My Little Life–in a Very Perturbed Place

I walked into the room, the basement of a large Orthodox synagogue in the east side of town, and couldn’t believe the buzz. Hundreds of females, ranging from little girl, first-grade looking to grandmotherly types, swarmed the social hall. Some women covered their heads and wore skirts, while others dressed like me in leggings and tank tops. I scanned the crowd and found my friend, a Canadian newcomer to Israel who had circulated an email a few hours earlier after two stabbing attacks in our quiet city called Raanana this past Tuesday:

Learn how to defend yourself from a knife attack.
1 hour class with former head Krav Maga Instructor of the IDF-Rachel Shear.
** The class is free of charge- JUST COME!
** Please wear comfortable attire, shoes and bring a bottle of water.
** Class suitable for ALL ages
Meeting Place: Ohel Ari

While we stood and waited for the evening to start, I heard the usual mélange of Hebrew, English, Italian, French, and Spanish and wondered what other languages and cultures surrounded me. A young woman in a black shirt and sweat pants, sporting a ponytail and sneakers, screamed for our attention, motioning us to sit. She introduced herself, saying she had taught the Israeli self-defense system called Krav Maga in the army and is now studying at Herzilia’s Interdisciplinary Center, a private, not-for-profit, and nonsectarian, research college. She takes the bus every day to and from campus and is in high alert mode like all of us.

Rachel informed us, in Hebrew and English, using big hand gestures, that paying attention is key. “Do not walk or ride a bike with earbuds. If you have to listen to music, then keep one side in and the other out so you can hear what’s going on around you,” she said. “If you take the bus and are standing at the bus stop, don’t keep your phone in your hand. Put it away and look up, around you.” I took mental notes to tell my girls who never left home without these teen accoutrements. “You can tell if someone looks suspicious. They might avoid eye contact or be shaky or keep both hands in their pockets if they’ve got a knife.” Her words shocked us. We listened. “Whatever you do, don’t stand in the bus stop because if someone comes and tries to knife you and you fall back into it no one can help you and might not hear you scream. Stand outside, so you can turn your head to all sides and see who is coming. If anyone approaches with a knife, you should scream mechabel, mechabel, mechabel, mechabel and run. Run as fast as you can and call 100.”

My friend whispered, “What’s mechabel?”

“Terrorist,” I said. A word whose phlegmy ch sound often got stuck in my throat. A word I knew but didn’t use often in conversation. A word I hoped to never have to retrieve in any situation.

Anything can be used as a weapon, Rachel explained. She showed us how to hold a key bow in our palm with the tip sticking up between our pointer and middle fingers. I took out my car key and held it the way she demonstrated. “If someone approaches and tries to stab you, you aim for their face, eyes if possible.” Rachel then bent down to pick up someone’s purse. She slung it over one shoulder and then whipped around and swung it in front of her. “See, a purse? It’s now a weapon. A backpack? Keep it over one shoulder and slam it toward an attacker. Anything can be a weapon. A nearby branch. A stone on the ground. A water bottle. An umbrella. A walking stick. A selfie stick. If you have it, use it. Slam it into them. They won’t be expecting it.”

I sighed. This young woman’s words seemed so innocuous because they were just words but so deeply disturbing since hours earlier, two Arab men in two different incidents, stabbed several innocent civilians, one walking down the main street of town and the others sitting at a café two blocks from my home. What once seemed like far away danger felt very real and threatening. Another American next to me and I looked at one another. “Can you believe this?” we said to one another.

A boy wearing an umpire-like mask and carrying a plastic knife approached Rachel, and she introduced him as her student. She explained that the stabbers goal is simple: to stab as many times as possible. So, she said, we must surprise them and fight back: bend one arm a little over ninety degrees, raise it to protect our face against the attacker’s knife, bend our knees to get low, pull in our heads like a turtle to protect the arteries in our necks, swat our free hand at their face, and kick their groin all while screaming mechabel, mechabel, mechabel, mechabel and running away. Rachel and her assistant demonstrated once, twice, three times, from the right side then the left. A little girl, probably eight or nine years old, raised her hand and asked what to do if someone attacks from behind. Rachel turned around and the boy pretended to stab her in the back. She flipped to face him, bent one arm a little above ninety degrees, bent her knees, drew her head back to protect her neck, kicked him, slapped him in the face with her free hand, screamed mechabel, turned and ran. “Got it?” she said.

Some of us chuckled. Because it was funny. Because it was insane. Because it felt like comic relief. Because laughing beat crying. Because it was insanity. And life here can seem insane.

Finally, with ten minutes left, Rachel asked us to stand, find a partner and practice. My friend and I faced one another. She attacked first, while I tried my best to remember all of the instructions. I bent this body part and that; I did the Egyptian with my head; I screamed terrorist. We poked fun at ourselves and then changed roles. The room sounded like a mob of lunatics, role playing terrorists and victims. May none of us ever know from this—a rough translation of what many religious men and women say in this country. Tfoo, tfoo, tfoo, I wanted so spit over my shoulder, an ancient superstitious way to ward off evil, as if silly-sounding made-up words and some saliva can shield me.

Rachel clapped her hands loudly to get our attention. “OK, so if you want to feel safer and learn more, remember to sign up for classes before you leave.” I walked over to the wall where two lists hung, one for Krav Maga and one for self-defense and put my name down on both, not understanding the difference between them. But I don’t care. All I want is to walk the streets freely and fearlessly, to feel lionhearted–even if I look like a turtle.

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6 Responses to “My Little Life–in a Very Perturbed Place”

  1. Lauren October 17, 2015 at 4:04 am #

    Hi J,

    This is great information for the community. Thank you for sharing and thank you for showing me the video of that night. The instructor was inspiring and her spirit strong.

    For those in Jerusalem, AACI is offering members an opportunity to participate in an El HaLev ( ) workshop, at their center on the third floor, beneath the Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center, at a reduced price, thanks to an earmarked donation.

    These El HaLev workshops are three hours long; offered by bi-lingual Hebrew-English instructors; and are appropriate for women ages 18-60. The price for AACI members is 100 NIS instead of NIS 120 for the general public. Contact El HaLev at 02-6781764 for times and to register.

    In addition, on Thursday, October 22, 9:30 – 11:30, El HaLev will offer a two hour workshop in English for women over the age of 60, with the price for AACI members 70 NIS instead of NIS 90 for the general public.

    I’ll be going to the Thursday one — it is being led by my friend and colleague – Yudit, one of the co-founders of El HaLev.

    Stay safe — Lauren

    • Jennifer Lang October 21, 2015 at 6:38 pm #

      Many thanks for all that info! Good stuff.

  2. Allison Wohl October 18, 2015 at 3:36 pm #

    THIS IS GREAT!!! You have nailed it with these 2 essays. I need to forward it to my friends/family back home. It’s so accurate and I love your sense of humor. The fact that you could have one amidst the craziness!

    • Jennifer Lang October 21, 2015 at 6:37 pm #

      Please circulate/forward to friends/family. Important for people who don’t understand what we live here to read about the regular person’s life. And fear.

  3. Marina October 18, 2015 at 4:17 pm #


    Thank you so much for sharing your amazing words. We are all thinking of you. I read your self defense article to the whole family. Great information for everyone to keep in mind. Stay safe. Praying for you and everyone in israel.


    • Jennifer Lang October 21, 2015 at 6:37 pm #

      I forgot about your connection to self-defense. Powerful stuff. Thanks for the love.

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