Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Red Alert

          It's kind of surreal to write a post one day about running errands and then the next about hiding in a stairwell, waiting for a rocket to land, but as I've been told by numerous Israeli friends, "That's Israel!" But how did we get here? This is the abridged version of events in a completely biased, right- wing- lens type of way, because well, it's my blog.  3 Israeli teens are kidnapped and killed by terrorists, an Arab boy is kidnapped and killed by ostensibly a Jewish teen terrorist (6 arrested, 3 let go, one confessed FYI), Arab riots break out (resulting in the destruction of 3 light rail stations in Jerusalem, stoning of buses and Molotov cocktails being thrown at police officers), rallies by Jewish nationalists admittedly screaming anti-Arab sentiment, and then rockets falling into the usual areas, Sderot, Ashkelon and Ashdod. 
          We in Israel and the world over for some crazy reason, have become so accustomed to rockets bombarding these areas, we don't realize how truly insane it is to allow this to happen for the past decade. I just read a statistic that 25,000 rockets have fallen on these areas since the Gaza withdrawal-WHAT?! We can just accept that there are bomb shelters built next to playgrounds and baseball fields? And yet, accept it we have, as a part of Israeli life, because Sderot is not Tel Aviv and Ashdod is not Jerusalem. And it's not that the one million Israelis living in the line of fire are any less important, it's just that, to the world, their story is not compelling. 
           So 2 nights ago I went to see "22 Jump Street" with my cousin (film highly recommended) and had my mother calling me frantically. I had no idea why until after, when I heard that rockets were flying more often and further than usual. I downloaded an app for my phone which alerted me to the location of every rocket, via a buzz. Little did I know, that buzz would become my phone's most regular notification. I told my cousin, perhaps presciently, "When will people care about what's happening here? Does it have to hit Tel Aviv for anyone to notice?" He shrugged and said "Probably."
           That night was the night my cousin and I become full-on news junkies, scouring the Internet for information (which is difficult when you have to disregard CNN, BBC, Haaretz, the Jewish Daily Forward, etc, etc) that showed me timelines and statistics, rather than old and doctored stock photos of Arab mothers crying. Add to that the buzzing of our phones every few minutes (Hof Ashkelon, Sderot, Lachish...) and it was a tense night.

            The next day was kind of bizarre. I've always heard that even in times of duress in this country, life goes on, but to experience it was a whole different animal. The app's  buzzing continued throughout the day, and people would talk rockets, but life continued on, uninterrupted. Tourists toured and prayers prayed, bagel makers made their bagels. My cousin and I decided we should prepare ourselves in the ridiculously infinitesimal chance that we heard a siren. Our building was constructed in roughly 1487 (kidding, but basically) so we don't have a shelter. The buildings around us don't have shelters. According to the "public shelter map" we located, the closest shelter to us is about 4 blocks away. Now, I know I ran a half marathon this year (barely) but from the time a siren goes off, a rocket can reach Jerusalem from Gaza in ~1.5 minutes. I can not clear 4 blocks, in flip flops, in 1.5 minutes. So we decided, if need be, we would run to the bottom of the stairwell, into a corner, away from any windows, and wait it out there. But it would never be necessary, because rockets wouldn't make it all the way here!
              As I mentioned, my cousin and I had become full-fledged news junkies with perpetually buzzing cell phones, so when the location "Tel Aviv" flashed on the screen, I thought it must be wrong. Checking out "the Muqata" on Facebook (I highly recommend!) for up to the minute breaking news, I saw that the rockets had indeed reached "the Merkaz" and how insane this all was. And obviously, I calculated Jerusalem's distance from that area- a measly 40 minute bus ride. Before I could even process what this all meant for the country, a mere 15 minutes later I heard a horrific wailing siren, a sound I will never forget.
             My cousin and I looked at each other, probably let out an expletive or two, jammed on our flip flops and ran to the stairwell, like we had planned to do. We sat in the corner as the siren wailed, and I prayed. I said tehillim (Psalms) and thought about how Hashem will keep his people safe in His Holy City. After a minute of so, silence, and then the unmistakable sound of a low boom. I would later find out that boom was from the rocket hitting an empty house outside Jerusalem in Giv'at Ze'ev-no casualties, thank G-d). After a few minutes we left our stairwell, and I called my mother, shaking. Mercifully, her phone went to voicemail so I called my father. I love my mother undendingly, but she is not my crisis hotline. She's actually not even my "in case of emergency" as I can't have her yelling at the person calling to inform her of an emergency involving her child. So I called my dad, shaking and crying a little, and he calmed me down with innocuous questions about the siren, until my heartbeat normalized somewhat. And only then was I prepared for my mother to call me back, and calmly explain the situation. (PS- it didn't work and she's still freaked, but that's her style and I love her.)
             Running back to check the news, I could see that rockets had been aimed at so many population centers- Rishon Letzion, Hertzeliya, Kfar Saba- with a further and further reach. And I saw the videos of Arabs celebrating on the Temple Mount after the rocket reached Jerusalem, ignoring the possibility that they themselves could have been killed by those same rockets. I saw the US and EU and UN request restraint from the Israelis, and the pictures of Palestinian children being shepherded to Hamas targets to act as human shields. I saw pictures and videos of the brave soldiers of the IDF, preparing for battle, reservists kissing their wives goodbye as they are asked to defend their country, once again. And I kept hearing the buzzing. The continuous buzzing of more rockets falling- how do they have so many rockets? Why now? What can we do? Questions with no answers, a country with no friends in this world. 
               This experience will stay with me for a lifetime. First, I hope it is the only time I experience it at all. I hope I can tell my children about "that one time I heard a siren", as if it was just a story in my past. Second, it proved to me how much I belong here. A lot of people have been noting that I certainly picked "a crazy time to make aliyah!" And the irony is not lost on me. A million trips to Israel and when I finally make it permanent, rockets fall on Jerusalem- pretty crazy stuff. But I know that this is my country, and that my people shouldn't have to suffer while I sit in Jamaica Estates, eating Bagels and Co. People here are really my family, and it feels right to be with family right now. And the last thing I want to say about this is that I hope it makes Jews around the world and Jewish allies wake up to the realities of the Jewish State. No one is asking you to hate Arabs, kill Palestinians or defend every single decision Israel makes. What we are (I am) asking you to do is stand with Israel, make your support known, educate yourself on the Jewish/Israeli position, and don't feel guilty if you honestly discover that this is not a balanced operation. Israel didn't launch rockets. Israel doesn't target civilians. Israel is the side that truly wants peace. May Hashem protect His people, His army and His country. Amen.