Today, there was a bomb threat at the JCC where my two-and-a-half-year-old goes, here in Los Angeles. The “hoax” – one of about 90 in the last few weeks apparently – was handled with compassion and aplomb by the staff. Kids, teens and families were escorted to safety swiftly and nobody was hurt. Go ahead, say it: Thank God. As far as my kid knew, it was a “normal day.” The threat happened at 4:30; his class ends at 3. By 7:30 P.M., the JCC was open for business again.
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But of course, the real explosion is the explosion of emotions the parents and older kids are riding out tonight – it’ll take many moons for that shrapnel to fall. My wife was beside herself with tears and sorrow. She allowed herself to picture things... things going other ways. And in fact, she had reservations about the JCC for this very reason.
“What are we supposed to do?” I had protested. “Pretend we aren’t Jews for the next four years and hide?”
“We’ll be hiding our nanny soon, the way things are going,” she said. “These are not normal times.”
“Yeah, okay,” I said. “But in the meantime, where is safer? The other preschool? Disneyland? The Grove? There’s no such thing as safe.”
“Maybe not anymore.”
She capitulated, we enrolled, and just six weeks into his tenure – an actual bomb threat. Who knew it would happen so fast? We watched the JCC bomb threats “ping” other towns with mounting dread, but like all watchers of news blips, we thought the plague will skip us. Right?
Also, how serious is it?
Well, local law enforcement is cooperating with the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to determine just how serious.
And that’s too damn serious for those who are two years of age.
I’m an American, but Israeli-born, and for what it’s worth, I’ve learned from family soldiers and survivors to repress the worst political anxieties in the clinch. Israelis are masters at separating the very abnormal from the urgently panic-worthy. It’s Survival 101: Yihye beseder, it’ll be fine. It’s served me well – so far.
On September 11, 2001, I worked one subway stop from World Trade Center and saw the buildings fall with my naked eyes. The collapsing towers made a rumble I’ve never heard before or since, a sub-sub-subwoofer rattling from beneath hell. When we were sent home that day, I visited a family friend, a Holocaust survivor. Watching Ground Zero burn from her balcony, she said, “All bets... are off.” The voice of wisdom. Still, the big bad wolf seemed very far away. Nobody was going to fly a plane into my apartment building.
A few years later, in Haifa, I was attending an outdoor wedding when war broke out. Air raid sirens and bomb explosions put me in a dry-mouthed freak-out. I didn’t run to my car exactly, but I must have seemed bugged because my cousin Mayer laughed. “You’re not scared?”
“Just a little.”
“Listen,” he said, “you gotta be like Robert Duvall in 'Apocalypse Now.' Unbutton your shirt and keep strutting. Yihye beseder.” The big bad wolf, he was assuring me, was not going go blowing down my house in the middle of a wedding.
These Israelis with their Disaster Wisdom, when they’d visit Los Angeles, I’d show them Universal Studios. After all, didn’t they deserve a little break from The Real? They held down “the bad side of the globe” – keeping U.S. Jewry safe for movies and peaceful pastrami eating at Canter’s on Fairfax. From them, I picked up whatever quick and dirty survival skills I could glean.
But tonight, even as I attempt to comfort my American wife with weak-sauce platitudes, my force field is failing me. A 2-year-old is involved. Who threatens to bomb a building of 2-, 3-, and 4-year-olds? What diabolical twist of the soul does it take to bring your hate to bear on people that size? And who topples gravestones for pleasure? Who wants to hurt mourners? Which psychotic enemy are we dealing with this time exactly? And what reckless shmucks have kicked open Pandora’s Box now without the slightest regard for consequence? Just how close is the big bad wolf? And why can’t he keep my 2-year-old out of it?!
By the way, the terrible twos are tough enough. It’s plenty stressful just dropping off the little one at daycare and leaving for the day, without the actual world falling to actual pieces. The toddler might bonk, or take a spill, not wait his turn at the slide and get into a scuffle. He might not cooperate during story-time. It happens. He might not nap. Naptime is essential. He doesn’t need to learn about hate on top of it all. No way, not yet. He just wants us to read him “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back.” Again.
And tomorrow, with the dawn, there’ll be no talk of bomb threats. Tomorrow, it’ll be Cheerios vs. oatmeal with raisins. Tomorrow, if it rains, we break out the kid-sized umbrella and stomp green froggy boots through puddles of mud. Tomorrow, we stifle it in front of him and exchange those parent-to-parent glances, rapid and uneasy, and pretend away all the big bad wolves, near and far.
Daniel Weizmann's writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Buzz, Billboard, Jewish Journal, Hollywood Dementia, and in several books including "Drinking with Bukowski" and "Turn Up the Radio."