Moment of Truth

Here’s what I used to eat at Café Moment: a melted cheese toast sandwich with fresh basil and roasted red peppers on white focaccia, with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Nearly every Friday, on my day off, I’d crowd into the small cafe at the corner of Aza and Ben-Maimon streets in the upscale Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem, say hello to other Israeli reporters — radio, television, newspaper — and stand by the bar reading a section of a discarded Yediot magazine, while being bumped and pushed as I waited for a table, preferably for one in the sun.

Moment was a café for the Jerusalem branja, the inner hip coterie of mostly secular, Israeli journalists who were responsible for the plethora of mainstream news. (Israel has three major dailies, radio reports on the hour and two major networks with morning, afternoon and evening news.) The other primary hangout of this elite Jerusalem group is Caffit, a soup/salad/sandwich restaurant on Emek Refaim Street in the German Colony. Both places were great not only because they were hip — God knows it wasn’t for the food — but because they were an alternative to the touristy downtown Ben Yehuda Street, which, since the Sbarro bombing in August, many had assiduously avoided, more than they had before.

Last weekend, the Palestinian terrorists smartened up and attacked both places. Fortunately, the attempted bombing on Caffit last Thursday was thwarted by vigilant pedestrians who thought a bulky winter coat on a summery day seemed suspicious; they defused his bomb. But on Saturday night, luck ran out and a terrorist blew himself up at Moment, killing 11 and wounding dozens more. Both terrorists — failed and successful — brought the war home to every niche of Israeli society.

Here’s how you live in a war zone: You make the circle around you smaller and smaller, so that the things that can affect you are limited. First you say: "But that happened in Gaza or in the settlements. That can’t happen here." Then you say, "OK, so it happened in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, but that was the center of town, and I don’t go there."

You try and reason yourself out of it, the way I did when I stopped taking public transportation in 1996 after the triple city bus bombings. I figured, "If I don’t take the bus, I’ll be safe." One doesn’t do this to be cruel or insensitive, nor to blame people for their own deaths, but to survive, to keep sane. It’s an attempt to assume a modicum of control over a situation that has none.

But now? It may be petty to say, but all my friends are saying it, and that’s exactly how I feel. Now that they’ve hit our places, my friends said of the ones they pretended were completely safe, they feel as helpless as the rest of the country.

I imagine that the bombing two weeks ago in Beis Yisroel, the religious neighborhood in Jerusalem, had a similar effect on the ultra-Orthodox communities in Israel and in America, the ones who thought their places were safe because of its tight-knittedness; the immediate recognizability of a stranger. Not so. A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a shul, killing 11.

Of course the Beis Yisroel deaths were horrific to everyone. But it wasn’t the same as on Saturday, when I first heard about the attack on Moment. I called my best friend and former roommate of five years, and I didn’t get an answer. I panicked. She might be there, I thought, the tears starting to come. I know that she never goes to town, doesn’t ride the buses, won’t go to the mall. But she goes to Caffit. She goes to Moment. What if?

It didn’t happen this time — to her. She had been in the German Colony that night, but was just as shaken up as I was, 10,000 miles away. "That settles it. I’m not going out anymore. Ever," she told me. "I’m just going to invite people over to my house, a minicafé, but not a real café, because then someone would come and bomb that, too."

After Sept. 11, we in America discovered that there wasn’t quite so far away. Six months later, most people have returned to their daily routines — such is the nature and the beauty of life. But routine has not resumed for Israelis, and for those in America with ties to Israel. We are constantly reminded that war is on its way, no matter what precautions you take, no matter how far away you live. But what can we do about it? We hope to provide some answers on page 10. On page 31, The Journal, like many Jewish newspapers, will start printing profiles of some of the Israeli victims of terror attacks.

As Shlomo Artzi sings in his song, "Moon": "Lo nishar lanu elah, lechabek et hatza’ar."(There is nothing left for us to do, but to embrace the pain.) Here in Los Angeles, we can expand our consciousness to remember all the victims, the wounded, the displaced, the people whose lives are affected daily. We can be with them, even if we aren’t there.