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While sharing a personal story, Steve Wenick illustrates the differences between Israel’s security concerns and those of its strongest ally in the West, America.


Illustration Photo Credit: Reuters/Channel 2 News

Several years ago my friend Ben, who lives in Israel, came to visit friends in America. It was during the period when attacks against Israeli civilians were occurring on a daily basis. Because of hamatzav (the situation), almost every large store, restaurant, and mall in Israel posted armed guards at their entrances searching or wand screening entering customers to detect if he or she were carrying a concealed weapon or bomb.

But since Ben was visiting friends in America, he assumed everything would be much like it was when he left the States many years ago to make Aliyah. Back then, it was unheard of to have security guards stationed at the entrance of stores. However, Ben would soon discover that in America, both the times and people had changed.

Ben’s plane touched down at Kennedy International Airport and then taxied down the runway before coming to rest in front of Gate 62. Ben passed through customs without incident and immediately headed to Brooklyn to buy a gift for the friend he planned to visit in his old neighborhood. Upon entering a major department store, he was surprised that the security guard did not motion for him to open his man-bag. Neither did the guard ask him if he was carrying a weapon, both standard operating procedures in Israel.


Shopping done, mission accomplished and with bag in hand, Ben started to leave the store when the security guard stopped him and brusquely demanded that he open his man-bag and the plastic bag that held the gift. Momentarily taken aback, Ben wondered why the guard would care what he was carrying out of the store when he showed no interest about what he was bringing inside. After all, at that point he posed no potential danger to the establishment.

Suddenly, Ben had an ‘aha’ moment and realizing how badly he had misjudged the entire situation, he cracked up and began laughing hysterically.


The security guard was not amused. He growled, “This is not a laughing matter,” whereupon he motioned for Ben to hand him the bags. While the guard judiciously probed inside of the packages, the irony did not escape Ben, namely that in Israel your bags are inspected when you enter a store, but in America, they are inspected when you exit.


Fortunately, Ben was able to quickly regain his composure once he understood that the guard was simply doing his job, to make sure that customers leaving the store had not shoplifted any items.


The contrast between American and Israeli security concerns as illustrated by that incident at the entrance could not be starker. While America’s focus is on securing property, Israel’s is on securing lives. That difference of priorities goes a long way to explain, in microcosm, why at times there is such a gulf between Israel’s and America’s world views as to what constitutes security.


Ben’s story illustrates the mindset of a people who have spent their entire lives in the shadow of an existential threat by those sworn to drive them into the sea. Nevertheless, aside from that fleeting ‘aha’ moment, Ben was able to take the whole episode in stride. And as befits a typical Israeli, he was able to shrug off the whole incident and even saw the humor in it.