Tuesday, November 18, 2014

We shall overcome

I've heard a lot of people today saying that today's horrific synagogue slaughter is "too much", an attack too far, an act of such barbarity that something will have to change.

The sad thing is that it isn't "too much", we've all "been in this movie before", last time around when there was a surge like this in attacks and Palestinian rantings about "the Jews and Al Aqsa" it got way worse before it got any better and we lost a lot more people. I pray that this time will be different but there is a certain pattern to the insanity here, the way it surges and wanes.

This is not an easy reality to live with, especially as parents to young kids, but painful as it is Israelis have been living and dying with it for decades, most recently during the Oslo intifada years of the early 2000s.

We are a nation suffering collective PTSD, no doubt, but we will find a way to live with it, we always do, whatever they throw at us, however many they kill and hurt, we will hug our kids and grit our teeth and keep going because this is our home and we are the Jewish people and it's never been easy to be a Jew and there is always someone trying to kill us in every generation, בכל דור ודור עומדים עלינו לכלתנו והקבה מצילנו מידם

The day breaks, your mind aches

Back in the bad old days of the early 2000s I had nightmares about mornings like this, we had so many of them. Terror bursting in to what should have been the mundane morning routine and turning it blood splattered and broken, Israeli lives once again destroyed by murderers motivated by unfathomable hatred.

It's been feeling a lot like November 2000 lately, Palestinian terror striking down so many Israelis week after week, a new wave of attacks that echo the early violence of what became known as the Second Intifada or the Oslo War.

How I prayed that those days were over. Days whose evil imprint marks the soul of all of us who lived through them. Days when you lost count of just how many terror attacks there had been, could no longer keep track of the places and dates and names because there were just too many and a new part of the daily routine was simply wondering if you or someone you loved would be the next person to be struck down commuting to work or doing the groceries or taking the kids to school.

That old familiar dread returned again with a vengence this morning as I was sorting socks. My husband was standing in the bathroom, reading the news updates on his phone as he brushed his teeth. Suddenly he stopped, gasped, fell silent. I knew it was going to be bad.

Attack on a synagogue during morning prayers.

In the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Har Nof.

I would have felt that too familiar pang of dread on hearing of such an attack anywhere, but Har Nof, Hashem Yishmor, Har Nof, the neighbourhood we once lived in, where we have relatives, friends, former neighbours, acquaintances, so many people, so heartachingly familiar, so many good good people. 

A place of happy memories, of simple kindnesses from neighbours, walks in the woods and being stranded in the snow. A neighbourhood packed with synagogues and yeshivot and hesed organisations and charities, Torah, mitzvot and good deeds. Har Nof.

Har Nof, now a place known in all of Israel as the Jerusalem neighourhood where terrorists ripped in to a group of pious Jews at prayer, wrapped in their tallitot and tefillin as Palestinian murderers attacked them with guns and axes, killing and maiming, soaking the synagogue in Jewish blood.

All morning I had kids to prepare for kindergarten and playgroup, lunch to prepare, chores and projects to do, activities to organise, children to pick up and drop off. Routine to keep my mind from thinking or checking the news or wondering with terror what names I might hear.

This afternoon though lunch had been eaten, kids were busy playing or at youth group, laundry folded, time to check the news, see the photos and choke back the tears.

One of those murdered today was Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg הי"ד the father of a childhood friend from London. Not someone I'd met often, but someone who made an impression on me, a living embodiment of Torah Ve'Avodah, a pious Jew, who made a point of both working for his living and learning Torah regularly. A mensch in every respect. A good person.

My mind refuses to comprehend such a person being taken from this world with such utter barbarism, murdered during morning prayers, wrapped in his tallit and tefillin. May Hashem comfort and care for the family.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Shades of autumn 2000?

There has been a steady trickle in the last couple of years, warnings of an impending next intifada for at least the last year, in some quarters a bit more.but the big trigger to the boiling over in Jerusalem seems to have been the sick revenge killing of an innocent Arab teen, Muhammed Abu Khdeir, by Jews. I'm not saying that something wasn't in the works on the Palestinian side anyway, egged on by Kerry, Obama and Co's chronic Mid East bunglings, but the murder created a wave of popular support on the Palestinian street even in otherwise peaceful and middle class areas like Beit Hanina.

It's over a decade since the last big round of the Oslo intifada, things have been quiet, business has been picking up, construction etc in the Palestinian Authority, a new generation of young people ready to stir things up who were just children during the last round.

Plus there is the Jerusalem light rail which has made the city better connected, as well as creating a very distinct symbol of Israeli sovereignty in Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem.

And then there were all the recent prisoner releases. between the Shalit deal and the "good will" prisoner releases under pressure from Obama and Kerry, hundreds of Palestinian terrorists were released, including convicted murderers and aspiring murderers free again to resume killing Israelis, and that is exactly what many of them are doing, such as the man who today murdered 26 year-old Dalia Lemkus in a mixed car attack and stabbing. Echoes of the first Intifada in the late 80s, escalated by the prisoners released in the Jibril deal.

During the last intifada Israeli security forces put up blocks like this around bus stops in isolated areas in Judea and Samaria because of attacks. Then there were a bunch of attacks and the majorly busy bus stops/hitchhiking post in French Hill, northern Jerusalem, so they barricaded those waiting areas too. Now after all these attacks on the Jerusalem Light Rail, the shiny new light rail stations are next. How long until they have to do this with regular bus stops in Jerusalem or in other major Israeli cities?

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Israel's Druze (for all those who asked)

I'm posting this for all the people who seem confused by the name and ethnic identity of the Border Guard (Magav) officer killed in today's Jerusalem terror attack. Jeda'an Assad was from Israel's Druze minority, a small Arabic speaking religious minority who live in Israel, Syria and Lebanon. The Druze broke away from the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam in the 11th century and maintain their own distinct and highly secret religion. Druze in Israel have been loyal citizens since the founding of the state of Israel and Druze men are conscripted for military service just like Israeli Jews. Many have served with great distinction and the community has lost many of its finest defending the state of Israel. The Druze in Israel live in a number of villages and towns of northern Israel. In today's attack one Druze was killed, others wounded and the guard who stopped the terrorist's rampage was also a Druze.

If you want to learn more about Israel's Druze this time of year many villages in the Galilee have olive harvest related activities and festivals. There are organised Druze cultural tours in Usafiya and Daliyat el Carmel, near Haifa, including some where you can visit Druze homes and learn about the customs and way of life of the community, as well as tasting traditional dishes (kosher meals can be arranged).

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

For better and for worse

The experience of riding a sherut, service taxi minibus, is oddly initimate, ten strangers and a driver in a closed confined space for the duration of what can be quite a long intercity journey.

It isn't just the sitting together in close quarters, but the pervasive custom of not paying when you get on, but rather first taking your seat, then rummaging around in your purse or pockets for the fare and passing it along to the front via the passengers sitting near you, the money going hand to hand until it reaches the driver, then any change coming back the same way.

There's something of a mini-kibbutz atmosphere about the experience, the driver checking where everyone is getting off and whether he can skip parts of the route by common consensus, the passengers asking the driver to drop them off at unofficial stops along the route, the cramped seats that push people close together and unlike a regular big bus if you don't like the radio station the driver is tuned to you can't just move all the way to the back 20 or more rows away.

Like it or not, you're going to have some basic contact with the other passengers. If you take a particular route on a regular basis you are more than likely to get to know, if only at the most cursory level, your driver and fellow travellers, it's just that kind of thing. A bit like Cheers.

This Israeli institution cuts across many of the cultural and social divides, bringing together the spectrum of Israel's diverse demographic cramped together for the duration of the ride.

On my local route to Jerusalem most of the drivers and often quite a few of the passengers are Arabs.

For example last week riding home from Jerusalem our driver was a Christian Arab, his dashboard decorated with silver plaques depicting Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus. His passengers a mix of women in Jewish and Islamic headscarves, soldiers and a couple of formally dressed (by Israeli standards) male commuters. The soldiers dozed, the commuters were glued to their smartphones, the women seemed to be regulars on the route and were soon chatting about kids, work and grocery shopping while the driver hummed along to a music station playing Israeli Middle Eastern style pop and chatted from time to time on his hands free phone.

Or take one of my trips in to Jerusalem around the autumn Jewish festive season which this year coincided in part with the Muslim holiday of Eid al Adha. I got on with a couple of my kids near the beginning of the route, greeted the driver and made my way to the back row where we could all sit together.

By the time we were on the highway to Jerusalem the other seven passengers consisted of two Sephardi ultra-Orthodox women in elaborate headscarves, an Indian Hindu foreign worker, a Border Guard policeman who spent the whole journey chatting in Arabic on his mobile phone, a hipsterish secular couple who spent most of the ride canoodling on the double seat in front of me and an elderly lady, her neck adorned with an assortment of goldchains with Jewish charms and amulets. Our driver was a Muslim Arab from Jerusalem.

The ultra-Orthodox women, the elderly lady and the driver were clearly regulars, the women greeting him warmly and wishing him hag sameah (happy holidays) as they entered the vehicle. As we drove along they chatted about family, where each would be for their respective festivals, how work was going, whether we'd finally get a rainy winter.

After a while one of the women took a phone call, another started to doze and the driver turned on the radio to a station playing Middle Eastern style Jewish religious music. He seemed to know much of the playlist, singing along from time to time.

The reason this particular journey stuck in my mind was because I was taking my racing car mad kids in to Jerusalem to watch the Formula One show postponed to the autumn due to the war this summer.

