There is one fiction about Israel that is common even among some very good friends and supporters of Israel. And that is the notion that Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular are dangerous places to visit. In the minds of many, terror is ever-present and the recent stabbings of innocents has only abetted this notion.
An issue that come up when recruiting for trips to Israel is how safe is it to visit there. Spouses and parents worry greatly when their loved ones go to Israel and even my son, Yoni's school almost called off their graduating class Israel trip a few months back.
During my visit two weeks ago, we had the good fortune of meeting the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat. He pointed out that there is a universal method and statistic to judge how safe a city may or may not be. And that is to see how many murders there are per 100,000 residents.
When you do your homework on this issue, you will find that
- Caracas, Venezuela is the most dangerous city in the world with 120 murders per 100,000 residents.
- St. Louis tops the US cities with 59;
- Detroit has 44.
- London, England with 1.5.
- And guess where Jerusalem finds itself on this scale? Alongside London with 1.5. So let me ask you, when you hear of someone going to London, do you wish them, "Come back safe"? Do you worry for them?
If you expand your research beyond Mr. Barkat's presentation and look at the overall crime index of cities worldwide you will find that once again
- Caracas is the worst of the 277 cities studied with an index of 85.9.
- Detroit comes in at number 12 with an index of 75.75,
- Miami at 66 with a score of 57.41,
- London at 120 with a score of 47.24 and
- War torn Calgary is listed at 212
- Jerusalem is way down at number 236
So as Mr. Barkat related to us, when people regularly wish us a good trip when we visit Israel and "to come back safe", he turns that greeting on its head and when he knows someone visiting the USA with its much higher murder and crime rate, he wishes for them to return safely from the USA to Israel.
People have this false impression of Israel because whenever any act of violence between Palestinians and Israel occurs, it becomes sensational international news. But almost all of the shootings and stabbings in St. Louis, Detroit, Miami or even Calgary are merely local news that never make it beyond their respective newspapers.
Truth be told, I admit that when I was leaving Jaffe Gate after Shabbat at nighttime and passing many Arab young men, I did glance over my shoulder. But at the same time, whenever I drive I-95, I am also glancing over my shoulder to check my blind spot for drivers zipping into the next lane or drivers distracted by texting as they lane-drift like drunks. In fact, last year when my daughter, Tzippy spent the year in Israel and the stabbings were more frequent, people would ask me if I was worried about her. And I always answered the same way, "I am more worried about my son Yoni driving up and down I-95 to school each day than Tzippy walking the streets of Jerusalem."
So if safety is your issue and that is what animates much of your life, then it might be time to pick yourself up and move to Jerusalem – a lively and vibrant city where little children walk the streets alone, thousands hang out late into the night at bars and restaurants, where the Light Rail Train zips within inches of people (including me) along Jaffe Road without incident, barriers or lawsuits, and where violence and crime is at one of the lowest rates in the whole world. Not only will you be safe in Jerusalem, but you get all the great spiritual benefits that go along with being at the place that Jewish tradition calls The Gateway to Heaven and where you can touch and feel God's Presence.