Friday, July 21, 2006

Fireworks or Katyushas?

Thursday July 20 2006

Junior and I went to a little playgroup meeting this morning in a nearby moshav. In between the chatter about toys, food and general kids’ stuff we couldn’t quite escape the news.

One of the kids got hold of the TV remote and turned on the box, her mother flipping the stations to find the children’s channel. On the way she couldn’t help passing a couple of news broadcasts. One of the little girls called out, “Zikukim!” – fireworks – as a brief image of explosions came on the screen.

“So that’s how you explain it to her, fireworks?”, one of the other mothers asked.

“What else am I going to say? She is too young to be told what those pictures really show, and in times like these I need to see the TV news but I don’t want them to know what’s going on. This is my way of shielding them.”

“We do the same,” concurred a third mother. “My older ones know that the broken buildings are ‘under construction’, pictures of ‘building sites’.”

Talk turned to family and friends up north.

“You know that’s why I was late this morning. We have a full house at the moment,” said M. Her sister and family live in one of the kibbutzim close the Lebanese border and had come to stay with her to escape the war.

M herself had only just left the border in time. She and her children had been spending a family holiday with her sister, enjoying the gorgeous location and kibbutz swimming pool.

Then one day they heard some very loud booms.

Her sister called from work and told her to stay indoors, not to take the kids to the pool and to seek cover, she would be right home. They had just heard the first wave of Hizballah’s new offensive – shelling and rocketing Israel’s northern border.

M packed up her young children and baby and got on the first bus going south. Shortly afterwards the first Katyusha rockets slammed into the grounds of the kibbutz.

Another mother mentioned that her neighbour was also hosting a northern family. Like many Israeli towns, the municipality has organized a hospitality programme for people from front-line communities.

H noted that many families up north might want to travel south but don’t have the cash at the moment. In a recent phone call northern relatives told her that local people are running short of cash because the banks are closed due to the situation and no one is refilling the cash machines.

Her family are originally from Tzfat (Safed) and many still live there. So far the city has suffered more rocket strikes than any other but her relatives are determinedly staying put. Like many crisis-seasoned Israelis, the first thing they did after their town was hit by Katyushas was to rush to the supermarket and stock up on water, dry goods and batteries. Cash or no cash, they were well stocked for the duration.

As I arrived home my mobile rang. It was Tzohar, an umbrella organisation for religious Zionist rabbis. Since the crisis began they have set up a hotline to help the northern communities. They were looking for families to host people from the north, could we accommodate a family of three and their dog from Karmiel?

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