Our sherut minibus dropped us near the Central Bus Station and from there we hopped aboard a tram on the light rail, the destination board flashing up place names in Hebrew, Arabic and English, the compartment filled with a hodge podge of elderly women travelling home from market, tourists, race car enthusiasts and families with kids. Gliding along almost silently save for the distinctive ding ding of the tram's bell, the air was filled with the chatter of passengers, Hebrew, Arabic, English, Russian, French, Farsi, Yiddish and Amharic.

This is the background against which the recent upswing in terror attacks has been taking place. Terror attacks designed to destroy precisely this fragile status quo which allows life to go on despite all the politics and conflict.

We've had a decade of relative quiet since the last intifada's bus bombings made every Jewish passenger check the Arab passenger next to him for wires protuding from his clothing or bulky jackets in the heat or summer. It made me and many others sick to our stomachs to have to think that way, but with so many Palestinian suicide bombings that was the chilling reality of life.

The recent drive by attacks offer even less warning though, how do you spot a potential terrorist's vehicle until it is speeding towards you at your bus or tram stop? How can you not start to wonder about your Arab bus driver, how well you really know him?

And yet those things go completely counter to the day to day coexistence that despite the tension manages to be the norm, a utopian glimpse of what the Middle East could be, has the potential to be.

Jerusalem Light Rail attacked again in crash and kill terror attack

Two points, because I am being bombarded with people saying the same thing about today's horrific attack, that the response should be to ban Arabs from driving cars in Jerusalem:

1. Plenty of Israeli citizens are Arabs, most of them law abiding and decent people, you can't just ban everyone from driving a car. I regularly travel on local buses where the drivers are Arab citizens of Israel, many Israeli bus and taxi drivers are Arab, as are many of the passengers. Someone charging in to a Light Rail station in Jerusalem, especially that part of Jerusalem, was in fact just as likely to hit Arab passengers as Jews.

2. Why the Light Rail again? Why has it been attacked over and over again in recent months? Many reasons but this is what springs to mind right now, it is an easy target, running through or near many Arab Jerusalem neighbourhoods, so opportunity is certainly a factor. It is also a symbol of the united city and of coexistence, connecting Jewish and Arab neighbourhoods with both the modern city centre and Old City.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Israel treating Syrian wounded

From my cousin, a senior British doctor currently visiting Israel:

"Just had a wonderful afternoon with faculty members of new medical school in Northern Israel. Heard all about the Syrian casualties they've been treating - so far >450, only 5 have died despite often terrible injuries. 17% children. Has cost $10million so far which hospital has borne. Patients left at border for IDF to pick up and transport to Ziv hospital in the Israeli town of Tzfat. Patients often leave with equipment (mostly orthopaedic braces etc) that would usually be returned by Israeli patients but just lost in Syria. All go back. All have grown up thinking Israel evil and Jews drink babies' blood. They find compassion and world class care. Anyone reporting this?"

"The Syrian patients don't talk about it as they get punished for going into enemy territory. Most of them are young men - no one asks if they're fighters and which side. And of course no one reporting in the international press. It's an amazing humanitarian effort - saving limbs, skin etc but also delivering babies (that's generated big debates - the women appear knowing they get good care, the babies have birth certificates saying Syrian born in Israel...), and the children come on their own. All extraordinary. Remember the Syrian border is just 19km from Ziv. Damascus just up the road. This is true heroic good stuff."

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Illusion of normal

Many Jerusalem residents complained about the road closures and the waste of resources, but enthusiasts were positively buzzing with excitement at the prospect of race cars once again zooming through the Holy City's historic streets.

After the success of last year's event Formula One was due to return to Jerusalem this summer, only to be cancelled, like so many other summer events, due to the war and the threat of rockets from Gaza.

So perhaps it wasn't just the joy of seeing high powered vehicles close to home that pulled in the punters when the event was rescheduled for the post-war autumn but also the feeling of returning to normality, just another city hosting a sports event, rather than a potential powder keg in a region awash in conflict.

The streets along the route  of the Formula One drive past were lined with a diverse crowd of locals and tourists. For many Muslim families this was a free holiday outing with the whole family off school and work for Eid al Adha, while for many Jewish yeshiva students it was a fun way to spend their High Holidays vacation.

Despite the summer's tension the atmosphere was festive and excited, people united by the thrilling roar of powerful engines and curiosity at seeing something so foreignly exotic along the streets of Jerusalem.

We couldn't entirely escape this summer's war though. My older boy, so excited to see his beloved Formula One again, had changed. Last time around he relished the sound of the engines, so loud you could feel it thrumming through your body as the cars whizzed by. I remember how he glowed with the rush, the exhilaration from feeling the power of those cars that seemed to fly past us.

This time though we were in for a nasty surprise. Arriving early he was so happy that we found a spot right by the railing, on a stretch of the route from where we could clearly see the vehicles come around a bend followed by a nice long stretch down toward the walls of the Old City.

All was fine until the first car came speeding along, throttle open, engine roaring. My boy started to whimper, hands over his ears, tears springing to his eyes, tugging on my arm, trying to disappear within the folds of my dress. "Ima the noise, that loud noise, it's scary! Ima, it's like a rocket siren, Ima, I'm scared."

PTSD. My kindergartner has PTSD from a war we thank God were only on the very margins of. He saw no destruction, experienced "only" a few sirens, but it was enough to traumatise him so much that even what was one of his greatest pleasures is now a reminder of war.

My other child was fine, happy and curious, eyes bright with the thrill of it all. We clearly couldn't stay here though, so off we went, eventually finding a vantage point higher up, affording us a clear view of the cars but much further away from the noise. My frightened child was still nervous of what was still a pretty loud noise, but now that we were no longer right on top of the engines he was able to relax enough to enjoy watching his favourite cars.

The pure innocent joy of it all though was gone for him, even if in the end he liked having the chance to see "his" Formula One vehicles up close. The fear of the noise was still there, niggling, preventing him from just relaxing and melting in to the moment the way he had last time. Right there and then I felt my heart shattering in to a million pieces.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Welcome to the New Middle East

Snapshot of the insanity of our region: Someone on the radio talking about their summer holiday in north-east Israel on the Golan Heights. The surrealism of eating a Friday lunch in the artists' village of Ani'Am, at the next table a group of UNDOF "peacekeeper" soldiers ordering masses of pasta and pizza. Touring the village of Ein Zivan, choosing between the boutique winery and the boutique chocolate factory, standing in line shoulder to shoulder with offduty West European UN soldiers.

In the distance the sounds of the savage fighting in Syria, right next to Israel's border just a couple of kilometres away.

Just over that border in the chaos of Syria dozens of Fijian UNDOF soldiers have been kidnapped by Jihadi rebels as their colleagues on the Israeli side enjoy the attractions of the pastoral Israeli Golan.

Welcome to the New Middle East.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

All in one summer (with apologies to Tennyson)

Rockets to the south of them,

Rockets to the north of them,

Volley'd and thunder'd,

Storm'd at with shot and shell,

Boldly they carried on

And well

Sheltered from the jaws of death

Hunted down the mouths of hell

And all in one summer

Flashed the rockets from their lair

Flashed the Iron Dome in air

Intercepting the missiles there

Charging the Hamas army, while

All the world wonder'd:

Plunged in the battery-smoke

Right thro' the line they broke;

Terrorist and Jihadi

Reel'd from the sabre stroke

Shatter'd and sunder'd.

Mortars to the right of them

Mortars to the left of them

As the reservists came home

To all that was left

Left of one summer

(with apologies to Tennyson and many other people)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The oldest hatred

I was asked this week whether the wave of anti-Semitism in Western Europe and the UK in particular is just a phase whipped up by the summer's hostilities in Gaza. I cannot predict the future, but I do notice that over the last two decades there does seem to be a gradual creep of anti-Semitism throughout the Western world, a frenzied and fashionable hatred of all things Israeli which utilises age old libels and stereotypes used for centuries to demonise European Jewry.

The last twenty years have seen increasing demonisation of all things Israeli and Jewish, an ever widening campaign of delegitimisation of both Israel and any Jewish right to self-determination, growing calls for a one state solution (meaning the eradication of Israel) and the rise of the infamous BDS movement with its false accusations of apartheid.

I note that twenty years ago was the beginning of the Oslo peace process which led to a string of drastic Israeli concessions, including the creation of the Palestinian Authority, the ceding to Palestinian control of most Palestinian population centres, a huge surge in Israeli popular support for drastic concessions for peace and the entrenchment in the Israeli political centre mainstream of what had until then been left wing views on Palestinian statehood, final status borders and acceptance of the PLO as face to face negotiating partners. Never before had the Israeli public been prepared for such far ranging concessions on matters of principle and territory.

This huge surge in anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment didn't happen under the "hardline" governments of Begin or Shamir, but during the far more conciliatory governments of Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and most recently Binyamin Netanyahu, who though from the same party as Begin and Shamir, now espouses the sort of positions on Palestinian statehood that in their time would have been considered left wing.

Anyone with eyes in their head just needs to look at the worsening of attitudes towards Israel and the Jewish people in the years since the Oslo peace accords and wonder how it is that the more Israel has conceded, given up, restreated and agreed to Palestinian demands, the more Israel is hated, attacked and reviled by the other nations, and the more the Jewish people are demonised and bullied around the world as the source of all our planet's troubles.

As a friend recently said to me, looking around at the attitude of many in supposedly "polite society and among the intellectual classes to Jews today one has an inkling of the atmosphere in 1930s Europe.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ceasefire: That means you too Mr Hamas guy with a stash of rockets

Maybe the powers that be should just quit using the word ceasefire already? Or at least qualify it with something like "ceasefire - that means you too Mr Hamas guy with a stash of rockets" or "rocket launchers must be switched off and stowed for the duration of the ceasefire", you know, just to clarify what the whole ceasefirey thing is supposed to mean.

