Living With Terror: Paris and Jerusalem

In Paris, going out for a drink or to see a film these days feels oddly like an act of brave, even foolhardy resistance. It brings back deeply buried memories of Jerusalem after Rabin’s assassination, when surviving felt like luck, pure and simple.

Natasha Lehrer | Nov 20, 2015 10:24 AM

Last Friday evening we were at a friend’s house, in Paris’s 10th arrondissement, eating papardelle with wild boar and drinking surprisingly delicious English champagne. I’d been joking that my Friday 13th had had an unpropitious start – I’d had to drive my son in heavy traffic 35km to Bagnolet, at the very eastern-most side of Paris, so that he could catch his coach to London, because a signal failure meant that there were no trains into Paris from the western suburb where we live.

Almost at that very moment my husband heard his phone beep. It was a message from Ido, back home in London’s Charlotte Street.

“Are you home?”

My husband sent him back a cheerful response: “We’re drinking English champagne. L’chaim!”

“There are madmen shooting up the Canal St Martin,” Ido messaged back.

Despite sitting in our friends’ apartment only ten minutes away from the Petit Cambodge and the Carillon bar, we didn’t know any more than any of our friends and relatives, as we and they watched the rolling news coverage on television in New York, London, Tel Aviv or the south of France.

Messages began flooding in. We were a little panicked, trying to reach our other two teenage children who were out with friends. We wondered if we would get home that night: there were rumors that a gunman was still at large and we weren’t sure it was safe to leave. But we also knew it was only a matter of time before all the streets in the area were closed by police. The trains had stopped running. Eventually, around 3am, we decided to go home. The roads were, unsurprisingly, empty; we were home within 20 minutes. It was good to be there with our kids.

In the days that have elapsed since, nothing has felt normal. It is quite possible that this is not-normal is our new normal. The prime minister warned on Thursday morning that biological or chemical attacks could be being planned. The assaults on Wednesday on an apartment in St Denis possibly uncovered a second cell that was planning an attack that very day on a shopping center in La Défense, the business district of Paris where my husband works, and on the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport.

Whether these rumors are true or not, terror exerts its own malign influence, something which Israelis know as well as anyone. Going

out for a drink or to see a film these days feels oddly like an act of brave, even foolhardy resistance.

This brings back deeply buried memories of the darkest days during the time I lived in Jerusalem, after Rabin’s assassination. Afraid to take the bus, I took to walking the half hour it took to get to where I worked in Talpiot. I lived in a pretty little house in Nahlaot that wrapped around a sunny courtyard, white and angular as a sugar cube. It was a moment’s walk from Mahane Yehuda, the open-air market, ten minutes from the Midrachov.

The summer that my baby was born a suicide bomber blew himself up in the market. Maddened with fear for myself and my child, I took to strategically planning my trips to the market, making sure that I never ventured too far down its sinewy alleyways, figuring that the fifteen or so minutes it took for me to buy tomatoes and pita and onions and chicken my luck was likely to hold. Surviving those times felt like luck, pure and simple.

Since Friday night Parisians have learned what luck means too. Paris is an intimate city. Everyone knows the Bataclan, the restaurants on the rue Bichat and the boulevard Voltaire. These villagey, hipstery neighbourhoods are in the center of the city. It could have been you or me, or my grown up son, that newborn baby whom I held so tight to me eighteen years ago as I bought groceries in the market in Jerusalem. We in Europe are about to learn what I found out then about living with terror.