestige of the Second Temple which is considered the holiest site where Jews can pray, in Jerusalem's Old City on November 12, 2023. (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP) (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images)

- Returning to Israel after nearly six weeks in London, I find a mood of sombre determination. “In these difficult times,” the El Al steward announces as we land, "take care of yourselves. We all pray for our hostages and soldiers."

With most foreign airlines having cancelled their flights, Ben Gurion Airport is almost as quiet as it was in the early days of Covid. But walking down the gentle slope towards the huge mezuzah at the entrance to the arrivals hall, I see a striking vista.

Small posters of each kidnapped hostage extend the full length of the walkway, interspersed only with signs to the air-raid shelters. And, of course, no attempt has been made to tear them down.

There are many more such posters on the streets of Jerusalem. “Bring them home now!” say the Hebrew banners. And I am struck by an even more poignant sight as I get off the bus. Someone has left a well-used children’s buggy next to the bus shelter. Instead of a child, it carries a poster of a kidnapped toddler.

- I left Jerusalem early on October 8, the morning after the massacre. On the train, there were soldiers in uniform, returning from leave. What, I wondered, lay ahead of them? Fortunately, the international community showed its support for Israel’s right to self-defence.

In a city largely devoid of street advertising, a defiant local business erected a huge poster of President Biden, nearly two stories high. Above his smiling image is single word: “Thanks!” Nobody wants that poster taken down.

- Several of our London-based friends have second homes here. But most are staying away. Flights are not a problem: El Al have a full schedule. But the UK government is advising against all but essential travel to Israel.

A terse note on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office website says: “Your travel insurance could be invalidated if you travel against FCDO advice.” That’s a particular concern for those who may not be covered for medical expenses.

- Even so, our local shopping street is pretty busy on Friday morning. You can buy a new chanukiah at the supermarket though this year’s stock of candles has yet to arrive. While volunteers in one of the side streets are parcelling up supplies for the troops, others are relaxing at pavement cafés in the sunshine.

The shops are full, though the queues are a little shorter than usual. Normal life started to resume when Hamas stopped aiming rockets at Jerusalem. But the sirens are still sounding in Tel Aviv.

- On Shabbat morning, we must choose between the two shuls that claim our allegiance. Each is about 15 minutes’ walk away. This week, we pick the larger one, founded decades ago by people who had arrived from the United States. Several of the men sitting in front of me always wear hand-guns under their tallitot, either on their belts or tucked into their trousers. That’s not only permitted but encouraged. Others carry pepper spray, which would be illegal in the UK. These days, you see more youngsters attending services with automatic weapons slung over a shoulder.

One congregant, I hear, has a son who was wounded several times as he fought off terrorists attacking Kibbutz Be’eri. Everyone has children or grandchildren on the front line. And yet I am constantly asked how bad things are in London. Jews are at risk of abuse and assault anywhere in the world, I explain. Here, though, you don’t feel the people you see in the street may be about to attack you.

- And life goes on. The magnificent new National Library of Israel opened to the public at the end of last month, “in compliance with Home Front Command regulations”.

The main reading hall is open to visitors, with its Israel, Judaica, humanities and Islam collections. Public computer services are not yet available but prayer services are held in the afternoon and evening.

- During a crisis like this, the most important thing is to talk. Bottling up your feelings does nobody any good. Fortunately, friends are still willing and able to give and accept Shabbat hospitality. Over dinner and lunch, the mood is still one of grief, anxiety and solidarity. But there are lighter moments too. And right now, nobody wants to be anywhere else.

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