Or as my friend Elli put it, Hamas seems to understand the term this way: (in)c(r)easefire.


This week my oldest child and I were learning about the battle of Lakhish in around 700 BCE. The Assyrian forces of Sanheirib swept through the northern kingdom of Israel, moving on to the southern kingdom of Judah, laying siege to the heavily fortified town of Lakhish. Judean forces were defeated by the Assyrian army and Sanheirib was so taken by his victory that he decorated the walls of his palace in Ninveh with an ornate frieze telling the story of the battle in all its gory detail, including the impaling on stakes of the captured Judean commanding officers and the flaying alive of regional officials who dared rise up against Assyrian hegemony. 

In recent months Ninveh province has come under the rule of new tyrants, the so called "Islamic State" and its Jihadi fighters, with some reports from the region claiming ISIS has gone so far to destroy the ancient ruins at the site which predate Islam by centuries. How ironic that Sanheirib who laid waste to neighbouring kingdoms should himself find his great city destroyed by marauding invaders.

The view from Israel at the moment is certainly unsettling. Quite aside from our troubles with Hamas and Hamas' rockets and tunnels, it is horrifying watching the new Jihadis of ISIS sweep through Syria and Iraq, venture into Lebanon, reaching all the way to the Iraqi border with our neighbour Jordan. An already difficult neighbourhood seems to be getting more savage by the minute.

In all of the turmoil and terror that has swept the Middle East in recent years though there has been one beacon of hope - the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Iraq. Alone among the various local groups they used US/UN intervention to create a stable, fair free, economically viable state in waiting. They too are mostly Sunni Muslims, just as the Jihadis purport to be. What a different vision for their homeland the Kurds have though. 

Watching the Peshmerga strive to defend their region from ISIS I am convinced more than ever that they should be rewarded for their responsible approach by receiving international support to help them resist the expansion of ISIS and to assist them in aiding refugees from the "Islamic State".

I should clarify that I am wary when it comes to Western involvement in the Middle East. I didn't think the US intervention in Iraq was a good idea in the first place, I thought the US leadership lacked (and still lack) a decent understanding of the complexities of the region and of how Western actions would be perceived. 

That said I had strong reservations about the arrangements for the US withdrawal and the ability of the new Iraq to achieve stable government. In a country so lacking in national cohesion and with a government setting itself up along sectarian lines it seemed highly likely that a withdrawal of the US and their allies would lead to a resumption or even escalation in the Sunni-Shia civil war, and quite likely also provide fertile ground for al-Qaeda like movements and militias, possibly even an Islamist takeover of the failing Iraqi state.

Sadly both concerns have been realised, further fuelled by the war in Syria. 

I can understand people in the West arguing that the US and allies gave Iraq their best shot, did what they could to free her people from a brutal dictator and now the rest is up to them, if they want to use that new freedom to ravage their own country, then so be it.

The thing is this is not simply a regional problem that the West, especially the US and its allies who went in to Iraq in the first place, can was their hands of and say it's all some regional conflict that doesn't concern them. The Western powers have been directly involved in creating 21st century Iraq from the time Saddam Hussein set this whole chain of events in motion with his invasion of Kuwait and the West stepped in to save the day.

The creation of the Kurdish autonomous region and no-fly zone have been a positive result of that intervention, creating an island of relative freedom and stability in northern Iraq.

The supplying of so much US weaponry and aid to the corrupt and sectarian government of a deeply divided Iraq, weaponry that has fallen into the hands of the butchers of ISIS, and thus threatens the pro-Western Kurds, that already makes it an issue the Western powers are in part responsible for. The potential global threat of ISIS makes fighting them a Western interest, but the West also has a moral obligation to help the Kurds who are now being attacked with those same weapons the US supplied to the floundering Iraqi military.

There are those in the West, quite possibly some in the Obama administration among them who believe that ISIS and its ilk are the shape of things to come in the Middle East, and therefore it is in their interest to stay "on the right side" of the nascent "Islamic State". My understanding of this latest and most brutal Jihadi movement is that there is no accommodation to be reached with them, their level of savagery is off the scale even by the standards of the blood-soaked Middle East. To use an old fashioned term, I believe that the unimaginable cruelty and the cult of death worshipped by the so called Jihadis of ISIS makes them evil, I can think of no other word for what they are perpetrating.

The West must find a way to support the Kurds, not just with words but with materials to both alleviate the suffering of the Yazaidi, Christian and other refugees and to help the Kurds defend themselves from the savagery of the "Islamic State".

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Wake up world, these are the folks intent on genocide

Wake up world, these ISIS folks are intent on genocide in the Middle East, they are wiping out ancient historic communities wherever they find them, Christians, Yezaidis and Shias from the very heartland of Shia Islam. These are the people destroying ancient archaeological sites and holy shrines of anyone who isn't them, these are the people unleashing horrors on the people of the Middle East to rival even the atrocities of Saddam Hussein or the Assads. They are now making incursions into Lebanon and into central Iraq, threatening some of the largest Shia communities in the world. When will Iran and Hizballah realise that all the energy they expend against Israel they should dedicate to defending themselves from the radical Salafists who actually want to do them harm?

A strange city without soldiers (II)

I think I only really grasped how crazy our lives in Israel have been of late when I took the kids for a planned visit to overseas relatives this week. The first thing my 4.5 year-old asked as our relative met us at the airport was why there were no signs for shelters. My boy can't read yet, but he knows how to recognise the shelter sign words.

At a relatives house he again asked where the secure room was, and when I explained that in England people don't have shelters and secure rooms he looked concerned "But what will they do if the bad men come?" I don't really have much of an answer for that.

On our first morning abroad a loud emergency vehicle goes by, its siren wail eerily reminiscent of our air raid sirens back in Israel. I'm busy helping my daughter with something, my boys are in the next room, and I hear a clatter of feet and the slamming of a bathroom door.

I go to check on them and find my 4 year-old holding the two year-old's hand and sitting with him leaning against the bathroom wall. I ask what's going on and my four year-old explains that he heard a siren, he knew that there are no shelters here so he grabbed his little brother and ran to an inside room without windows, just like he learnt we should do if we find ourselves in a place without a secure room during a siren. I don't know whether to cry or be proud of my little boy. My heart aches that he should be so matter of fact about it all.

The next day we go to a big local park. As we're walking home two aircraft streak across the sky at high altitude leaving distinct contrails in the clear sky. My four year-old asks: "Are those good guy rockets or bad guys rockets? Do we need to get down on the ground?"

Walking in the street one day my four year old asks me why there aren't any soldiers or police around "Who protects these people and keeps them safe?" I say they have police, we just haven't seen any. "It don't feel safe Ima" he continues "there are no hayalim (soldiers) to look after us if the bad rocket men come."

Shabbat morning there are police mounted on motorcycles outside the synagogue we attend. My boys are thrilled by the big snazzy looking motorbikes. The police look back at them unsmiling. My son turns to me and asks why the only police we've seen are outside the synagogue.

We're invited to friends. There are a lot of other guests. We also meet some random Jewish neighbours who live on my relative's street. Everyone coos sympathetically when they find out that we're from Israel, politely asking what it's like there and how we're doing, but their eyes start to glaze a few seconds in to our genuine responses. Asking about Israel is mostly a courtesy like a how are you. We don't bring up the subject at all unless asked, but even so, it's like people don't really want to know, maybe they've had enough of hearing about the Middle East, maybe it's just too unpleasant, maybe they don't want their kids to hear, whatever the reason, we learn just to say it's been hard on the kids and leave it at that. It almost feels impolite to say that much.

We don't mention that we feel terrible about leaving Israel in wartime, like we're being disloyal, though we make it clear that this trip was planned. We aren't running from home, it's just the school holidays and our only convenient time for a visit with overseas family.

Playing in the garden my kids meet the kids next door who also happen to be Jewish. The father makes small talk with us, asks if we've had a lot of rockets, if we're trying to "get away from the bombs for a bit." I give the usual pained smile, explain we haven't had too many sirens in our sleepy town and that this visit was planned before the war. He seems satisfied, but his 8 year-old son wants to know if we spent a lot of time in the shelter, what it was like and so on. His father looks awkward and steers the conversation to a different topic, but my son volunteers that he slept many nights in the shelter, that he once had to jump into thistles because of a siren and that he knows he was safe because of Kipat Barzel (Hebrew for Iron Dome).

My kids love aircraft so we go to a local aviation museum. The whole thing feels different in the context of our new war experience. As we enter the main hall my son straight away zooms in on a Cruise missile hanging from the ceiling. "Ima, is that a good guy rocket or a bad guy rocket?" I try to draw his attention to the actual amazing historical aircraft on the museum floor, like the cool Bleriot flier or the early jets. By the time we reach the Second World War exhibit I realise it's futile. My son zeroes in on the V1 and V2 rockets and my daughter enthusiastically explains to him that these are the rockets the Nazi bad guys used to shoot at grandma when she was a little girl, she's heard the stories from her great-uncle. Try as I might this is the kind of thing my kids are currently interested in, we are all looking at things differently now, it can't just be a museum about aircraft and rockets.

The next room features models of wartime London with mannequins dressed in period clothes. The kids are of course most fascinated by the replica corrugated iron shelter, "just like the one grandma had in her parents' garden" my oldest explains. As we're standing there looking at it and comparing grandma's family shelter with the one in our home the audio explanation kicks in, complete with a recording of a siren. My four year old looks panicked for a moment until I remind him that it's just a recording in the museum and they don't have real sirens here anyway.

