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Thirteen of the Longest Minutes

Thirteen of the Longest Minutes

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I’ve needed to go grocery shopping all week—not at the local mini-mart, but at the massive, everything-in-bulk, cheaper-than-anywhere-else grocery store here in Jerusalem called Osher Ad. The best part is that it carries real American products from Costco. The problem, of course, is that it is a 45-minute bus ride away, and because of the recent terror attacks here in Jerusalem, I, like most of the city’s residents, have found the idea of leaving my house—unless it is absolutely necessary—a bit overwhelming. No, not overwhelming. Terrifying.

So each day this week, I’ve debated making the trip and concluded that it’d be better to stay home and figure out how to make meals from what we had on hand, or what I could throw together with a quick run to the corner store across the street.

But on Friday, with Shabbat a few short hours away, and the fact that the news had been quiet for precisely one day (and the worry in my mind that it might, G‑d forbid, get worse, and I wouldn’t be able to shop for a long time), I made a decision that any other week would have been an easy one.

After dropping my four-year-old off at preschool, I continued on with my baby in her stroller, and within a few minutes arrived at the bus stop that would take me to the grocery store. On my way, I passed several policemen. The streets are now filled with police and military, many of whom carry massive guns over their shoulders. I asked each one, in my rough Hebrew, “Is it safe to be out in the street?” and each one answered the same, “Hakol beseder, giveret. Everything is fine, miss.” I wondered if that was the answer they had been instructed to give, or if maybe, just maybe, everything really was okay.

As I approached the bus stop, I saw my bus, number 34, pull up to the streetlight ahead of me. I had missed it by no more than three seconds. Then I looked up at the new electronic board that posts the time until the next bus. Thirteen minutes. On any other day, thirteen minutes wouldn’t be the biggest deal—annoying, of course, but I always have something to do. Normally, I would make a few calls, pop into a nearby store, or sit down and have an iced coffee. But on Friday, none of those things felt like options. On Friday, the idea of waiting at a bus stop for thirteen minutes made me nervous. Very nervous. I felt, G‑d forbid, like a sitting duck, waiting at a popular intersection for a bus that was taking forever to arrive.

Three minutes passed, but I couldn’t wait any longer. I hopped on another bus going to the same area, the 22 bus; even if a bit slower, I’d feel safer if I was in motion. But once I paid and asked the bus driver if he stopped where I was trying to get to, he told me to get off at the next stop and get on the 34. The bus I’d just missed, the bus I didn’t have the patience, or courage, to wait for. So I did as I was told and got off the bus at the next stop. I looked up at the board and saw “nine minutes” flashing in lights.

Nine minutes suddenly felt like a very long time. I didn’t make phone calls or listen to music because I wanted to be aware, to stay alert at all times, like we’ve all been instructed to do. When the bus finally came, I took a deep breath and got on. I stood next to a 22-year-old soldier and asked him if he spoke English. He did, of course, so I asked him if the soldiers were receiving any additional training since this craziness had begun. “More Krav Maga, hand-to-hand combat. But that’s it.” We said our goodbyes, and he was gone.

My plan, once I arrived to the store, was to get in and out as fast as possible. The store is on the bottom floor of a mall, so usually I’d make a half-day of this trip. Sometimes I take my kids so they can enjoy the merry-go-round and the spaceship rides conveniently located next to the ice cream store. Most of the time, my mom joins us for lunch there as well. It’s a fun outing our family looks forward to about once a month. But today, everything was different. This trip wasn’t for pleasure; it was a necessity. I decided to shop for two months’ worth of groceries, something I’d normally never dream of, and get back home as quickly as possible.

When I entered the mall, I was amazed that people were sitting there having breakfast at the cafés like usual. At the grocery store, the checkout lines were long, just like I would usually expect on a Friday. As I shopped, my body started to relax. It took a few moments to realize why: this particular store employs predominantly, if not solely, Jews. I also realized the clientele was all Jewish, not mixed Arab and Jewish as so many stores are. For a few minutes, things seemed okay again.

Once my cart was full, I headed to the checkout line, where a nice woman insisted I be rushed to the head of the line, as my baby had had quite enough and was crying inconsolably. Someone opened a package of pretzels from her cart and handed my baby one. The baby calmed down as the cashier finished ringing me up.

