I just got back from a visit to Israel. Karen finished her 8th Momentum Women’s trip – 20 ladies in her South Florida group among 150 women. We spent a week in Israel afterwards.
Whilst there and speaking with various Israelis such as Karen’s cousins, taxi drivers and others, many asked with concern about one issue: What’s with all the shootings in the US? Is it safe in the United States?
Talk about the shoe being on the other foot!
So here I was, finding myself using the same arguments Israelis have been using for years when confronted with the safety issue of living or visiting Israel. I had to explain that just because you see an isolated incident or two (or ten) all over the news, it doesn’t mean that the whole country is a war zone.
We are all familiar with the waves of violence that ebb and flow in Israel and thank God now is a very calm and quiet time. But there is a major fiction about Israel that is common even among some very good friends and supporters of her. And that is the notion that Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular are dangerous places to visit. In the minds of many, especially of those who have never been, Israel is a place where terror is ever-present and lurking around the corner.
To quote Daddy Pig from the Peppa Pig series, “I happen to be a bit of an expert about these things” and I know a thing or two about the dangers of living in Israel. I lived there from the summer of ’79 until I came to Florida in 1988 – in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, alongside the large Arab population there and during the First Intifada. Karen and I have since visited often – her mother presently lives there – and five of my children have spent at least one year studying in Yeshiva or Seminary over the past 13 years. In all those times everyone felt quite safe, thank you.
Often spouses and parents worry when their loved ones go to Israel and “have a safe trip” seems to be uttered with more meaning when someone visits Israel than, say, Norway.
Back in 2016 when I led a men’s Momentum trip we had the good fortune of meeting the mayor of Jerusalem at the time, Nir Barkat. Mr. Barkat was born in Jerusalem and was first elected as its mayor in 2008 and was reelected for a second term in 2013. He served in the military as a paratrooper and then went on to become a successful businessman before becoming mayor. Today he is a member of the Israeli Knesset. He told us that there is a universal method and statistic to judge how safe a city may or may not be. And that is to see how many murders there are per 100,000 residents.
In 2016, Caracas, Venezuela was the most dangerous city in the world with 120 murders per 100,000 residents. St. Louis topped the US cities with 59; Detroit had 44. And then on the other end of the spectrum you have London, England with 1.5. And guess where Jerusalem finds itself on this scale? Alongside London with 1.5. So let me ask you, when you hear of someone going to London, do you wish them, “Come back safe”? Do you worry for them?
If you expand your research beyond Mr. Barkat’s presentation that dealt with just murder and look at the overall violent crime index of cities worldwide (see this link: http://www.numbeo.com/crime/rankings.jsp) you will find that once again Caracas is numero uno as the worst of the 453 cities studied. Baltimore is number 15, Miami is 150, Toronto is 252 and Jerusalem way down at number 308, eight slots below that war-torn city of Calgary which has a slightly higher crime rate and is listed at number 300.
So as Mr. Barkat related to us, while people regularly wish us “to come back safe” when we visit Israel, he turns that greeting on its head when he knows of someone visiting the US with its much higher murder and crime rate, and wishes for them to return safely from the USA to Israel.
In the tunnels uptown
The Rat’s own dream guns him down
As shots echo down them hallways in the night
No one watches when the ambulance pulls away…
Outside the street’s on fire
In a real death waltz
It’s understandable why people have this false impression of Israel because whenever any act of violence between Palestinians and Israel occurs, it becomes sensational international news. But almost all of the shootings and stabbings in Baltimore, Detroit, Miami or even Calgary are merely local news that never makes it beyond their respective newspapers. Unless they are totally sensational like a school shooting, we don’t hear about them.
Do I always feel totally safe when in Israel and never worry? No, but do I always feel safe in South Florida? No again. And I can honestly say that I have more fear driving I-95 in South Florida than walking the streets of Jerusalem or Hertziliya.
So if safety is your issue and that is what animates much of your life, then it might be time to pick yourself up and move to Jerusalem – a lively and vibrant city where little children walk the streets alone, thousands hang out late into the night at bars and restaurants, where the Light Rail Train zips within inches of people along Jaffe Road without incident, barriers or lawsuits, and where violence and crime is one of the lowest in the whole world.
Not only will you be safe in Jerusalem, but you get all the great spiritual benefits that go along with being at the place that Jewish tradition calls The Gateway to Heaven and where you can touch and feel God’s Presence. And if you’re not prepared to move there, then go visit. And if you cannot visit but know someone who is, then do me a favour: Don’t tell them to “stay safe”. Rather ask them, when they get to the Kotel, to pray for our safety here in the United States.