A museum employee comes over and asks if we'd like to go over to the next room where there's going to be an audio-visual presentation about the Blitz. I say I think the kids don't need realistic sounding explosions and sirens, and she starts to assure me that there are no actual scenes of destruction, then sees my two young boys and says "oh, you've got little ones, yeah, I guess they're too young to learn about all that anyway."

Monday, August 04, 2014

אנשים טובים באמצע הדרך. ערב ט באב, אנחנו זוכרים את חורבן בית המקדש, את הבית הנחרב בגלל שנאת חינם ואטימות. אני נזכרת השנה בגמילות החסדים המדהימה שכולנו היינו עדים לה בשבועות האחרונים, הנתינה, ההתנדבות, החסד של אמת. אני גם נפעמת מהחסד של אנשים בחו'ל שהתנדבו לעזור למשפחתי במשימתנו הנוכחית, לעזור לדוד שלי להתארגן לקרת עליה. נכון שיש עדײַן הרבה אכזריות ואטימות בעולמנו, עדיין יש די הרבה מה לתקן, אך כולי תקווה שבזכות האנשים הטובים עוד נזכה לגאולה שלמה.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Children of '93

Back in the autumn of 1973, during the traumatic days of the Yom Kippur War, Israeli superstar Yehoram Gaon had a hit song whose refrain was "I promise you my little girl that this will be the last war", in each verse backing up his pledge in the name of all the different branches of the armed forces, the fathers who've gone off to war and want to come home to their little girls, the dusty faced tankers, the doctors and medics fighting to save lives, the paratroopers who saw a vision of her as an angel amidst the smoke of battle, the pilots seared by missiles and anti-aircraft fire.

Nine months after that war ended Israel started experiencing a baby boom.

About twenty years later the children born then were of military age, Israel was in the early stages of a new peace process and also experiencing an increase in terror attacks. One of those soldiers from the Yom Kippur War was now a successful playwrite and he penned a song called "Winter '73" about those children born after the war who were now in the army, those children whose parents had promised, in the words of Gaon's song that '73 would be the last war.

"Winter '73" was recorded by the musical troupe of the Israeli army Education Corps. The chorus seems to rebuke their parents' generation "You promised us a dove, an olive branch, you promised us peace at home, you promised us spring and flowers, you promised to keep your promises", continuing " we're now in the army with guns, helmets on our heads...when we were little you taught us, promises must be kept."

The song was so controversial when it came out that leading radio stations such as the Voice of Israel and even army radio declined to give it air time, though the song later gained popularity following live performances at Memorial Day ceremonies.

I am from that post-73 generation but that song has always felt to me like a kick in the teeth to our parents' generation who helped build this state, who sacrificed to ensure Israel's survival and who all the while strived to achieve peace, most notably achieving an agreement with one of Israel's bitterest opponents, Egypt.

It's now over twenty years since those heady days of autumn 1993 when the Rabin government announced the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians, setting in motion a chain of Israeli concessions that would see Israel agree to the creation of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian government that would take control of the territory Israel ceded to it, including almost all Palestinian population centres and the whole of the Gaza strip. 

IBack in the autumn of '93 Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres tantalised Israelis with visions of a bright future, of what Peres glowingly termed "The New Middle East", a Middle East of regional cooperation, peace and growth. Rabin stood on the White House lawn and promised "No More War". A few years later prime minister Ehud Barak promised Israelis an end to military reserve duty. 

Twenty years have gone by. 

The children born in the heady days of Winter '93 amidst all the talk of no more war and a peaceful New Middle East are today the dusty face tankers, the army medics fighting to save lives, the paratroopers who saw a vision of their little girl as an angel amidst the smoke of battle, the pilots seared by anti-aircraft fire, the tireless sailors, their eyes stung by salt and waves. They are reaping the rewards of the Oslo process, not an end to army service but yet another war forced upon us to defend Israel from bloodthirsty enemies intent on our destruction. A war in which rockets are falling on almost all of Israel's major cities, in which the homefront in some places is as threatened as the front. 

This is what was running through my mind as I read the latest list of Israeli casualties from this Gaza war, so many young men of military age born to my generation, the Winter '73+ generation. We who came of age during the heady days of Rabin's and Peres' Oslo promises, who were encouraged to believe that peace would be right around the corner even during the horrific wave of terrorism which was the culmination of that process in the autumn of 2000, whose leadership told us that all those Israelis murdered by our peace partners were "sacrifices for peace" and if we could just stomach a few more Israeli civilian casualties then the Palestinian leadership would come around, reign in the opponents of peace and ring in a new era of coexistance. We're still waiting.

What song then should the children of '93 write? Should they rebuke their naive parents for believing the Oslo hype? Should they chastise their grandparents for failing to achieve peace? Should they admonish their grandparents for gambling with territorial concessions in exchange for a piece of paper with empty promises? Should they berate their parents for voting for governments which allowed Yasser Arafat to place his heavily armed goons within range of almost every major Israeli population centre and then tolerated escalating attacks in the name of not rocking the peace process? 

Even as the children of Winter '73 are starting to get their official notices of retirement from military reserve duty many of our children are getting their draft papers from the army. Those of us with children still too young to serve have few delusions that they are likely to come of age in an era of peace. If we have learnt anything from our parents' generation, it is not to make empty promises whose fulfillment is likely to be out of our hands.

Like Cyclamen

There's a song they've been playing nonstop on the radio in recent weeks, the kind that perfectly captures the nation's mood right now, and I guess there's no surprise there, it was written during Operation Cast Lead, one of Israel's previous attempts at halting the rockets and terror from Gaza. 

Ariel Horovitz, son of the late Naomi Shemer shows he is truly his mother's son with this evocative song, the lyrics comparing the spirit of Israel in times of crisis with the cyclamen flowers that rise up among the barren, rough rocks, creating life and beauty where it seems there should be no soil to support any plant, let alone a delicate flower. 

I should be totally sick of it by now, a song played so often as to be cliche and passe and devoid of any emotional impact after so much airtime but somehow it just gets me right in the kishkes each time I hear it. This is us and this is in so many ways our song over and over and over, my people who come together in times like these, the selflessness, the giving, the volunteering the courage of so many who leave everything time and time again to go out and protect all of us in this rough neighbourhood we live in.

It was more than that though tonight. As the song played for the millionth time I suddenly found myself choking up, this sudden rush of emotion which isn't me, like a rip tide pulling at my usual mild mannered calm and cool. 

Not sadness, though like all my countrymen I am heartbroken by the loss of life, the ever growing collage of the faces of the fallen. Not the tension or the uncertainty, though I am sure everyone here feels those too. 

No, it's anger I'm feeling, a swelling gushing anger at all of this, that we have to be like this, that the song of Cast Lead could have been the song of Protective Edge because here we are in this same tired film all over again. 

I'm angry that once again we are fighting a necessary war of self-defence against an enemy who time and time again has professed his hatred of life, his determination to exterminate my state and my people and has rejoiced at the spilling of Jewish blood.

I'm angry that the generation born at the time of the Oslo peace process promises of a shiny new Middle East full of friendship and co-existence is the generation making up the bulk of the combat troops today fighting and sacrificing amidst the wreckage of Oslo and Wye and Camp David II and the Gaza withdrawal and every other peace initiative from the last 20 years that was supposed to end the bloodshed but instead each in its turn only yielded more. 

I'm angry at the Obama/Kerry team peddling more of the same, the bullying and patronising threats against Israel to force ceasefire terms that will only grant Hamas a greater license to continue its campaign of violence and destruction. A ceasefire that will only create another stalemate in an endless stream of stalemates that prolong and sustain this conflict round after round. 

I'm angry that despite the justness of our cause the world media, diplomats and the leaders of supposed allies have twisted it all around to portray us as the devil incarnate. 

I'm angry that legions of otherwise apparently decent folk who like to hoist their liberal, humanitarian devoted to human rights credentials aloft like a banner have swallowed hook line and sinker every last lie fed to them by the Hamas propaganda machine, so that they are blind to the evils Hamas has perpetrated upon their very own people but proudly portray Israelis as Nazis even as Israel employs tactics that expose our soldiers to greater risk in an effort to protect Gaza civilians.

I'm angry that my country is treated with such a lack of gratitude and respect, that our small state has given the world so much, worked so hard to create and innovate ways to make life better for all of humanity, from medicine to agriculture to communications to humanitarian missions, and time and time again the world turns around and kicks us in the teeth in the twilight zone assemblies of the United Nations human rights forums. 

I don't think I ever realised just how much this all bothers me until tonight, grown so used to the expectation that the only good Israeli is one who flagellates himself and condemns his country before the court of world opinion. How many times have I been through this in every co-existence and dialogue forum I've ever attended. I'm not so naive as to believe my country is perfect, no country is, but I will not be bullied in to denying the goodness that I fervently believe far outweighs our mistakes. 

Through it all I'm reminded of Rudyard Kipling's immortal words, the ones I had to memorise in primary school English class a lifetime ago. They too have been recited to death, repeated so often that when we hear them today they seem trite and passe, a cliche from too many kitchen posters and anthologies. That may be so, but looking around today I feel that his words are truer than ever.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Pray for their safety

Last week at my halakha class the teacher started by asking everyone whether their husbands/sons were home. It's the question on everyone's lips now, so many thousands of reservists have been drafted leaving wives and children to cope at home with the rocket alerts and sirens. Everyone knows someone serving at the front, if not their spouse, child or other relative than a neighbour, friend or coworker.

