To Be Terrorized

The bike was lightweight, low, one speed, no gears, one foot brake, one hand brake, nothing to master except balance and fear. It was love at first site. I had wanted a simple bike that would keep me upright, close to the ground and here it was, a “city” bike for a price lower than that of used bikes. The salesman in the store in south Tel Aviv let me take it for a spin on the sidewalk, but it being Levinsky Street, I reached the corner and quickly turned around.


“The handle bars shake,” I told the guy, disappointed the bike wasn’t perfect.

He took it for a spin and said the handlebars were fine, meaning I was the one who was shaky. I owned up to my fear, bought the bike, a lock and rode it to a store on Shalma that sold blades for old Braun food choppers. “Rode” isn’t quite the right verb, because the sidewalks in commercial Tel Aviv are obstacle courses. I got off the bike at intersections along Har Zion Ave. and often, after a few cycles of the wheels on the crowded sidewalks, I slowed down, kept one foot on the right pedal and pushed with the left, as if my new bike were a kick scooter.

These precautions did not prevent me from rubbing against a school girl walking towards me. Panicked, I stopped, placed both feet solidly on the sidewalk and asked if she was OK. She continued walking in the opposite direction, seemingly unscathed, looking back over her shoulder to get another look at this crazy old woman who didn’t know how to ride a bike.

Tikuni Dani didn’t have the blade I needed, so I walked my bike down Shalma back to Mount Zion. It was teeming with people of all colors, speaking as many languages as there were spokes in my wheels. Young men raced by on one, two and three-wheeled vehicles. I pedaled to the first cross street where I was happy to stand next to my bike and escort it across the street.

My goal was Feivel, off Arlozorov, which I reached fifty minutes later, stupidly taking Begin, which is one elongated building site. I got off the bike, shaking mildly, but cogent enough to remember to lock the bike to the bike rack with my new super duper Cryptonite lock. The lock did not cooperate. We got into a fight. I lost my temper, swore, cried, and attacked the lock. The lock won, only after I realized I had been trying to open and close the damn thing with my mailbox key.

Isn’t it odd that the State of Israel tests drivers of cars, trucks and buses, but has no tests or minimal requirements for bike riders? Any idiot can go out and buy a bike and cause havoc.

All this happened during the week that racism and hatred stretched their ugly elongated arms, strangling the country’s streets, a week of bloodshed, death, grief and fear. The enemy Anarchy knocked at every door. Some people opened it, driven by fear.

After so many years in Israel, I refused to be terrorized, or so I thought. On the day I bought my new bike, I was busy with other fears. What I feared most was my losing control and because of that, seriously hurting someone else and knowing that that pain would inevitably hurt me for years to come.

But I couldn’t help wondering, too, if this fear was just another version or expression of the same fear others felt when they walked down the street and imagined a crazy kid rushing towards them, waving a knife above his head like a medieval sword and proclaiming the greatness of God. I wondered if there was any qualitative difference between one fear and the other or if the object of the fear was secondary and fear itself was enough to paralyze an entire nation.

About Judy Labensohn

I'm a writer and teacher of writing.
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14 Responses to To Be Terrorized

  1. eve leibowitz says:

    you are adorable, Judy! And with your bike-riding, your move to Tel Aviv and your other new enterprises, you’re a total inspiration!!


  2. Judy, your post speaks differently to me. You are brave. While the skill of learning to ride a bike remains even after decades, the environment in which you ride is different from the quiet streets of childhood. You are going farther afield through traffic of multiple varieties, with hazards never imagined when you likely took out your first two-wheeler. Living in Israel there is always a constant low hum of fear. But taking out your bike and going is a reminder to yourself that despite the fear ratcheting up with these directed but random attacks it is only out in the world that we are truly alive. May you and yours be kept safe and the violence cease.


  3. estherhecht says:

    I read your piece in Boston, where I am visiting family. I’ve been away from home for many weeks and can’t imagine how I would feel if I were there during the current flare-up.
    Your bike adventure seems to be another journey into life lived to the fullest, and I admire you for it. You are a great model.



    Hello Judy!

    I’d manged to nearly forget how much I enjoy your writing – bravo!

