June 8, 2015

Sounds of Israel

Last Tuesday, two sirens went off across the country as part of a test from the Home Front Command. This war drill was to test preparedness if Israel were to experience heavy rocket attack on multiple fronts.

We all knew it was coming so we had the ‘luxury’ of planning our actions beforehand.

A country of constant polarities, here is a glimpse of what I experienced on this day.

10:30 Beit Issie Shapiro, a school for children with disabilities. I arrived to volunteer and asked what will be when the siren goes off. The subject was a heated one. We were two volunteers plus five staff and we had ten children to look after, none of whom could walk and two who are confined to wheelchairs with IV machines.

To add to the complications, a few children were to be in the hydrotherapy pool when the siren went off, while others would be coming out of the pool and would need to be changed and dressed. The staff discussed at length whether the pool therapy should be delayed and if some kids should come out of the water earlier.

I was given responsibility for one child and at 10:55, I was told to start making my way to the school’s bomb shelter. As I was holding Yoav’s hand, I realized at this moment how important it was that he could walk, even though he needed the assistance of my hand.

We were also fortunate that this time round it was simply a test. In front of me, Channah, a teacher, pushed a young boy in a wheelchair, pulling his feeding tube alongside. It was not easy for her to navigate and I wondered what would be if the siren were for real and we had only a few seconds to find shelter.

We sat down and I watched everyone arrive. There were teachers and therapists, both Arab and Israeli. Children arrived with walkers and with braces, in wheelchairs and strollers. Some were being carried.

11:05 am We sat crowded in the shelter and the siren wailed. The children did not even seem to even notice. We sat and we waited until a voice over the loud speaker told us we could return to ‘shigra,’ the Hebrew word for routine.

Routine? As I walked back to the classroom with Yoav, I wondered how the concept of having to sit in a shelter or even anticipating how to organize children in a bomb shelter can then be associated with routine.

In any other place in the world, this would not be a practiced routine. In a Western country outside of Israel, this would be an unacceptable way to exist. And it would create fearful pandemonium. But here, we bizarrely go about our lives as if this test were like a visit to the dentist for a routine checkup.

Last summer, there were real sirens and these same children were carried and wheeled and gently, calmly accompanied to shelters several times a day, while rockets flew over Ra’anana.

I asked one of the teachers what it was like and she said everyone was fine but she was always nervous a rocket would be fired in the afternoon when the children were napping. She said this calmly as if war became part of the school day routine, albeit an unacceptable one.

7:05 pm As we were eating dinner and the siren went off. The sound of the wail was piercing, gripping, terrifying. The sound of the siren has become, sad to say, almost routine.

We live on the top floor of an apartment building and the shelter is 100 steps below. We had to do this same flight downstairs this past summer when rockets flew at us from Gaza. Back then, my daughter’s only fear was being in the shower in case she was caught naked and dripping wet when the siren screeched.

7:30 The trills of Mozart. Shubert. Brahms. My son’s year-end piano concert at the music school. There are no wails here. Only beauty. Culture. Reverence for art. The parents sit quietly and listen. They clap after every recital with no trace of the sirens we had just 25 minutes ago. Those are already in memory’s distant past.

10:55 pm Rockets were fired in five separate attacks from Gaza and sirens wailed in Moatza Ezorit and Sdot Negev. Real sirens this time.  Maybe our enemy wanted to take advantage of the previous fake sirens in hopes of confusing people and then targeting them. Who knows.

Rockets hit nearby Ashkelon on June 6 just two days ago. The wail, then the pounding of feet running, of hearts beating. Then the boom of rockets exploding. 

Soon, all shelters in Israel will be equipped with wifi. This will ensure civilians do not miss one beat, be it work, social or security; and more importantly, it will help the Home Front and army communicate to all immediately. All for instilling some sense of routine. But Israelis simply refuse to miss out on living busy, meaningful lives. 

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