Conversations on the Staircase
I met some of my neighbours for the first time on the staircase when the first siren went off in Tel Aviv. A friend of mine was visiting from Jerusalem, we were in the middle of dinner and then the whir of alarm was raised.
“Is that here?” I questioned her. “Yes” she replied. We looked at each other a bit shocked and then with a dash of panic I exclaimed “Come, we have a bomb shelter in my building…where the hell is my phone????”
On the way down we bumped into neighbours who I had no idea who even lived in the building as we shuffled into the dusty bomb shelter (miklat) which was full with unwanted furniture and appliances of residents, what else do you do with a bomb shelter in Tel Aviv that hasn’t been used since the Gulf was in 1991?
As we sat there on the floor, one of the neighbours laughed at me for bringing my gas mask, I had no idea what I was doing or how long to even stay down there for, “10 minutes, we’re experts, we came here from Beer Sheba”, it was the daughter of the man in apartment 7, who had come to Tel Aviv to seek some refuge. Then her daughter, looking distraught expressed her fear “They came after us in Beer Sheba and now they’ve followed us here”. I tried to calm her down, “They’re not after you, don’t worry”. She was probably about 6 years old, just like my nephew, and I just thought, it is so wrong that she even has to begin to think those thoughts. What is there to say to say to her?
Then it was over, we went back up to dinner, which was ruined and my friend took that as a polite exit to escape back to Jerusalem. It was 6:40pm in Tel Aviv which meant that my family in Australia with the time difference were all sleeping, everything was alright so I wasn’t going to wake them, but being so far away hits you sometimes and it is frustrating. Facebook exploded with friends updating where they had been, what was going on and I became glued to the social media updates of the IDF and people I know tweeting from “ground zero” in Ashdod (follow @benjidavis and @joshhantman on twitter).
The next day, everything went back to normal. I spoke to many friends, and got many messages and it was really amazing to feel this outpour of love and support. I was calm. Two days ago when Ahmed Jabari, the head of Hamas’s military wing was assassinated, I re-assured my friend who is visiting from overseas that everything was going to be fine. I was in the safety of the denial of my Tel Aviv bubble. Then the news reported the next day the initiation of the IDF operation ‘Pillar of Defense” and I contacted her to say, I may have been wrong.
A friend called me in hysterics because her husband had been called up to the army and she was alone with her two kids, I tried to reassure her, but there wasn’t anything really to say. This is war now. Just in case, on the way home I bought some bottled water and canned food from the supermarket, you know, just as a precaution, I told myself I was just doing it just because my mother told me to, nothing was actually going to happen.
When that first siren sounded, I guess it was a wake up call. When the second one went off that was when the real bubble burst.
Friends cancelled on Friday night dinner to stay in Modiin and Jerusalem. I just carried on, they tried to convince me to come to them for Shabbat, but I wanted to have my dinner at my place. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I wanted to be exactly where I was, because this is where I live. “What would you do if there were sirens in Jerusalem?” I challenged her, “I would probably do the same as you and stay”. She didn’t know that the siren would go off in Jerusalem as well just after Shabbat, for the first time since 1970. Now there’s nowhere to go.
As I sat for the second time in the bomb shelter, this time I met Nurit from apartment 17. She is about my age, living with her boyfriend. We exchanged pleasantries, and from my accent she enquired where I was from originally. When I answered “Australia” she responded with “What the hell are you doing here? Go back there!”, she is originally from Kiryat Motzkin, which is just above Haifa and suffered from the tirade of rockets from Lebanon in 2006. She started complaining, “I can’t deal with this, I just want to leave and go to Thailand”. Usually I am really dismissive when Israeli’s question my motives for making Aliyah, and I throw it back at them with “Why are you still here?” now however, for the first time, sitting in my bomb shelter, I understand. They don’t want to live in fear, they also want to live in a country where they can go out and not check where the nearest shelter is before leaving their apartment. Where the only alarm heard at school is the bell for recess.
Then I started catching myself thinking, I better finish cooking quickly for Shabbat, not because it’s going to start soon, but because I don’t know if I am going to be interrupted and have to go down to the shelter again. I started thinking, if it would be safe for me to go walking along the promenade by the beach that stretches North of Tel aviv, because it’s all open area and there is no shelter, I guess I’ll just follow everyone else if something happens, the thing is though, Tel Avivans’ don’t really know what to do. Every little sound starts to get me a bit on edge, my neighbour using their vacuum cleaner, the sound of an ambulance. I started to taste a bit of that fear and it was foreign, it was strange and I couldn’t digest it. I refuse to.
There’s a saying in Hebrew when you bump into someone for the third time by accident “Third time, ice-cream”, meaning that after 3 times, you should probably set a date to hang out properly because it’s no longer a coincidence. The entrance to my building is usually locked, but I had opened it, because friends were coming over for Seudah Shlishit. As we piled into the bomb shelter downstairs, I noticed a girl I know from Australia there and I was surprised “What are you doing in my building?” I asked, “I came in off the street” She replied, which she wouldn’t of been able to do if I hadn’t had unlocked it previously. Now the bomb shelter is the place of refuge and meeting for long lost acquaintances too.
Back in my lounge room a friend recounted how her husband had been called up yesterday and had left with his commander. Last night at 4:30am, there was banging on her door. It was the army demanding to know where he was. She told them he had left already. They told her that he hadn’t been answering his phone. Being Shabbat, she didn’t know what to do, because there was no point in her calling him, if he hadn’t been answering and she didn’t have the number of his commander. The army messenger left her with the call up papers in her hand, and she as a consequence was a bit worked up, especially after being in South Tel Aviv near where the first two rockets landed, both times, she was understandably distressed. As more and more people that I know are being called to war, we all sit at home and wonder, how long is this going to last? What is going to happen next? What do we do? Something that the residents of the South have been going through since 2005 when we evacuated Gaza.
Enough is enough.
The IDF Operation “Pillar of Defense” in Hebrew is called “Amud Ha’anan” referring to the cloud of Glory that guided the Jews in the Desert after the exodus from Egypt.
Rashi asks “Who is the emissary, the pillar of cloud? It is Hashem, in his glory who is guiding them” Shemot 21:13
ומי הוא השליח עמוד הענן? והקדוש ברוך הוא בכבודו מוליכו לפניהם"
- רש"י , שמות י"ג:כ"א
- רש"י , שמות י"ג:כ"א
He who watches over Israel never, slumbers nor sleeps psalm 121:4
הִנֵּה לֹא יָנוּם וְלֹא יִישָׁן שׁוֹמֵר יִשְׂרָאֵל תהלים קכ"א 4
Hashem, please guard over those who are defending Israel, those who are affected by the terror and fear of Hamas and spread your canopy of peace over all of Israel.
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