Until Tuesday morning, Har Nof for my family was an amalgam of different experiences, all of them positive. It’s where my wife went to seminary, where we had one of our first Shabbat meals after moving to Israel and where our kids always loved going for pizza — it had, according to our research in the latter part of the last decade, the cheapest pizza in Jerusalem.
Its hillside-clinging apartment buildings are still many people’s first glimpses of the Israeli capital when approaching the city on the curvy ascent on Highway 1. And until Tuesday, it was known as a relatively quiet place to study — it has some of the highest concentrations of yeshivas and post-high school girls seminaries as any section of Jerusalem — and raise kids. Being on the western outskirts of the city and given its suburban character, it didn’t seem that it would be a particular target of a Palestinian attack.
And then came Tuesday and with it the news that two cleaver-wielding Palestinian men hacked to death four rabbis — one of them the grandson of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and founder of the Torat Moshe Yeshiva — as they were immersed in their early-morning prayers at the Bnei Torah synagogue. All-too-familiar images of blood-soaked prayer shawls and prayer books, of emergency responders picking up body parts, of wailing crowds at hastily arranged funerals made their quick march across the world of social media.
The denunciations from world leaders and communal groups predictably poured in, as did the calls for restraint and a return to the peace process. But among Israelis, who have grown accustomed to terror attacks in general and a rapid succession of them in the past few weeks, a mood of national mourning set in.
This was not your typical case of Palestinian violence but instead was on the order of the Mercaz Harav massacre of 2008. Others compared the images to those taken in the aftermath of the slaughter at the Chabad House in Mumbai, India.
What the Har Nof attack will mean in the grand scheme of things remains to be seen, but area Jews with connections to the neighborhood are responding with shock, disgust and fear. And in the case of at least one yeshiva student, resolve.
Reached just after the funeral of victim Rabbi Moshe Twersky, Chaim Ziman, 20, who lives 10 minutes away from Har Nof, said that his entire Jerusalem yeshiva came out to mourn with their brethren. Ziman, who had witnessed earlier attacks, such as a Palestinian’s fatal ramming of a van into a crowd of people last week and the killing of a pedestrian by a Palestinian-driven tractor back in August, said he felt it was his duty to “show support, to escort” Twersky’s body on its final journey.
When asked if the violence made him wish to return to Maryland, Ziman was adamant that he still felt safe in Jerusalem. But he acknowledged that recent events have made being in the capital a surreal experience.
“It’s crazy to be in a place where these things happen,” said Ziman. “In America, these things have happened [before], but not so close to where I live.”
Joshua Runyan is editor-in-chief of our sister paper, Baltimore Jewish Times.