WORLDPOST

Living with Tensions in Jerusalem

01/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"It's only exhausting if you let it in," said a friend of mine the other day. She was responding to my comment that I often find it exhausting to live in Jerusalem. It's probably because of a trait that I inherited from my Jewish mother and grandmother: I worry. Except while my grandmother worried that I would be abducted in the streets of my hometown of Queens, New York and my mother worried that I would never find a husband, my worries have an arid desert tinge.

When I hear that the Kinneret, one of the main sources of water for the entire country, is far below its healthy level and we're not getting the rain we need, I worry.

When investigations for a newspaper story revealed to me that Jerusalem is on a volatile fault line and that a Big One can strike anytime, I started to worry and haven't really stopped since. Experts say it will certainly happen soon, it's just a matter of when. As I write this, I have visions of this huge, tenement-like apartment complex collapsing like a child's pile of blocks. Perhaps nature will ultimately resolve the disputes over Jerusalem's holy sites by destroying them all, but -- perhaps selfishly -- I'd rather not be here when it happens.

And there is the little issue of living in the Middle East. The last two terrorist attacks -- one with a bulldozer, another with a car -- took place a short distance away from my apartment. My husband and I were watching Alan Ball's True Blood when we realized that the noise of sirens was not going to stop. We ran to the window and saw two, three, four police cars and an ambulance heading toward to the Old City walls.

Eschewing community life, my husband and I chose an apartment in downtown Jerusalem, in the only residential building on our street. Construction cranes dip and load in sight of our home, hard at work on a tony real estate project that it's doubtful anyone can afford now. Traffic and club music are a continuous roar through the single-paned windows, day and night.

We are also at a critical junction in Jerusalem geography: barely two blocks from east Jerusalem, with a view of the Old City. We can see the sixteenth century walls from our window, illuminated against the night. A church clock tower looming beyond the walls keeps watch at our kitchen window as we make dinner. When I have insomnia at three in the morning, the lonely call of the muezzin from Al Aqsa Mosque punctures the silence. When I oversleep on Saturday morning, I wake to the solemn chime of the eleven o'clock church bells.

So we had a remarkably good view of the last attack, which occurred at a busy intersection near the Old City walls. We saw people running frantically toward the scene -- admirable, I thought, since I would most certainly have run the other way. It was later that we found out that a car had plowed into a group of people on the sidewalk.

Jack and I immediately sent text messages to our family and close friends, letting them know we were okay. After all, we could have been crossing that street, during one of our occasional walks into the Old City.

Later that night, as I was turning out the lights, I glanced out the window at the streets of downtown Jerusalem and saw a group of high school age girls dancing in the streets. Their long skirts pegged them immediately as religious Jews. They were singing in Hebrew, the same phrase over and over. Their voices pierced the thin single-paned windows. "Don't be afraid...Don't be afraid."

I drew away from the window, wishing I had their conviction, their courage. Because when I walk the streets, when I go into shops, and certainly when I take buses, I am afraid. Life in New York was no picnic, and 9/11 made it clear that no place in the world is immune to terror. Certainly the horror of Mumbai has shown us that much.

But Israel is a hotbed of tension in a way that I have not experienced anywhere else. I'm tightly connected to the place -- through my parents, friends, and years spent here during some of the most traumatic moments in the country's history. I continually find myself torn between wanting to make a run for it and wanting to stand with the people I love.

Remembering the singing of those girls makes me smile, even if I cannot share in their bravery. It makes me proud to know that not every Israeli has inherited the Jewish worrier genes; that there are people who can look into the darkness, and still dance.