TEL AVIV — It was obvious that last Wednesday’s assassination of Hamas Military chief Ahmed Jabari would bring even more rocket attacks on Israel. The first air raid siren in Tel Aviv the next day, Nov. 15, was eerie and got the blood pumping. The subsequent sirens weren’t any less unnerving.
When The CJN asked me for “a first-person reflection of what’s going on,” I felt a bit guilty that this piece would be written by someone in Tel Aviv and not from a community down south, where life without sirens and rockets is barely remembered.
But I am not writing to complain.
Life has changed. Even if in the smallest ways.
As a journalist, I covered Katyushas falling on northern Israel in the Second Lebanon War in 2006. It was scary. I worried about my friends in the army and those whose homes were being hit by the rockets. But when I got home to Tel Aviv, I could disconnect. During Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, this humming city was still in its own bubble. I was concerned, of course, but it was for others, at least one degree away from me.
Now, my family is in the line of fire. Hearing that first siren last week was spine-chilling and surreal, even if expected. It’s a sound you can’t dismiss once it’s been heard. Every motorcycle that passes on the street below makes me question what I’m hearing and whether I need to leave my sofa for the stairwell.
When the air raid siren wails, some of the neighbours in our building walk down the flights of stairs to the safe room on the ground floor of our apartment building. But because I’ve just had stomach surgery, I walk, as my five-year-old son says, “just faster than a turtle.” So, we head over to the stairwell instead. It turns out the sirens are a form of bonding with the neighbours in the stairwell. Everyone checks in on how the other is holding up, some reminisce about the Gulf War, and then, after the “boom,” we all place bets on whether it was a rocket that exploded or one shot down by the Iron Dome.
I want to cry every time my two-year-old son turns to me in the stairwell and says, “Now comes the boom.” Just two years old and he already knows about war.
If you want the real news about what’s happening, where the loudest booms were heard or who has been called up to reserves, you log into social media. Whereas I’ve always been a news geek, since Operation Pillar of Defence started, I’m constantly checking up on the latest news tidbits. Social media outdoes the regular media by far for real-time news. It’s also the only place to get updated after a rocket attack on Tel Aviv, as the phone lines get jammed up.
Listening to the radio for music has also become impossible. Announcers interrupt songs to broadcast where a siren is currently being sounded. On television, there’s a running ticker that announces where sirens are being sounded around the country. When there’s a report, even if there’s a tagline that the siren we’re hearing is a recorded one, we’ve been jolted off the sofa in alarm wondering if it’s a new, real one.
Everyone knows someone who has been called up. Israel’s army, unlike Canada’s, is made up of its civilian population. People are called up to reserve duty in the middle of their lives and long after they’ve finished mandatory service as 20-somethings. From our circle of friends alone, five fathers/husbands have been called up.
Let me share this anecdote: A’s fifth birthday party took place in the backyard of her grandparents’ home in a quiet, upscale north Tel Aviv neighbourhood on Saturday morning. It was great fun for the kids – a science-themed party with someone making putty and doing dry ice tricks. Just after the cake, A’s father went into the house and came out wearing his army uniform. He bid his family farewell, said goodbye to the guests, and left for reserve duty. The party continued.
Schools have made adjustments, too. We decided that because the daycare and kindergarten classrooms have a safe room (bomb shelter), our three kids would attend school until Home Front Command says otherwise. The teachers held a drill for the kids, and they follow safety measures when a real siren sounds. Our kids return home with stories of the funny songs they sang in the bomb shelter. In the evening, we get an email from the teachers explaining how the day went.
Our children have noticed that we’re constantly checking for news updates, but we’ve tried to censor what they know about Operation Pillar of Defence.
In the kindergarten, it seems, other kids know a lot more. Our five-year-old son came home talking about the Asians wanting to throw rockets on us (Gaza, in Hebrew is Aza, but he misheard). I find it depressing that my kids know about rockets other than those headed for outer space.
And they’re unsettled in other ways. Our new bedtime routine includes many return visits to the kids’ beds to comfort them, even after we’ve said good night. They also wake us up at night.
In addition, we now have extra bottles of water, an emergency light and other supplies at the ready – as well as five gas masks I hope we’ll never have to use.
Please send good vibes toward this region. We need them.