Deceptive Silence 50 Miles From Gaza

Marne Joan and Leora Shirit Rochester in their bomb shelter.

Marne Joan and Leora Shirit Rochester in their bomb shelter.

— by Marne Joan

Despite the war in Gaza, life seems to be going on fairly normally in Jerusalem. We have had “only” three alarms.

We have been busy with visiting friends and family from San Francisco, Milwaukee, New York City, Long Island, St. Paul, and Ukraine. Two weeks ago, we watched “The Wizard of Oz” at the semi-outdoor First Station. My daughter, Leora, just finished her month at the Ramah Day Camp in Jerusalem. The only change in her summer was that because of the war, the camp field trips were canceled. We are planning a trip to the North for a few days, starting with a Bar-Mitzvah at Kibbutz Hannaton, kayaking on the Jordan River, going to the Galit Chocolate Farm in Kibbutz Degania on the Sea of Galilee, possibly the hot springs in Hamat Gader, and the Saba Yossi Wood Workshop in Kibbutz Ein Gev, visiting friends in Kfar Tavor and in Dalyat Al-Carmel (a Druze town). Meanwhile, we go to parks, the supermarket, birthday parties, etc.

We are not panicky, nervous wrecks. Yes, life is pretty normal. But that is just on the surface.

When outside, I pick walking routes according to buildings I can run into if I hear a siren. I constantly check the news to see if anyone I know has been killed. I could not wait for the Muslim month of Ramadan to be over, because you can never be quite sure if you are hearing gun shots and rioting, or fireworks from the village nearby.

Every alarm puts me on edge. They actually changed the sirens on ambulances so that they would not sound like the air raid sirens.

When Leora goes downstairs to play, my parting words are not “have a good time,” but rather, “If there’s an alarm, I’ll meet you in the shelter.” When she leaves the house, I remind her to run into the closest building if she hears a siren. It took a week of no sirens in Jerusalem before I would leave her home alone, and only because she insisted and reassured me that she would be okay. Again, I remind her, “If there’s an alarm, take your cell phone, lock the door, and go down to the shelter.”

I have also had to make a few minor changes to activities in my daycare. We do not go to the playground, because if we hear an siren, how do I pick up four kids and run into a building? We do not do finger paints, because we have a minute and a half (which is still long compared to the 15 seconds they get in Sderot) to wash hands and go downstairs to the shelter. After the first alarm in Jerusalem, I started doing some of our activities in the shelter, so if, God forbid, we need to go there, it will not be a place of panic and fear; it will be a familiar place where they have already had some fun.

I cannot imagine what it is like for people in Sderot, Ashdod, Ashqelon or Beer Sheva, who have been dealing with daily, and sometimes hourly, rocket attacks for years.

I remember the sounds of Scuds landing daily for almost two months during the Gulf War in 1991, and feeling the windows vibrate every time one landed, or a Patriot missile was launched to intercept the Scuds. It took years before I could enjoy fireworks again. Every time I heard a boom in the sky I would tense up, holding back the tears, as all of the anxiety from the war returned. I had kept my calm during the war, but when it was over, I realized just how much I was affected by it, and the emotions and trauma caught me up.

We are coping with the situation with a lot with humor, and are doing our share for those working to protect us, and for those working to help them.

Leora, the kids in my daycare and I have been making cookies and cards for the soldiers in Gaza, and the hospital staff in Jerusalem, who are working exceptionally hard treating the wounded. The doctors, nurses, social workers, physical therapists and volunteers are being called up at all hours.

Every Friday, I send text messages to the soldiers I know in Gaza with words of encouragement and support, ending with “Shabbat Shalom and come home safely.”

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