As I passed the cafés on my way out, I thought, Wow maybe people feel safe here, indoors, where it feels like you can shut the world out. Or maybe Israelis know how to go about their lives even under the most difficult of circumstances.

Then I walked out of the mall, back onto the street. The bus sign read “four minutes.” The time passed quickly, and soon I was back on the bus on my way home. Again, I felt my guard go up. I inspected each person who came close; anyone could be a potential threat, G‑d forbid.

When I got off the bus, I looked at how empty the streets were, how few people were in the shuk (market). I was startled by a police dog barking out of the window of a police vehicle. I saw the police cars patrolling the streets and thought about how intense this all is, this new way of life we hope we won’t have to get used to.

Before any of this ever started, I always told my children, “Life has enough stress in it. We don’t need to add to it by stressing each other out.” I told them, “There are enough things in life we can’t control, but what we can control, our own behavior, is something we should.”

But right now, we are in a time when much of the world is tolerating, even praising, the worst of behaviors.

My mind flashed back to how hard it was waiting for that bus this morning. I thought about how much fear I was holding in my body for those thirteen minutes and how hard it is walking on the streets these days. Then I thought about some of the hardest waits I’ve had in my life. I remembered waiting to meet my husband, and then waiting for him to walk down the aisle to cover my face, how long it felt like it took for him to get there, even though it was only a few seconds.

I thought about waiting at the end of my pregnancies to finally go into labor, sometimes two and a half weeks late. How it felt like it was never going to happen, and the only thing that kept me going in those days was filling my time with mitzvahs. At nine months and eight days pregnant, I took on a fundraiser to buy new play equipment for my sons preschool. That project was the only thing that kept me sane. Each trip back and forth to the toy store reminded me that when we put our minds to doing good deeds, even the smallest effort can create great results.

Then, once in labor, I remember waiting at the final moments for the baby to emerge. Sometimes, the waiting felt so much longer than it was. And sometimes the waiting is real and long and stressful, like this wait for Moshiach, who, I am positive, has to come right now, especially in light of the current situation in Israel. And I am sure each of us has the power to hasten his arrival. We all need to stop and make a conscious effort to increase in our Torah and mitzvahs and say, "This mitzvah, this is for the safety of the Jews in Israel and for the ultimate redemption. G‑d, look what's going on in Israel, look at how much we need the redemption. Let Moshiach come fast and redeem us."

Sometimes, while waiting, I have felt that if it would take a few more moments, I wouldn’t survive. I’ve felt that the waiting, the not knowing, was just too much. And then I realized that those are the kinds of stresses in life you can’t avoid, things that are totally beyond our control. When will you meet your spouse? When will your baby be born? When will Moshiach come? Waiting for those answers is meant to be difficult, it pushes you to grow, to reach beyond yourself and do one more mitzvah to tip the scales in the right direction.

But waiting for a bus, feeling safe waiting for a bus—it shouldn’t have to be stressful. Waiting for a bus shouldn’t be this hard.

Shifrah Devorah Witt received her M.A., and M.F.A. in creative writing from San Francisco State University. She is the author of From Me to We: A Guide to the First Year of Marriage and Beyond, and co-author of The Complete Asian Kosher Cookbook and The Best of Mexican Kosher Cooking. She teaches creative writing and manuscript development on line, via Skype, and in Jerusalem where she lives with her family.
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Discussion (6)
October 28, 2015
Great article!
Esther Heller
October 27, 2015
yes really beautiful, and I feel all the stress in your body while waiting do you remember how your feeling was when your firstborn was on the way to be born? for some it happens very quick for others it took hours of hours of pain
thank you for sharing these moments with us
inge reisinger
zwickau
October 27, 2015
Beautiful essay.
Linda Goldberg Natick, MA
October 26, 2015
Tu. Thinking n davening for all of u/ us ..
Aviva
October 25, 2015
That's right!!!!
Amen. Pushing and waiting. May HaShem make the birth easy, joyful and right on time. Ad matai!
aviva spiegel
October 22, 2015
I can't imagine the anxiety I would feel in this situation. I love you so much!
Sarà
USA