The Har Nof Massacre: How Jewish Life Carries On
Death comes to Har Nof: Yeshiva students watch the aftermath of the Jerusalem synagogue massacre in November (photo: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
On the morning of Tuesday November 18, I turned on the Radio 4 eight o'clock news as usual. The lead story was that two men had entered a synagogue in what was described as "an ultra-Orthodox" area of Jerusalem a few hours previously and killed four men at the morning service (a fifth victim, a Druze police officer, died later). This was shocking enough but my blood ran cold when I heard the name of the suburb where the attack had taken place: Har Nof.
It is where my son Daniel has lived for the last five years, with his wife and three young children. He is a deeply religious yeshiva student and like all the men in Har Nof he goes to synagogue to pray every morning without fail. I scrambled around to find the phone, then called him. My relief at hearing his voice can be imagined. "I sent you an email already to say I'm OK," he said, adding that the attacked synagogue, Kehilat Bnei Torah, was just two blocks away, on Agassi Street, and that he had often been there to pray. The names of the dead men had not yet been released, but he went on: "I'm sure I'll know some of them."
Har Nof is that sort of place: if you've lived there for five years there won't be too many unfamiliar faces. Since Daniel moved there, my wife and I have got to know it well on our frequent visits to keep up with his growing family. It's also a part of Jerusalem you will never get to see on television news programmes or read about in the British press unless there's a tragedy like the synagogue massacre, because it doesn't conform to the media's prevailing image of the city, which is one of constant confrontation, division and tension between Jews and Arabs, with the Jews almost always being in the wrong. I would guess that the TV and newspaper reporters who rushed to Har Nof to cover the aftermath of the massacre were visiting it for the first time.
It's a modern suburb on the western outskirts of Jerusalem, perched on a hill (Har means mountain in Hebrew, though that's a bit of an exaggeration here) with stunning views overlooking the thick pines of the Jerusalem Forest and, to the north, the densely populated valley through which the motorway to Tel Aviv runs. Like most of Jerusalem, it consists mainly of apartment blocks of up to six storeys, all built of the ubiquitous butter-coloured Jerusalem stone, climbing up the steep slopes and linked by wide, winding roads like Agassi Street. The quickest way to get around on foot is by the many stairways cut into the rock. There is a small shopping centre, with a supermarket, a few other shops, a post office, a health centre, a takeaway pizza place and an ice-cream parlour, both with a couple of tables if you want to eat there. There are a few other shops scattered round the suburb, but no bars or restaurants, much less a cinema; no hotels either. There are plenty of buses connecting Har Nof to the rest of Jerusalem and for those with cars there's plenty of free parking, a rarity in the rest of the city.
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