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.