JERUSALEM (Feb. 11)
When the house shook Wednesday morning, I thought: Oh no, not again. Not another cafe blowing up five minutes from where I live.
But the shaking didn’t fit the usual pattern. It lasted too long — 20 seconds — and I didn’t hear a boom. There was no smoke rising, no sirens in the air.
Within a few minutes, news media already were reporting that an earthquake had hit Israel. Centered just north of the Dead Sea, the quake measured 5 on the Richter scale and could be felt as far away as Jordan and Syria.
No sooner had the momentary panic subsided then I marveled at how ironic our day-to-day reality has become. There are new terror alerts — sometimes hourly, the last two weeks has seen the entire country thrown into chaos by striking local authority workers and the world media continues to vilify us even as anti-Semitism rises to levels not seen since the 1930s.
And now we have earthquakes. What’s next? Frogs? Boils? Darkness? How much more do we have to take?
For most Israelis, though, the thought of an earthquake may be a little scary, but it’s still more of a novelty. If anything, it’s a chance to think about something other than the daily news.
The media tried to make the most of it.
“Yaron, you’re in Ramat Aviv, in one of Israel’s tallest buildings, right?” a radio announcer intoned in his most serious voice.
“Yes,” came the reply.
“How did it feel to be so high up?”
“Well, I only live on the third floor.”
“Oh . . . well, you must be scared,” came the somewhat disappointed reply. “Have you evacuated the building yet?”
“No, I’m talking to you from my living room.”
“We turn now to Assaf in the Emergency Room at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Assaf, are you seeing any injured, any people suffering from trauma?”
“No, not really.”
My wife Jody and I have a very different outlook on earthquakes than the average Israeli. We both moved to Israel from California — the center of earthquake country. Coming to Israel was supposed to be a relief.
Growing up, our terror was earthquakes. We lived in dread — maybe not on the same level as we do now in Israel — but the worry was always there, underlying our daily concerns and activities.
It wasn’t until 1989 that we experienced the Big One. The Loma Prieta quake topped 7.1 on the Richter scale and caused extensive damage. Buildings were condemned, freeways needed to be torn down.
Jody and I were living in Berkeley at the time. On the day of the quake, we were supposed to meet friends across the bay in San Francisco. I planned to meet Jody there a little late since I was working and Jody had the day off.
When the earth started to move, I knew that Jody was probably already on her way. By my calculations, she should have been about halfway across the Bay Bridge.
I headed out of the office, though I wasn’t even sure if the roads were going to be open. That’s when I heard the news: The center of the Bay Bridge had collapsed. Cars had gone tumbling down. There were reports of deaths.
I was beside by myself with terror. What if Jody had been crossing into the city at that exact moment?
This was in the days before cell phones, so there was no way to contact her — not that the phone lines would have worked anyway.
I raced home. No Jody. Then I really started to panic. I was convinced that my wife of a little more than a year, the mother of my children-to-be, was gone.
For some reason, I decided to drive over to the synagogue, perhaps to seek some consolation.
Few may remember, but that big earthquake occurred during Sukkot, when Jews are commanded to eat their meals in outdoor booths. We had planned on dining that day with our friends in San Francisco, but Jody decided she was too hungry and so she stopped by the shul’s sukkah to wolf down a quick sandwich.
When I walked into the synagogue, there she was. A little shaken but with all her limbs intact. It was as poetic a reunion as you can imagine.
To this day, I credit the Jewish calendar with delaying Jody’s journey onto the bridge just long enough to save her life.
While Wednesday morning’s earthquake in Israel was nowhere near as dramatic, the geologists warn us here in Israel not to get too complacent. We’re due for a Big One, too, they say.
The last major quake in Israel was in 1927. It registered a sizable 6.3 on the Richter scale and wiped out nearly the entire Jewish quarter of Safed’s Old City, in the northern Galilee.
Several hours after Wednesday’s quake, there were no aftershocks to speak of. By Thursday, business as usual could be expected: Garbage men were threatening to join the strike that has paralyzed much of Israel, Israeli politicians would hold their usual press conferences and, of course, there would be more warnings of terrorist attacks.
But for a brief moment, an act of God — not men — took our minds off our more prosaic concerns. For that, I suppose, we ought to be thankful. Not enough to wish for more earthquakes — just enough to recognize the unique dynamic that is life in Israel.
Not to mention be reminded of the importance of the Jewish calendar.
Brian Blum writes the syndicated column “This Normal Life,” available at www.ThisNormalLife.com.