Two hours earlier my teacher's combat soldier son had called to say they were shutting off their phones, would be unreachable for a while. Nothing unremarkable about that except that he also called all his siblings and his father. She knew he'd just gone in to Gaza. We read Psalms together and dedicated our Torah learning to our soldiers at the front.

My teacher is such an inspiring women, looking at her face the concern and worry was clearly there,  but so too her deep faith in God and in the justice of this cause, the need to fight the enemy so determined to destroy us.

Tonight she was a little less strained. After six days without contact with her son, days of knowing that he was with his combat unit in the thick of things in Gaza, he was finally able to call and tell her that his unit had been granted a break. He was out of Gaza for now, getting some much earned rest.

It is not easy to be a mother in Israel, especially a mother of sons in a community where the ethic of serving one's country by volunteering for combat units it's a principle value. It isn't easy being a wife either, so many husbands vanished for weeks on end, spirited away by emergency call up papers. It isn't just husbands either, some women have also been drafted, and in a rare case or two even both spouses.

The Gaza front line is at most a few hours from people's homes, in most cases much closer, but in times like these, both for those now serving in the army and those left home to "hold down the fort" that distance can feel like worlds away.

And in the middle of it all, even where it seems peaceful and calm and you could pretend that we aren't a country at war, there is this quiet buzz of tension, the ever present worry, the silent prayer on everyone's lips, please God let our soldiers do their jobs, let them get the terrorists and their rockets, may our soldiers find all the terror tunnels and may they be able to do so without endangering themselves or having to take more Palestinian civilians lives, may this war restore peace to all of Israel, and most of all, please God, bring all our people home safe.

Ima, it's just like a film

I was riding home on the bus this lunchtime when we stopped in traffic near the train station. Looking out the window I saw an exhausted looking reservist in a dusty, disheveled uniform standing outside near the park and ride. Just then his wife pulled up in her car, jumped out, ran towards him with open arms and enveloped him in the tightest embrace and the longest kiss I have ever seen.

My daughter was watching out the window with me, kvelling at the sight and cooing "Ima, it's SO romantic! It's just like in a film."

Please God all our soldiers should come home safe and sound to such a loving welcome from their families.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Doing their bit

Israel at war is an Israel where everyone feels the need to contribute. This is still a small country where everyone seems interconnected and with the front so close to soldiers' homes local communities are able to organise a continuous stream of care packages. Day after day community notice boards are covered in notices about which family or synagogue is collecting for which unit, what supplies are most needed by the soldiers, which stores are donating goods, which stores are offering discounts to civilians shopping for care packages and so on.

This week for example my upstairs neighbours was contacted by a relative serving in the reserves, telling her his unit has been living on battle rations for weeks. She put out a call for volunteers to cook for the soldiers, so that at least for Shabbat they could enjoy a taste of home. A steady flow of people carrying foil pans and plastic containers to her door continued late into the night, folks from around the neighbourhood bringing trays laden with kugels, rice, chicken and all manner of salads and dips, freshly baked hallot and cookies.

My neighbour joked that it was a great way to meet local residents, many of us living on the same street for the past decade or more but only now finally getting to know each other beyond a basic smile and "shalom" while passing one another in the car park or on our way to dump bottles at the recycling bins. Early Friday morning the unit sent a military truck right to our building to collect the fridge full of donations and Sunday morning grateful soldiers e-mailed photos of tired looking men with stubbled faces and dusty crumpled fatigues tucking in to the meals on Friday afternoon.

Brave civilians drive down to the Gaza border area risking Hamad mortar fire to bring food, toiletries, underwear and messages of support to weary soldiers. One man has already been killed on such a mission of kindness, struck down while handing out treats. The IDF has tried to ban civilians from endangering themselves by coming so close to Gaza, but people are still determined to find a way to get some home comforts to the front line bases. To get an idea just how dangerous that area is, four soldiers were killed today by a mortar right in this Gaza  border region.

Israeli civilians are also doing their best to support the hundreds of thousands of people living in towns and villages right near the Gaza border, people who've been living under heavy fire, in or close to their shelters. Some businesses have had to close, others have no choice, as in the case of the farmers harvesting their crops in the intervals between mortars and rockets, with nowhere to take cover out in the open fields, in recent weeks this has cost the life of a farm worker, one of several killed or injured in recent years by attacks from Gaza.

In the middle of all this people still need to somehow earn their living, care for their families, keep their children from going completely stir crazy from the long hours in the shelters and the day after day of bombardments and alerts. Volunteers have gone down to entertain the kids in the shelters, bringing with them donations of toys, books and treats from northern and central Israel.

All over Israel synagogues and social centres have organised group purchases from southern businesses, be it mass orders of hallot for Shabbat from bakeries in Sderot and Ofakim, farmers markets in support of southern farms or young couples having their wedding invitations printed by printshops in frontline communities.

It's not just collections for our own people though, various Israeli groups have been organising aid efforts for civilians in Gaza - drives for baby clothes and formula, clothing and medical equipment, as well as organising toys and Arabic language children's books for Gazan children continuing to receive medical treatment in Israeli hospitals.

People are trying to help so much that sometimes they're going overboard, so many people flocking to hospitals upon hearing of lone soldiers with few visitors that the hospitals have had to turn people away because these wounded soldiers who needed rest were being flooded with well wishers. 

I remember a record of songs from the '73 War my mother used to play. One of the songs was about a reservist writing to his girlfriend and the chorus went something like "send me underwear and vests, here we're living like animals, fighting like lions, morale is very high, and in our platoon we're desperate for a ceasefire - please sweetie, don't send me more cakes!" With the masses and masses of goods being baked for soldiers I feel like I finally understand it. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

There but for the grace of God and Iron Dome

It was my two little sons tonight lying in the thistles and dirt by the side of the road, their father shielding them with his body, while the sirens wailed and a rocket was intercepted overhead, loud booms shattering the night like thunder.

My husband needed to run an errand and even though it was past their bedtimes the boys just couldn't sleep, they were so excited their dad was finally home from work that he reluctantly agreed to take them with him. Just a quick run to a local shopping centre to pick up a few things. The ride in the car was lulling the boys to sleep when the siren caught them on a rural local road driving home from the shops.

We're far enough from Gaza that my husband had a whole 90 seconds to unstrap them from their car seats, grab them from the vehicle, make a dash for the verge overgrown with thistles while carrying half-asleep 2 and 4 year-olds, try to lay them down as safely as possible without the boys hurting themselves on the prickles and lay himself down over them for protection.

This is what my husband recounted to me a few minutes later when my phone call reached him still face down in the brush with our little boys, waiting the recommended 10 minutes after the siren and booms to make sure there was no falling shrapnel. My heart skipped a beat knowing how that could have ended but for the grace of God and Iron Dome.

I was home with my oldest, our resident bookaholic. When the siren went and I started dashing to our shelter I realised that she was still in her bedroom where I'd sent her to change in to her PJs. I yelled my lungs off for her to come, worried that maybe she somehow hadn't noticed the blaring siren.

I am generally very calm in such situations, but for a few seconds I was worried. She is the unflapable child who has read the Home Front Command "What to do in an emergency" booklet from cover to cover multiple times, I know that she better than anyone knows exactly what to do when the alert goes, she's been fantastic at helping to herd the boys into the shelter and drill them in what to do, so where was she?

She finally appeared after what seemed like an age, but was only about a minute, her head in a book, the siren continuing its eerie wail. Sitting in our stiffling windowless shelter I rebuked her, trying to be stern  but calm without letting my worry bleed through too much. "You know exactly what to do during a siren, where were you?"

"Oh Ima, I couldn't find a book mark and I was worried I'd lose my place"

Sometimes she is so sensible about these things that I forget that she is still only a little kid. And then she does something like this to remind me.

Elastic Dome

My DH's brilliant insight tonight: "We need to develop Elastic Dome. Everything they shoot bounces off of it and back to them."

Monday, July 21, 2014

Labour pains

In all of last week's craziness my friend went into labour. It was a long drawn out labour interrupted by several air raid sirens during which she and the rest of the maternity ward were rushed to shelters.

Our young sons are close friends, so her boy stayed with us for a few days while she was in hospital, days that coincided with our town's first experience of rockets, including an interception right overhead, shrapnel from which started a brush fire in a local park.

Poor little boy, not only without his Mummy for a few days, but sleeping over at a time it seemed prudent to put all the kids to sleep in our rather small home shelter. There he was, anxious about his mother and on top of it all trying to get to sleep with three other children in a small windowless room worried about another rocket attack.

To cap it off the siren went again just as I was tucking the boys in, my oldest calmly leading the family in singing Psalms to calm the other children, my friend's son plaintively complaining "But Mummy and Daddy always say we should do quiet things to help sleep, what's all this noise at bedtime?"

It was a tense night, eventually the only thing that settled everyone down was letting them stay up for a while snuggled in amongst the blankets and cuddly toys I'd made sure to leave on the sofabed that takes up most of the space in our household shelter room. My oldest put on a children's video for them to watch, and eventually they conked out, but not before 22:00, incredibly late for a pair of kindergartners.

The next day they went of to summer camp as usual but with huge bags under their eyes.  And when I say summer camp I mean staying indoors or in the yard within 90 seconds of the nearest shelter.

Whether it was the tiredness kicking in or just the tension all around I don't know, but these quiet boys who usually keep themselves busy with toys cars and dinosaurs were bouncing around my flat like jumping beans that afternoon, as though they didn't know where to put themselves.