    How are you? From the content of ” To Be Terrorized”, saying you’ve become acclimated to life in Tel Aviv would appear to be an understatement.

    I’ve been meaning to write you about “Writing On Feivel”, I was very tempted to register, but practicality unfortunately won out: I’m still not gainfully employed – and am unlikely to be so in the foreseeable future. I simply couldn’t justify the outlay. I’m sure it’s going to be an intensive and valuable forum and wish you the best of luck with it.

    Be well, stay in touch.



  5. Jackie Sand says:

    Judy, I was very moved by your clear and expressive writing, by your courage and by the underlying fears of daily living. Thinking of you!


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    From: WRITE IN ISRAEL Reply-To: WRITE IN ISRAEL Date: Sunday, October 25, 2015 at 2:19 PM To: George Becker Subject: [New post] To Be Terrorized Judy Labensohn posted: “The bike was lightweight, low, one speed, no gears, one foot brake, one hand brake, nothing to master except balance and fear. It was love at first site. I had wanted a simple bike that would keep me upright, close to the ground and here it was, a “city” “


  7. Shoshana London Sappir says:

    Dear Judy,
    Congratulations on refusing to be terrorized and managing to live free in the midst of the madness.
    You go girl!


  8. Wonderfully playful and poignant at the same time. Happy riding.


  9. barbara gingold says:

    Hi Judy, I don’t know whether it’s cricket or not to do this on someone else’s blog — apologies if it’s not; maybe one day I’ll figure out FB instead. But since we’re both on the same subject I’m sending you my Jerusalem take on it. When tension strikes in Israel, some of us turn outward, some of us turn inward…

    Good Morning, Israel
    When the muffled roar of fighter jets fill the airspace above your bed and a chorus of sirens pierces the closed metal shutters — you know it’s not going to be a good day in Jerusalem. The dogs next door start howling. Before your eyes are open, you reach for the cellphone, the tablet, the radio, to hear where it’s happened, how many killed. Your mental hard drive automatically scans its Contacts list — which of your family, friends, colleagues, would be at that place of horror at that time of day? Who would be waiting for a #10 bus in the center of ultra-religious Geula? Who would be on the #78, about to alight on Olei HaGardom St., on the edge of Jabal Mukaber village?
    While Kol Israel newscasters gather breathless reports from those still standing (three casualties, five in critical condition, attackers “neutralized”…), there’s another incident. In Jisser e-Zarka — about a hundred kilometers northwest, but closer to home: Among my regular clients is Ramat Hanadiv, the idyllic Rothschild Memorial Gardens and expansive Nature Park. A century or so ago, Baron Edmond de Rothschild presciently acquired this huge tract of land on the Carmel Ridge. Looking down at the malarial swamps edging the Mediterranean sea below, he envisioned a strip of dry farmland along the length of the coastal plain. He began to realize his vision in 1921 with the draining of the swamps, and — uhhh, how did we put it? — he “helped the Arabs living there to settle on the Kurkar ridge, in the village of Jasser e-Zarka.” These were the great-grandparents of Jisser’s current population. In more recent, politically correct years, Ramat Hanadiv has made conscious efforts to include Jasser e-Zarka in its community outreach programs. Hey, we even changed the transliteration of its name — when a Ramat Hanadiv staff member met with village representatives and discovered that it’s actually pronounced Jisser, not Jasser. Too little, too late: from their rooftops, however you pronounce it, Jisser’s youngsters are flinging heavy stones onto cars driving the main Tel Aviv-Haifa highway.
    Switch off the news, turn on the soothing cadences of England’s Classic FM. Maybe Mozart or Vivaldi will reboot my day. Time to get to work, after all. I go towards the bathroom and peer onto the sunny balcony to see whether there are any birds pecking around the pink geraniums. “Coexistence in Jerusalem?” my friend Michael once answered a guest. “Of course there’s coexistence: We have a family of Palestinian sunbirds living right here on our balcony.”
    There are no sunbirds on the balcony this morning. I take a deep breath of the still-fragrant white jasmine I picked yesterday, brush my teeth and eye a pile of dirty laundry on the floor. Yes, I’ll do a laundry today. Winter is coming, perhaps another war. It would be good to have clean sheets.


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