Everyday life in an extraordinary place.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Someone to Watch over Me

Photo (c) Amy Samin

This Postcard from Israel was originally written on 29 April 2005.

Saturday night, after celebrating the start of the Passover holiday with family in Jerusalem, we got in the car for the approximately one-hour trip home. We walked in the front door of our house three hours later.

This was no ordinary holiday traffic jam. As we neared Ben Gurion Airport, we noticed a helicopter with a searchlight combing the area. Soon after, we began seeing police cars. A lot of them. Then a van carrying a special bomb-detonating robot passed us, moving swiftly toward Tel Aviv. We knew something untoward was going on, but there was no mention of anything on the radio. Not long after, the traffic ahead of us slowed to a crawl, and yet another van sped by on the shoulder; this one carried an elite SWAT team.

Well, even a former history major like me can add up those numbers. Even before the news came on, confirming our suspicions, we knew there must be a serious warning of a possible terrorist attack. (If there had already been an attack, regular programming would have ceased and the radio would be carrying all known details).

Of course it's no fun being stuck in a massive traffic jam at midnight. But knowing that the cause was a security risk, we didn't mind waiting. Much better that the police should check every single car approaching Tel Aviv, even if it meant adding hours onto our trip home, than that another Passover would be brutally destroyed by terrorism. I think most people felt as we did; once the risk of an attack was broadcast on the radio, we didn't hear any blaring horns, cursing, or other typical behavior associated with frustrated drivers not being able to continue on their way. We knew that the police were doing everything possible to protect us all.

Most people know that the Israeli army exists to defend our country from her enemies (hence its name, the Israel Defense Forces). What some may not realize is that the IDF is joined in that endeavor by the Border Police and even the regular civil police. The Israeli police (there are no individual metropolitan police forces) is aided by a volunteer force, made up of regular citizens, male and female, who want to serve their country and help protect her citizens. Many of our friends and neighbors are volunteers, as is my husband.

Those who volunteer with the police go through special training. Their assignments vary, from cruising neighborhoods with an eye out for trouble, to responding to calls. There are specific situations in which they are forbidden to become involved, such as domestic disputes. My husband and his team have searched for runaways, responded to complaints about noise or suspicious persons or objects, assisted in the operation of roadblocks, pursued burglary suspects and more. These civilian units have aided the police in lowering the crime rate in our city, and have helped the police in countless other ways.

The other impact these volunteers have is to give the police a familiar face. We have gotten to know quite a number of police officers. We've learned where they are from, we've met their families. Some of them are even parents at our local school. Normally, people don't think much about who the police are. They either don't think about them at all, or do so only when complaining about crime. Knowing the people whose life's work it is to protect the public and prevent or solve crimes gives you a different perspective. Like so many things in this country, it's personal. We understand now how hard these dedicated individuals work at what they do. We can see how much their work matters to them.

Just before 2 a.m. last Saturday we finally made it to the last check-point on our way home. The policeman stopped us to peer inside our vehicle, checking for suspicious persons. Most likely he had been doing the same thing for hours, after being called away from his family and their holiday celebration. After spending three long hours stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I knew I had to speak my mind to this man. I told him, "Happy Passover. And thank you for watching over us."

(c) Amy Samin

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