You are probably aware that last week marked the anniversary of the horrendous terror attack at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida – an attack that targeted the LGBTQ community and the freedom of expression that the Western World stands for.
However, you are probably unaware of another terror attack that took place during the same week, just four days prior – on June 8, 2016 – in Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market, one that similarly targeted the heart of liberal culture, though in the Middle East.
On June 8, 2016 at just after 9 p.m., a friend and I had walked past Max Brenner Café and decided to sit down at the Café Landwer across the path. We were about done deciding what we’d order when we heard some very load bangs. Despite the fact that I grew up in Canada and have never shot nor heard a gun, there was no mistaking that sound. I remember pausing for a moment and then yelling, “It’s shooting” before my friend and I ran our separate ways to safety.
I am thankful for my quick instincts, as I ran to the café’s restroom (even though I had never been there before) and locked myself in. At first, I tried to tell myself that maybe it was an army exercise or even construction, but the screams of Israelis told me otherwise.
After what seemed like forever, the news broke, and indeed it was a terror attack. Michael Feige, Ilana Naveh, Ido Ben Ari, and Mila Mishayev lost their lives that evening, and 16 others were injured. These four people were like me – out enjoying a beautiful Wednesday evening in Tel Aviv’s open-air restaurant complex. Unlike me, however, they had chosen to sit down at Max Brenner.
I would like to say that things have changed in the world this past year – that there’s less hate and terror, and more peace. Though I have admittedly not crunched the numbers, this doesn’t seem to be the case.
Anyways, numbers aren’t what matters. It doesn’t matter to me if four people died at Sarona or if 49 died at Pulse – these are all innocent people who deserved to live their lives to the fullest. In the past year, we have witnessed more attacks against civilians – whether in Manchester, London, Syria, Stockholm, Berlin, Nice, or countless others. Governments seem to be struggling to fully understand the threat and to keep their populations safe, while the terrorists are inflicting damage – not just to those in an attack, but by widespread creating fear in the society.
Having experienced the horror of finding myself in a terror attack, I would like to share some reflections. Terror is scary because we cannot control it; it’s not as if we can put a fire alarm or a burglar alarm in a building that will alert us of danger. Terror is random; it strikes when we least expect it, and it can happen anywhere.
As strange as it might sound, the idea that terror is random is what allowed me to move forward from my trauma in Sarona. I realized that it didn’t matter if I lived in my hometown of Vancouver or my new home of Jerusalem; terror, unfortunately, can strike anywhere. Which is why I find it particularly amusing when Israelis try to tell me that Jerusalem isn’t safe because it is the “front line of terror attacks.” My response is always that I was in Tel Aviv during my first terror attack, so thank you for the warning.
The point is that if we can’t control terror, we shouldn’t let terror control us. We need to enjoy life and live it to the fullest.
I won’t lie. In the past year, I have become more vigilant when I’m in public places. I am ashamed to say that I will get off the bus sometimes if it’s too crowded. I jump at loud noises. And for three months following the attack, I couldn’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time.
But, a year later, I can sleep again, and, despite some lasting trauma, I more or less live my life without inhibitions. I moved to Israel and became a citizen in September 2016, just over three months after the attack. It’s life choices like this that can help us ensure that terror doesn’t win.
I hope that you, too, will not be too scared to enjoy life, even if it seems like the world is exploding all around us.