And then I caught what game they were playing.

"Wooooohoooh!" my son wailed


 "Listen, it's another siren, we better run to the Mamad (secure room/shelter)"

 "Oh, it's still going, lets stay in the Mamad and hide."

"Oh, now we can come out YAAAYYY!!"

 "Oh no, it's another siren we have to go back in again."

And so on and so forth. Not exactly the kind of new game I hoped my kindergartner and his friend would come up with. On the other hand they didn't seem scared, a bit too frenetic, a bit too animated and jumpy, yes, definitely, but it was mixed the the natural exuberance of kids their age. All said and done despite it grating on my already strained nerves it was certainly a good way for young children to process the upset going on around them, a good outlet for their concerns and stress from the situation.

Eventually they got tired enough that I was able to entice them into the kitchen to bake biscuits with me, followed by a nice quiet hour of them making sticker pictures with the toddler to take to my friend in the maternity ward, and a few extra to send with care packages to our soldiers in the south.

After dinner the boys embarked on another round of "sirens and rockets" (the game even has a name), this time with the boys taking turns at being "good rockets" and "bad rockets", with the good rockets chasing the bad rockets around the room and trying to catch them before they could "explode", accompanied by yet more pseudo-siren noises. Oh the noise, the noise, my poor poor neighbours.

They were still at it when my DH came home from work and I was trying unsuccessfully to get them to bed with a story. My friend's son finally wore himself out and crashed, spreadeagled on the bed, clutching one of my son's cuddly animals.

My boy was still hyped up though, my husband beseeching him "Stop being a siren and go to sleep!" Five storybooks later he finally curled himself up at the opposite end of the bed next to the toddler and nodded off, his big sister slumbering away on the mattress on the floor. Finally, all four of them asleep in the shelter.

While her son played and eventually slept at my house, over in a Tel Aviv region hospital my friend found out what happens when the sirens go and you're in labour hooked up to a monitor in the maternity unit and need to get to a shelter.

Over the next few days she would find out over and over again what it was like to be in hospital during an air raid. Her newborn had to spend time in the NICU, which it turns out is not in a reenforced secure part of the hospital, and because of the frailty of the babies hooked up to equipment, they can't be rushed to a shelter during an alert.The nurses stay with their tiny charges through the sirens, relying on Iron Dome to keep them safe. It was a terrifying experience for a mother: "When the rocket alerts came there was nothing much those of us in the NICU could do, other than to lean over our babies and protect them with our bodies in case the blast from a rocket strike or even the interception was close enough to shatter windows."

Days later her baby was finally released from hospital. As she signed the paperwork and happily carried her newborn out to the car she saw nurses rushing to the helipad with gurneys, medivac helicopters coming in to land and her heart sank with the knowledge that these were surely signs of bad news. We found out today these were some of the first IDF casualties from the ground assault in northern Gaza.

It's all part of the dizzying pace of events lately, personal joys mixed with national sorrow, children's unexpressable fears spilling out in exuberant play, the mundane and the surreal, the honey and the sting, the bitter and the sweet.

We pray for simpler, peaceful times.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Gymborees and bomb shelters

The war has developed a routine of it's own, or rather I should say has spread the routine of the long suffering residents of Israel's south to the centre of the country.

On mother's groups on Facebook and Whatsup women seek recommendations for children's outings that are a) fun and b) close to a bomb shelter. Gymborees, museum and small petting zoos close to fortified "safe rooms" are popular.

Other mothers ask if it's safe enough to take their kids to the park, what if they get caught out in the open by a siren, is 1.5 minutes enough time to gather up all the kids and rush to the relative safety of a nearby parking garage or the stairwell of a building? Some answer that they are trying to keep to their regular routines and trust in Iron Dome to keep them safe. Others have pretty much been staying indoors for most of the past 3 weeks. Yet other online groups are dedicated to fun activities for kids stuck at home by the conflict, creative crafts, games and baking projects. 

Many outdoor attractions in central and southern Israel which earn their bread and butter durign the busy summer season are virtually empty. Those in the south are closed on the orders of Home Front Command because the area is under the heaviest bombardment. Most in the centre are open but restrictions on large outdoor gatherings mean that summer camps and tourist groups have had to cancel, leaving only a few brave or possibly foolhardy families to visit the zoos, nature reserves and amusement parks in central areas targeted by Hamas rockets. The economic impact on these businesses is huge, many have had almost no custom for weeks now in what should be their peak season, and some have had to close their doors for most of the summer.

One place that has been busy is a local gymboree in my town which is in the reenforced concrete lower level of shopping centre. It's right next to an official shelter, but the nature of the construction means that the whole lower story of this structure is technically a shelter. It is one of many attractions advertising "easy access to secure area" in big bold letters.

Home Front Command, the army unit in charge of keeping civilians safe, has a dedicated "explainer" for children. In online videos and special meetings she teaches children what to do when the sirens sound, tells them stories designed to help reassure them and allay their fears, encourages them to talk about their concerns and holds Q&A sessions for worried children in which they can ask all kinds of questions about the situation and what it means to be a child when Israel is at war.

From personal experience I think it's often hardest for those children who aren't yet old enough to ask these questions but are alert enough to the changes in routine and the general atmosphere of tension to know that things are not as they should be. I see my own recently weaned toddler desparate to nurse again, needing that extra proximity, wanting that unique comfort, and friends report similar reactions in their young ones. In many families toilet trained children have started wetting their beds again or having "accidents" in their pants. Kids of all ages wake up with night terrors about sirens and rockets or fears that "bad people" are breaking in to their homes.

I'm glad that for the most part our children are calm, but that level of calm corelates to their ages, with the oldest most able to understand the situation, find ingstrength in knowing what she has to do in case of a siren or other emergency, while the middle one voices more concerns about "what if a rocket breaks our house?", going stock still at every unexpected sound asking us "what was that noise?" and the youngest shows the most signs of stress, like waking up more at night and wanting to nurse again.

My nine year-old at least has tried to find some kind of silver lining. "Ima, I don't like this situation, but you know what, at least I'm learning from it. I remember the stories about grandma spending her nights sleeping in their backyard shelter when she was a little girl and the Nazis were shooting flying bombs at London. When the sirens go here and when we go to sleep in our shelter it makes me feel connected to her. Now I know at least a little bit what it was like to be a child in those days." 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Between a rock and a hard place

Much has been made of Israel's need to just "absorb" all the rocket strikes as though they were rain. The argument I hear over and over again is that the rockets do little damage, so what'st the big deal? Why is Israel all in a tizzy and embarking on military action over a few harmless rockets? It isn't as if they are really killing anyone, right?

Wrong. Israelis have been killed by these rockets. It doesn't matter that these rockets are not terribly accurate, that Israel has developed Iron Dome to shoot them down, and so further minimise their effectiveness, the mere existence of the rockets, the constant air raid sirens, millions of people's lives disrupted, nights spend sleeping in bomb shelters, all these make it incumbent on Israel to defend her residents safety, and the state's sovereignty.

Furthermore with each year that passes Hamas improves its rocket capability. From the primitive mortars it started out with, raining them down on the Israeli village of Netzarim in Gaza over a decade ago, back before Israel's pullout from the territory, to the first short range Kassam rockets Hamas attacked Sderot with, right up to the medium range Grads later used to attack Ashdod and Beer Sheva and the long range M-75 and M-302 rockets which have reached the greater Tel Aviv region, all the way up to the northern Israeli port city of Haifa. The longer Israel waits to dismantle Hamas' missile infrastructure the deadlier it becomes and the more Israeli cities and towns are threatened by rocket fire.

No state can allow its citizens to be subjected to such rocket terror, let alone allow its citizens to be terrorised this way for over a decade, with the range of the rockets increasing to threaten more and more of its population.

It is about more than rockets though. Hamas has used millions upon millions of pounds of financial aid, along with "humanitarian" supplies such as building materials and concrete, to create a vast underground network beneath Gaza. These tunnels facilitate Hamas rocket fire by providing extensive rocket storage and manufacturing facilities, as well as safe, secret passage between launch sites. They are also used for infiltration into Israel, such as in the raid that resulted in the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006, and in recent days several attempted assaults on Israeli civilians, Hamas gunmen tunneling below Israeli border villages and kibbutzim with tunnel exits right in the heart of these communities.

Allowed to go unchecked these well constructed tunnels present an existential threat to the Jewish state, allowing Hamas the potential to strike deep into Israeli territory, intent as ever on terrorising Israeli civilians.

By tolerating tunnels and rocket fire on our border areas Israel is de facto ceding that territory, with every Hamas push further into Israel and Israel's "absorption" of that rocket fire Israel is in essence ceding more and more sovereignty and emboldening Hamas that a military solution, a military victory on their part, is possible, if they wait long enough.

Excessive restraint and the steady erosion of Israeli deterrance do not bode well for a possible future peace settlement if Hamas believes that it can simply wage a prolonged war of attrition to wear down Israeli resolve.

Since the 2006 Lebanon War Israel has managed to maintain a mostly successful deterrence policy with regard to missiles fired from Lebanon into Israel. The Hizballah barrages that paralysed and terrified northern Israel have all but disappeared. Occasional rogue Palestinian groups do fire into Israel from Lebanon, but the Lebanese military know that it is not in their interest to allow such attacks on Israel, they fear an Israeli military response and so act themselves to prevent attacks on Israel from their territory.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the "spillover" from Syria, occasional stray shells or rockets that land in Israeli territory, fired by accident or sometimes possibly intentionally, and most recently claiming the life of 13 year-old Israeli Mohammed Karaka. Each time something fired from Syria has landed in Israel, and especially when the result was the killing of a young Israeli, the IDF have responded by returning fire in the direction the Syrian shots were fired from, sometimes causing casualties on the Syrian side, but most importantly, making the point that such "spillover" into Israel will not be tolerated, whether by the Syrian government forces or the rebels. So far despite several incidents this deterrance factor seems to be working, residents of northern Israel can live in peace. It would seem that both Assad's forces and the Al-Nustra Front Jihadists currently controlling the Syrian region adjacent to Israel have taken this message of deterrence to heart.

