Thursday, April 14, 2005

Three Minutes

I admit it: I’m a bit obsessive compulsive. No surprise to regular readers of this column.

When I set out to make a purchase – whether it’s a new piece of computer equipment or a vacation – I more often than not spend days doing research on the Internet, talking to anyone and everyone I can find. After I make a decision, I may change my mind. After I make the purchase, I’ll probably regret at least some part of it.

So when we were invited to a bar mitzvah in the town of Efrat, just south of Jerusalem in Gush Etzion, I knew I was about to start obsessing. But it wasn’t about what to get the bar mitzvah boy? Rather it was: how were we going to get there?

We used to visit our friends in Efrat all the time. But that was before September 2000. At first, everyone freaked out. Rocks were hurled at buses on and near the Tunnel Road; shots were fired regularly.

Egged outfitted its buses on that route with bullet special reinforced windows, families stopped traveling together in the same vehicle, and many of our friends who made the commute regularly actually began wearing bullet proof vests.

Then things quieted down. In truth, there’s been nary an incident on the Jerusalem-Efrat road for most of the past four years. Bus patronage slacked off as our friends all went back to their cars, even without the bullet proof vests. But that doesn’t mean something couldn’t still happen. Tomorrow. To us.

When we first invited to the bar mitzvah, I immediately said “let’s take the bus.” That had to be the safest alternative. But it was expensive. And so inconvenient.

“What’s more inconvenient, taking the bus or being dead?” Jody asked in a not-so-flippant way.

“But something could happen to the bus too,” I countered, playing devil’s advocate and contradicting my initial position. There was at least one deadly attack where a roadside bomb detonated under the bus; when the passengers rushed out to safety, terrorists were waiting and began to gun them down.

Then there was a plot that fortunately was uncovered before anything happened where terrorists armed with bomb belts planned to hijack a bus to Bethlehem. But that couldn’t happen on this line...half the passengers are soldiers or otherwise heavily armed.

“You’re driving me crazy,” Jody said. “It’s really six of one, half dozen of the other. Let’s just make a decision and do it.”

But by Friday morning, the day we were supposed to head out, I hadn’t gotten any closer. I had already searched the Internet to see if there had been any increase in terrorist activity on that highway in the past few days. There hadn’t.

I started grilling friends.

“Car for sure,” answered one person.

“Yes, the car,” said a second. “We do it all the time.”

I called up a friend in Efrat who was notably me. I knew she used to wear a bullet proof vest when she drove in her private car.

“Take the bus,” she said.

“ don’t.”

“It all depends on what you have to do. We have friends in Ofra,” she said referring to another settlement north of Ramallah, “and I wouldn’t dream of driving there. But they do all the time and don’t think twice.”

I went out for a run. Maybe that would clear my head. But all I could think about was what’s the point of staying in shape if life is so tenuous?

It’s not easy being me...

On the way back I ran into my neighbor Marc. I posed my usual question.

“What’s the problem?” he chided. “We just drove out to Efrat with the whole family last Friday.” Then he added: “But I certainly wouldn’t drive home at night.”

That was the key. That small bit of extra information was enough to tip my thinking and allow me to make the mental shift. We would drive.

Just not at night.

I called my friend in Efrat. “We’re driving!” I said with a triumphant lilt to my voice.

“I think all of the attacks in our area have actually been during the day,” she said.

“I don’t want to hear it. Children, let’s go.”

We piled into the car and headed out. Before we knew it we were on the Tunnel Road. Large concrete walls had been built to shield it from bullets and stones.

As we arrived at the army checkpoint, one of the kids asked, “Abba...have we passed the place where they throw stones?”

I paused. Then responded honestly: “No, we’re actually entering it right now.” I had told them about rocks but had kept the stories about gunfire to myself. A responsible parent practices selective disinformation.

I checked my watch. It was 4:18 PM when we passed the checkpoint. As we pulled into the entrance of Efrat, I turned to Jody. “Do you remember if I put on deodorant today after my shower?” I asked. I was all wet. We passed the settlement’s security fence.

My watch read 4:21 PM.

Three minutes! That was it. Three minutes of dangerous road. That was what all this obsessing was about? And yet, I thought again, it only takes three seconds to...

We unpacked and got ready for Shabbat. The bar mitzvah boy acquitted himself superbly and we had a very relaxing time. On Saturday night, we hung out with friends while the kids all watched a video together.

“So,” the bar mitzvah boy’s father said as we were getting ready to head back home on Sunday morning. “Do you think you’d be willing to come and visit us even if it’s not a bar mitzvah?”

“Hmm...” I thought. It was such a short trip and I felt foolish for all my procrastinations and posturing.

“You know what,” I said. “I think we just might.”

I’m not promising I won’t obsess about it all over again. But in three minutes, it seems, we’d come a long way.

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