TERRORISM A GIANT CONCERN IN ISRAEL, BEFORE AND AFTER 9-11
By Mim Chappell-Eber
Before September 11 in the United States, the entire summer of 2001 was a time of uncertainty and terrorism in Israel.
Before the World Trade Center and the Pentagon became eponyms for terrorism here, the Jerusalem Sbarro's and the Dolphinarium disco in Tel Aviv became symbols in Israel and for Jews around the world. And numerous attacks since September 11 have made life extraordinarily difficult for the Israeli people.
I had been to Israel twice before as part of the U.S. Maccabiah World Games team; captain in 1993 and co-captain and coach in 1997. And I was one of three to carry the flag in 2001, which was pretty nice.
And, having been before, I know that things are totally different there than they are here in the United States. We are not used to attacks; we are not used to being violated like this.
Someone asked me once, "What makes it so easy for you to go to Israel?" My answer is that it's a frame of mind and a way of life.
In Israel, if someone leaves a bag on a bus, the bus is cleared and the bomb squad is called in. Here, if someone leaves a bag on the bus, the bag is stolen. Even if that bag is full of money, people in Israel won't touch that bag because you don't know what is in it.
There are subtle cues that you need to pick up, and there are some places that are just off-limits.
Even in places that are safe from terrorist attacks, incidents can happen. There is a town, Netanya, that I love to shop in when I go there, but one time a bomb went off the day I was there, not two minutes after I walked by a trash can into which I had thrown some pistachio seeds.
The thought went through my mind, "What am I doing here?" for about half a second, but I can't live my life being afraid to go somewhere. That day, people went about their daily business -- yes, a bomb did go off and the police and bomb squad came and everyone was watching the scene on TV -- but nobody was hurt.
The 2001 Maccabiah Games experience was destined to be different for me from the beginning; after going back and forth deciding whether or not to go, I had decided to go alone that summer. It was the first time I had gone to Israel by myself; usually my husband and kids would come with me and we would visit my family there.
And it was a pretty lonely experience, and obviously I was not the only one having to make a decision about whether or not to go. That's because 2001 was the smallest World Maccabiah Games there was in a long, long time. Usually, we have 12 hockey teams, combined between men's and women's, There were only three in 2001. There were no men's there; there was a women's team from Argentina, one from South Africa, and a combined U.S.-Israeli team that made up the women's competition.
That's because for our field hockey team, we had only four of the 17 selected players show. We had to dig pretty deep into our alternates to get the seven players to combine with the Israeli team. Julie (Mazar), who was our coach, had to play, and we made up the rest of the team with whoever we could get; people from Argentina, some foreign nationals, and even an American now living in Israel.
We could have seen this coming. In December 2000, there weren't as many players as we thought there should have been at the trials in Cherry Hill, N.J.
After the team was selected, we had been getting emails all of 2001 prior to departure. Everyone was really looking at the news; we had kids saying that their parents wouldn't let them come, and parents wondering if it was safe.
The U.S. has the second-largest delegation at the World Games in Israel; we usually have somewhere around 650 to 700. But in our delegation in 2001, we had only around 250 people.
For the opening ceremonies, the security was very, very tight, even for the athletes. Even getting to the different events, you had to pass through a security guard, and they were scrutinizing you. I went to karate, which was held in Tel Aviv, and they looked through your bags and looked over you. I mean, it was hot, so how much can you conceal in shorts and a tank top?
The Maccabiah Games are held all over the country, not just Tel Aviv. The different venues are in different cities so that you involve the whole country. But the athletes couldn't take public transportation; you either had to take a taxi or one of the shuttle buses that the Maccabiah Games provided.
Despite all of this, the decision for me to go was a no-brainer. Nothing was going to happen during The Games, and I honestly believed that. If anything had happened, the Israeli retaliation would have been swift and brutal.
However, for me, it was a difficult decision to not have my kids go. We have family in Israel, and every four years, we go and they stay on the kibbutz and travel.
We were going to maybe go in the summer of 2002, but things got even worse over there. We're not quite sure when we're going back again, or when things will get better.
Mim Chappell-Eber has served as captain and delegation leader for the U.S. Maccabiah Games field hockey team.