The message is especially vital as Israelis look around nervously and see the rise of these Jihadi movements and their control of ever increasingly large chunks of Iraq and Syria. Jordan and the Saudis have massed troops on their borders with Iraq. They clearly see the threat. Israel is aware of it too, especially aware that any sign of weakness in the face of Hamas provocations and attack will signal dangerous weakness on Israel's part that serves to embolden the attempts of such Jihadi groups to expand their operations into Israel, either from the Syrian border, via Jordan or elsewhere.

Hamas is another piece in that puzzle. To view the conflict between Israel and Hamas as simply a local issue is to remove it from the broader context of the new Middle East taking shape around us. Hamas is part of the same Jihadi ideology as the recently toppled Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, a group which also considers itself the prime opposition to the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan. Even more radical Al-Qaeda affiliated and Al-Qaeda inspired groups are active in the Egyptian controlled Sinai peninsula, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Red Sea Africa. Israel today is on the frontlines of this region wide surge in Islamist activity. As such Israel cannot afford to show weakness or hesitation.

It isn't just about the threat to Israel though. Our more stable, Western oriented neighbours like Jordan and Egypt are effectively allied with Israel against the pan-Middle Eastern Jihadi movement trying to establish a new Middle East order. There is little love lost between Israel, Jordan and Egypt, but all three countries realise that they are coming to be a last bulwark against Al-Qaida inspired forces in Syria and Iraq who make no secret of their desire to control all of the Levant and press onwards into North Africa.

A strong Israel capable of defending her own borders against such Islamist threats is an Israel worth allying with in line with the cliche my enemy's enemy is my friend. An Israel which can't or won't even defend her own citizens and territory from a Jihadi assault is not a state worth joining cause with and certainly not one to be relied upon in time of crisis. Israeli deterrance strengthens Israel's strategic cooperation with other states in the region and beyond. Who knows, maybe one day this might even help create a more peaceful future for the Middle East.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Prayer for the IDF

מִי שֶׁבֵּרַךְ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקֹב הוּא יְבָרֵךְ אֶת חַיָּלֵי צְבָא הֲגַנָּה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, הָעוֹמְדִים עַל מִשְׁמַר אַרְצֵנוּ וְעָרֵי אֱלהֵינוּ מִגְּבוּל הַלְּבָנוֹן וְעַד מִדְבַּר מִצְרַיִם וּמִן הַיָּם הַגָּדוֹל עַד לְבוֹא הָעֲרָבָה בַּיַּבָּשָׁה בָּאֲוִיר וּבַיָּם. יִתֵּן ה' אֶת אוֹיְבֵינוּ הַקָּמִים עָלֵינוּ נִגָּפִים לִפְנֵיהֶם. הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא יִשְׁמֹר וְיַצִּיל אֶת חַיָלֵינוּ מִכָּל צָרָה וְצוּקָה וּמִכָּל נֶגַע וּמַחְלָה וְיִשְׁלַח בְּרָכָה וְהַצְלָחָה בְּכָל מַעֲשֵׂה יְדֵיהֶם. יַדְבֵּר שׂוֹנְאֵינוּ תַּחְתֵּיהֶם וִיעַטְרֵם בְּכֶתֶר יְשׁוּעָה וּבְעֲטֶרֶת נִצָּחוֹן. וִיקֻיַּם בָּהֶם הַכָּתוּב: כִּי ה' אֱלֹהֵיכֶם הַהֹלֵךְ עִמָּכֶם לְהִלָּחֵם לָכֶם עִם איבֵיכֶם לְהוֹשִׁיעַ אֶתְכֶם: וְנאמַר אָמֵן:

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Welcome to our local insanity

Hamas fires a rocket from Gaza and knocks out Israeli power line just over the border which supplies power to, wait for it, Gaza. So Hamas just knocked out their own electricity by shooting rockets at Israel because Israel supplies Gaza with free electricity. Talk about poetic justice. 

Fortunately some common sense prevailed in Israel and a decision was made that Israeli workers would not go in under fire to restore electricity to Gaza. However if the shooting dies down Israel's electric company will repair the line and resume free power supplies to the Hamas ruled Gaza even as it lobs dozens of rockets at Israel on a daily basis. Welcome to our local insanity.

This is your early morning wake-up from Hamas

At six this morning the morning silence was shattered by the wail of the air raid sirens again. I was sort of awake already but that racket is one hell of a way to snap to instant alertness.

Somehow in last night's attempts to get the toddler to sleep I'd ended up settling him in my own bed, even though he'd eventually toddled off back to DH who was sleeping in the living room with our other son, close to the shelter. They were all snuggled up in the secure room in the seconds it took me to dash across the flat.

My daughter already had the sequel to last night's nature documentary DVD, trying to keep the boys focused on the novelty of Ima and Abba allowing early morning television watching. She and my middle son seemed to be taking the whole thing in their stride, but just like last night, the 2 year-old was kvetchy and hard to comfort.

He'd had very little sleep, which I'm sure contributed to his mood, but nothing seemed to help, he just wanted to be held and nursed (even though he's pretty much weaned), kept looking around with unease. He's at a tough age, old enough and alert enough to pay attention to every detail, but way too young for us to be able to explain to him what is going on and why.

And then it was over and we all got ready for the day, older kids at their day camps, DH off to work, me home with an anxious toddler who finally managed to nurse himself back to sleep around 10am.

Tonight was the night

All Shabbat we had the radio tuned to a special silent frequency that only broadcasts when there is analert. We heard the warnings for many parts of Israel, from the Gaza border all the way up the coast to the great Tel Aviv area and all the way over towards Hebron and Jerusalem.

It was surreal sitting in the living room doing puzzles with the kids or eating our family Shabbat meals together and every so often we'd hear a muffled "whump" and know that somewhere within earshot someone in Gaza was shooting at us and Iron Dome was saving lives all over central Israel.

Shabbat was out, around the kids' usual bedtime and right after Havdalah started getting ready for bed.

DH and I were getting busy with the usual post-Shabbat clean up with the hourly  radio news on, catching up on the events of the day, followed by a programme of mellow Saturday night music, every so often interupted by the clear, polite tones of the announcer calmly relaying the latest rocket alerts.

I remember thinking how odd it all was, the song playing on the radio had lyrics which went something like "good night to everyone who is alone, good night to everyone who is holding on, good night to you and me", and in between the curt reports of where the sirens where going off.

And then the air raid siren went off in our town, blaring loud and clear, not a drill, but a real time warning that somewhere in Gaza people were trying to kill us.

It's the first siren we've had at home,though DH has had a bunch at work and driving to and from the office. I had at least done practice drills with the kids, so the bigger ones knew what to do, my oldest calmly hurrying her middle brother along and sitting him down with her in our secure room.

Our youngest though just looked bewildered, too little to understand why suddenly everyone was running into the small room he knows only as our den/tv and occasional spare room. As we all charged in there he initially followed his older siblings and sat down with them on the sofabed that takes up much of the limited space. But then my DH closed the heavy blast door, and the little guy started to get perplexed. We never close the door to that room because as a shelter it's windowless and stuffy and unairconditioned, so especially stiffling in summer if you close the door. The toddler tried repeatedly to open the door as my DH held it closed, even as the little guy asked over and over again to go out and play with the toy train he'd left in the living room, asked to open the door, puzzled as to why we were compelling everyone to stay in the tiny space with the heavy door closed, the heavy door he knows he isn't allowed to play with.

We stayed the prequisite 10 minutes in the shelter as per Home Command instructions and when we came out both boys asked for their bedtime baths. We hesitated, what if another siren sounded? Baths would help settle the boys for sleep though, and our apartment isn't that big. In this part of Israel we have a whole one and a half minutes to get to a shelter upon hearing the sirens, unlike the mere seconds they have further south, so DH went off to bath the boys and I went off to add a box with some extra favourite toys and books to our shelter room.

Our oldest went to finish getting ready for bed, and then showed up in the shelter with a huge holdall full of her most precious dolls, books, plastic animals and a lightsabre: "Just in case something hits the house, I want to make sure my special things are with me, and anyway, my animals don't understand what the siren is, I need to have them with me so they aren't scared".

She decided she wanted to bed down in the secure room that night and set up a mattress with her own special pillows and blankets. I covered the sofabed with blankets to make it extra cosy and told my DH we could put the boys to bed there tonight too, and I went to gather up some favourite cuddly animals for the boys.

The siren blared again, splitting the air with its eerie wail.

Out dashed my middle son in his birthday suit, dripping from the bath he had that second stepped out of, the alert having sounded just as he was reaching for his towel. He was quickly followed by my DH carrying a stunned looking toddler wrapped in his towel, both of them wet from having hastily snatched the little guy right out of the bath.

This time my youngest was so stunned from it all that he just lay uncomplaining on the sofa for a while, huddled up in his towel which fortunately was big enough to cover his brother with too. He adores baths and plainly could not fathom why on earth he had been grabbed right out of it, without being dried off and rushed into the shelter to watch a video with all the family at bedtime, and again with the door closed when we never close the door to that room. He begged to go back to his beloved bath over and over again but of course we all stayed put in that stiffling little room.

