Israelis exacting their own revenge against terrorism

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

How do Israelis deal with the daily threat of terrorism hanging over them? On some level, they don't.

Instead, they choose to ignore the problem because it is unsolvable.

Many people feel that to change one's routine out of concern for one's safety — to stay home, for example, or take taxis instead of buses, or avoid large public places — is to give in to one's inner fears and, thus, succumb to the enemy.

So you fight the insanity of bloodshed and violence by going about your daily routine here with a purposeful sense of normalcy. Doing things the way you have always done them becomes a kind of internal therapy and public statement.

A friend told me that the day after the suicide bombings at Mahane Yehuda, she made it her business to shop there, davka (specifically), to make a point — as well as to find the best prices for fruits and vegetables.

Indeed, 24 hours after the fatal explosions, the market was as busy as usual for a Thursday, the big shopping day in the week. Israelis, unfortunately, have too much experience when it comes to terror. They have learned how to cope and they go into a certain mode when such tragedies occur, calling family and friends, checking in and checking up, letting loved ones know they are all right and making sure everyone is accounted for.

This is not a matter of courtesy or consideration; it is a serious ritual and those who forget to do so are berated for their thoughtlessness.

For the briefest of times, the country unites. Volunteers line up to give blood, strangers ask each other for the latest details and commiserate, sometimes with anger over the politics that led to this craziness and more often with softer words, acknowledging the pain an entire nation is feeling.

The media plays its part, too. The radio stops all pop music and, except for the news, one hears only sweet songs of hope and peace. The newspapers offer brief biographies of the victims, and the extensive television coverage of the funerals is heartbreaking.

But once the victims have been laid to rest, the pace of life resumes. Jewish tradition may call for seven days of mourning, but tragedy strikes Israel too frequently — and people are too intent on recovering their psychic equilibrium — to shut down their hearts or their offices for more than a day or two.

Ironically, the Mahane Yehuda tragedy came at a time when the Jewish calendar calls for three weeks of mourning, culminating with the fast of Tisha B'Av, recalling the destruction of the Holy Temple thousands of years ago.

But modern Israelis have set their own standards for balancing respect for the dead with the notion that returning to normal life is a statement against panic and dread. Last weekend, thousands here observed a moment of silence, before an important soccer game, for the victims of last week's bombings. Then the crowd cheered as the two teams went at it. Some observers said the game should have been postponed, but most felt the tribute was fitting, recognizing the tragedy but showing that life must go on.

A visitor here feels caught between the passionate commitment of Israelis who insist on maintaining their daily routine and those Americans back home convinced that Israel is a highly dangerous place. Being here, walking the streets of the city day or night and taking public transportation, I still feel safer than in New York. But I don't dismiss the government warnings to take security precautions, either.

Terror, like everything else here, is political. So it may be statistically more likely that I will be a victim of a mugging in New York, but the notion of being blown up in Israel simply because one is a Jew is far more horrifying.

I still have much to learn about the Israeli psyche and soul. My most poignant inspiration comes from Dana Shimshon, a 22-year-old Jerusalemite who was so badly burned in a bus bombing last year that she was taken for dead. Fortunately, with the love of her parents, boyfriend, family and friends, and the medical expertise of doctors at Hadassah Hospital, she is fully recovered, and not just physically.

She says that despite the sometimes unbearable pain and long convalescence, she is a better person for the experience. "It helped me appreciate life in a new way," she told me. "I've learned to love even the little things, the routine things."

And she says her relationship with her father, a storekeeper from India, has vastly improved. "We used to fight like cats and dogs," she smiles. "But after I saw how he took care of me every day in the hospital, we are very close now."

A medic herself, Dana spent two days this past week visiting victims of the latest bombings in the hospital, reassuring them and their families that there is hope for the future.

"I told them I know what they're going through, and look at me now, I'm laughing, living life."

It shouldn't have to be that way, young people with the special wisdom of suffering offering comfort to the next round of victims. But there is no bitterness in Dana, only a fatalism born of having been, in a sense, reborn. And a deep commitment to affirm life as a sign of faith.

"We must remember the dead by making life go on," she says. "You can't die with them. You have to live every second."

For Dana and many Israelis, living one's life to the fullest is the greatest revenge against those who wish you dead.