Holiday Festivities in Jerusalem Are a Light in the Intifada Darkness

With this year’s Festival of Lights falling just a week after Palestinian terrorists turned the center of Jerusalem into a killing field, residents are struggling not to let their fear deter them from their holiday celebration.

Ben Yehuda Street, the scene of a double suicide bombing on Dec. 1 that killed 11 people, is an odd mixture of Chanukah festivities and bombing memorial.

A little boy stood at a table Tuesday cutting pink cellophane into a dreidel shape, while a little girl in a silver-colored crown moved her arms in imitation of the storyteller sitting across from her.

A few feet away, technicians were setting up a sound system on a portable stage for a concert. In large letters, the stage bore the message, “We came to banish darkness,” words from a popular Chanukah song that also reflect something of the public mood as the Palestinian intifada bleeds through its 15th month.

Tuesday was the first of five days of Chanukah performances and art projects funded by the Jerusalem municipality, said Rachel Ben Asher, director of mobile art for the city.

Following the Dec. 1 bombing, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert decided to organize holiday festivities in the center of town, both in memory of the victims and to raise people’s spirits, Ben Asher said.

At the bottom of Ben Yehuda, next to Zion Square, dying flowers and the empty tins of memorial candles commemorate the site of one explosion. A sign propped in a nearby tree reads, “The nation of Israel is alive and strong.” The sound stage sits on the site of the other explosion.

“It’s a lot nicer to pass by and create, listen to music and watch performers, than to pass by and look at all the candles and feel an ache in the heart,” Ben Asher said.

Today was the first day Rina Cohen Sabari, 44, had been in town since the attack.

“I’m afraid for my son,” she said, stringing beads next to Lidor, 5, who was doing the same.

“It’s a shame to miss out” on the festivities, Cohen Sabari said of her decision to come to the city center, yet she’s not relaxed about the decision.

“I’m telling him, ‘Hurry up, hurry up, let’s go,’ ” she said.

Others also said they refuse to change their routines. Inbar Goshecsini, 22, adopted a fatalistic approach.

“If I’m destined to die, I’ll die,” she said. “My father tells me not to go out for fun. What’s the difference? I can also die when I go to work.”

Soon after the attack, Goshecsini, a beauty consultant, lit candles at the site. Now she wants to get back to her normal life.

“No one’s going to lock me up in the house,” she said, standing across the street from the Sbarro’s pizzeria, where another major attack took place in August. “I want to live normally.”

Ora and Moshe Chayat came into Jerusalem from the town of Kochav Yair with their baby and 13-year-old daughter. “It doesn’t deter us,” said Ora Chayat, 40. “On the contrary, every place you don’t go to is just a reward for terrorism.”

Further away from downtown, Tamar Hacohen, 24, expressed the combination of fear and determination that characterized many responses.

“There is some fear, yes,” she said, standing with her husband and two daughters. “But I don’t think it causes us to change our routine.”

“It could be that we think twice,” she said about traveling into town — “but then we go.”

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