Former Israelis in suburbs accustomed to bomb risk

Violent terrorist attacks happen so infrequently in the United States that pictures and stories from last week's deadly blasts at the Boston Marathon have dominated daily life ever since.

But in some parts of the world, bombings and terrorist attacks are a part of regular life. On the day of the Boston Marathon, 25 bombings in Iraq left at least 61 people dead.

What is it like to live in a country where people must be constantly on guard whenever they take public transportation, eat at a restaurant, go to a store or even walk down the street?

Suburban residents who have lived in Israel, where hundreds of civilians have been killed in suicide bombings during intensified periods of conflict with the Palestinians, say that constant cycle of violence, vigilance, security is merely a way of life.

“It's human nature that you learn how to live with it,” said Eli Sasson, a Buffalo Grove resident who was born in Israel and lived there until 1998.

Sasson remembers when he was growing up, terrorists would hide bombs in bags, in bread being sold on the street or in a football left for children to play with in open areas.

“We were taught the basic rules. Don't pick up anything on the floor that doesn't belong to you. If you see a bag that doesn't belong to anybody, call the police,” Sasson said.

Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein, who has lived in Israel, had a boyfriend killed in a terrorist bombing in Israel in 1983.

“Unfortunately, violence is worldwide and we've never figured out how to stop it,” said Klein, who recently moved from the Boston suburbs to lead Congregation Kneseth Israel in Elgin.

Klein said she didn't live in fear while she was in Israel because she saw the attitude of the Israelis around her — an almost fatalistic approach that if it all ends today, so be it.

“They live with this every single day,” she said. “If we give in to the fear, either here or there, they win.”

Sasson said every restaurant owner used to hire a guard to sit and check people who were coming in, because otherwise people were too afraid to eat there.

That enhanced security is normal to many Israelis, but instead of making them feel afraid, many said it makes them feel safer to know they are being protected at all times.

“When you walk down the street, when you go to sleep, you see soldiers with weapons and police everywhere,” said Rabbi David Sherman, who was born and raised in Israel but moved to Skokie two years ago. “The safety is all around you.”

He recalls the reality of raising his children in that environment.

“You teach your family, don't speak to strangers. There are bad people, they're trying to kill us and you need to be careful,” Sherman said. “That's just the way of life.”

Some Israelis who have moved to the suburbs, like Sasson, said they wish there was more enhanced security in daily life here.

“If I go to a Bulls game, I feel safe because they check everyone's bags, but if I go to a trade show, they don't monitor anyone and people can do whatever they want,” he said.

Scott Mathias, 34, who grew up in Buffalo Grove and lived in Israel from 2000 to 2006, the period when the most suicide bombings occurred, said the transition to a society where there is a significant threat of random violence was a shocking transition at first.

“I don't think you ever really get used to it, but there is just this resolve in the air to carry on,” he said. “You try to be as careful as you can, but where are you really safe today?”

Going through security before entering a restaurant or waiting 20 minutes to get into a mall because of the metal detectors became normal, he said.

Mathias now works at a law firm at the Chrysler Building in Manhattan and said he is aware that something could happen as easily there as when he was in Israel or Buffalo Grove.

“We can't run away from it. We just have to trust as much as we can in the security that's around us and citizens spotting things and God protecting us, but you never know,” he said.

Scott's father Sidney, a former state representative, said he felt better when he was in Israel visiting his sons than when he was at home in Buffalo Grove worrying about their safety.

“I remember being there one year and the streets of Jerusalem were almost empty. I was searched by a soldier as I walked down the street,” Sidney Mathias said. “I felt safe because of the soldier's presence, but I would have to say I also felt nervous.”

Scott Mathias said that despite the perception among some that Israel is a war zone, he felt it was a safe place to live, a sentiment shared by other suburbanites still living there.

“There are no guarantees in life, but Israelis tend to get on with life, keeping an eye open but not letting our enemies dictate our lifestyles,” said Tamar Rubin by email from Israel.

Rubin, who is originally from Des Plaines, said while there is a constant awareness of the possibility of attack, she feels safe walking around the city streets at night or in outdoor cafes.

“There is a sense of neighborhood that you don't feel in other places,” she said.

While terrorist attacks are less frequent in America than other parts of the world, Sherman, the Skokie rabbi, said last week's bombing in Boston brought back a lot of flashbacks.

“We understand the feelings of the people and what they are going through,” he said of the people in Boston. “With every attack there's always a shock. Sometimes you know the people, sometimes you don't, but you always feel the pain.”

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