I kicked myself for forgetting to put nappies, wipes and changes of clothing in the secure room when our youngest kid is potty training. Fortunately he's pretty good at holding out, so there were no messes. My daughter put on a nature documentary, a good choice as the gorgeous images captivated and distracted her younger siblings.

With the alert finally over, we dressed the boys, brushed their teeth and set them up on the sofabed. Through it all my oldest was a beacon of calm matter of factness, snuggling up in her blanket and watching her film, and in doing so sending a soothing message to the boys. The middle guy was soon asleep and she followed not long after, but our youngest just couldn't settle.

We had resolved to sleep in our living room, so as to be close to the shelter in case the kids needed anything at night, and to make sure we'd hear them. We tried putting the toddler to sleep in the secure room, but he just couldn't get to sleep, so we tried tucking him in with my DH in the living room, again no joy, next we tried his bed, my bed, nothing in either place. He kept trying to curl up by himself or with one of us, but minutes later he'd pop up again and try somewhere else. He was clearly disoriented by the whole bizarre evening and as late as midnight was still restlessly trying to find a place to sleep, eventually going back to the shelter and dozing off in front of a favourite video we put on as a last resort.

All this was just one evening, our first of experiencing sirens in our home town. It is mind boggling to think of hundreds of thousand of Israelis in the south who have been living this way for years, millions more who've faced this threat sporadically for the past week, as well as during the last Gaza escalation in 2012. As I write millions of Israelis, pretty much every major town and city in the country is within range of rockets from Gaza and/or from Lebanon. All we have to rely on are Iron Dome and God's miracles to keep us safe from the men in Gaza firing rockets.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

War anecdote #17

I packed some favorite books and toys for the kids to enjoy when stuck in the shelter room. Toddler is now busy running around putting them all back where they belong...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Operation Toffee Crunch

And in war humour today, many Israelis are distressed that Hamas has been targetting Beer Tuvia, home of Israel's Ben and Jerry's ice-cream factory. One friend went so far as to draft a spoof petition demanding that it get its own Iron Dome battery to protect this vital national asset, an important comfort mechanism in these stressful times.

I seem to have missed the section in the Pikud HaOref instructions where one is supposed to install a freezer in one's shelter and keep it stocked with emergency rations of Ben & Jerry's in a selection of flavours. 

Many friends however are strictly abiding by this unwritten rule and all over town there has been a run on luxury ice-cream stocks, with many flavours running out. Local social media has been full of discussions of where to find the most popular and which shops still have decent stocks. My FB feed is full of people reporting which flavours they indulged in during the evening's shelter stays,

It's gotten to the stage that folks are discussing which colourful Ben & Jerry's name would make the best code name for the war. Something a little more original than Protective Edge.

I'm sure pacfist Ben & Jerry's would be horrified, but maybe they could take heart in the comfort their product is bringing to so many civilians under rocket fire.

Operation Toffee Crunch anyone?


People overseas have been asking what this war situation means for us. It's complicated, fluid and varies from region to region and from hour to hour. Looking at the heavy barrages people are enduring in the south it seems almost trivial to mention the occasional sporadic rockets on other cities, but that is to belittle the terror of even "only" one or two sirens. From where we are, thank God, still in the periphery of the rocket zones, it feels almost petty to note how this war has changed our lives at all, listening to rockets in targeted areas while on the face of things it almost seems like business as usual.

For the last couple of days my DH and many of our friends and neighbours have been trying to figure out whether they are overreacting if they decide to work from home "just" because there have been a few air raids in and around the greater Tel Aviv area where many of them work. 

If the people in the south who are under far heavier bombardment are still going in to work, how can the people of central Israel allow themselves to be scared away from their offices? It's an insane dilemma. So the people of the centre have decided that they should also behave like seasoned rocket strike veterans and go in to work each day knowing that they will likely spend some of that time in shelters and secure areas while rockets are launched their way.

With most of the Tel Aviv suburban area as much at risk of rockets as the city itself it starts feeling a little ridiculous making a distinction, although somehow the idea of being caught out in a crowded office skyscraper is far more disconcerting than having the family together in a home shelter. 

So it was this morning I called my husband at work to ask about some mundane errand and his voice came back oddly muffled, many voices clearly audible in the background. My call found him taking cover in the stairwell of his building during one of today's rocket attacks on the city. 

On the other hand at least he is still pretty much going about his regular routine. Many of my friends husbands have received emergency call-up papers from the army, leaving their wives, children and civilian lives behind at all hours of the day and night and heading off for the unknown, possibly in preparation for a ground offensive in Gaza, though nobody knows for sure if that is even on the cards.

The second time I called him today I could clearly hear the crumps of rockets and Iron Dome interceptions from my living room from which I was worriedly trying to figure out why my oldest child hadn't come home from day camp yet. Our town itself has so far stayed in the clear, but the noise carries and we seem to hear much of what's going many kilometres away, even sometimes catching the sound of muted sirens from other towns.

In between my concerned phone calls my middle child arrived home from his summer programme. As I walked to the front door to greet him we could hear more muffled booms. He gave me a hug, and as he bent down to take off his shoes excitedly told me "Ima, you know what we heard today in the car on the way to our house? Big bangs in the sky!" And he slammed his hands together to emphasise the point. Just what every mother wants to hear her kindergartner talking about when he gets home from kaytana.

The radio announced alerts in the region of my oldest's summer camp starting around home time. I was waiting for the usual call letting me know that the kids were on the bus back to town so I'd know when to go down to the stop to wait. Nothing. No answer on the phone.  I headed out to the street to check, maybe another parent had helped with crossing the road, nothing

Rationally I know the odds of a connection between the news on the radio and my kid's bus being late are low, but with all the insanity this week yes, there was a moment of wondering through the what ifs. I know that the camp is in a building with a shelter, I know the people running the camp are responsible and taking every alert very seriously, so maybe they decided to delay the school buses just in case.

In the end the two events weren't connected, turned out a phone battery was loose, the bus was a little late, trivialities,  but it certainly gives a poignant insight into life in the south for years now, children growing up in the shadow of rockets, parents learning to somehow factor it into the normal routine of life. It's new to us in the centre, certainly to this extent. The mind boggles at how our friends and family in Beer Sheva and Ashkelon and even closer to Gaza have put up with this kind of terror for years on end. 

With all the kids finally home we sat down to our usual family lunch, the older children excitedly talking about their mornings. J, my oldest, told us that they'd compensated for having to stay close the main building and the shelter by having a special dance morning in which they learnt about dance styles around the world. Then they had a session about medical clowns (a clever move by the camp organisers to help the kids through any possible stress caused by "the situation") in which they not only learnt about what these clowns do, but had some basic introductory training in how to be medical clowns themselves.

I asked her whether she had any questions about what was going on, anything she wanted explained. Despite being our avid reader she seemed pretty unphased by current events. "Ima, you're not nervous or scared, so I'm not, right? You tell me what you think I need to know. I know what to do and I know about Iron Dome".

My kindergartner was a little less sanguine.  "Ima were they good guy big bangs or bad guys big bangs I heard?" I said probably good guy. "Ima, tell me again how the good guy rockets get the bad guy rockets?" I raised one hand in the air like an arrow, explaining how the bad guys shoot a rocket into the air ("with fire Ima, it has to have fire in the tail to make it fly"), and then made my other hand into another rocket, explaining how something called radar tells the good guy rockets to go get the bad guys, and they shoot up in the air and smash them, slamming my second hand dramatically into the first hand while making a boom noise to illustrate my point. 

My kindergartner smiled, reassured, his question answered. The toddler who all this time had been studying us with a serious expression burst into uprorious laughter. "Ima, od pa'am!" (Again Mum!) he crowed. I went through the hand motion explanation of Iron Dome again. Both boys laughed at the boom this time. Then my middle child turned pensive, "Ima, what happens to the rockets when they crash into each other? What if there are pieces left and they fall down into the road, or the balcony or in our house?" 

We spent quite some time talking about it all, him with all his questions, me trying to think how to explain this all simply but honestly, to reassure, but not to give blind promises of safety that I could not guarantee. In the end I seemed to hit the right balance though, he seemed satisfied that he was in good hands, that between his parents and our soldiers there were lots of people working hard to keep him safe, and he went off to draw a picture of an Iron Dome battery, trying to copy it from a photo in today's newspaper. He then proceeded to liberally decorate it with pink and gold glitter and a yellow feather, think Iron Dome as a float during Tel Aviv's Pride Week parade.

My oldest got inspired too and decided to draw a picture of a man with an iron skullcap on his head (in Hebrew the name is "Kipat Barzel", which can mean either an iron kippah or an iron dome). On top of his kippah there is a miniature Iron Dome battery. The caption reads "I'm not scared because I have Iron Dome looking after us", with an arrow pointing from the speech bubble to the miniature Iron Dome on top of the kippah.

So that was today's weirdness. Weirdness because we are a house where the kids don't have toy guns or tanks, and yet they spent the afternoon drawing rocket launchers and soldiers. Weird because in our region it feels trivial even to register all these minor inconveniences caused by a war that is wreaking real terror on so many other Israeli towns. Weird because the way the situation is in other parts of the country it seems petty to note "just" a few rockets on Tel Aviv when our friends in the south are getting pounded by monster barrages from Gaza. Weird in the way that this war situation mixes with the mundane routine to become a mundane routine of its own while we're left wondering if this is temporary or whether the centre is the new south.