Sunday, January 11, 2009

בס''ד

Life In a War Zone...Personal Perspective...

Our oldest grandson was born in Jerusalem during Chanukah in 1990. Thirty days later was his Pidyon HaBen. It was also the start of the first Gulf war.

As a new Safta, I came from Canada to meet my grandson. Several days before the Gulf war, my daughter presented me with a gas mask. She told me that the government was expecting Saddam to start sending scuds any day and there were regulations to know and follow. So started my experiences with living in a war zone.

I remember the first time the siren went off. It was in the middle of the night. I was sharing a room with another daughter. I jumped out of bed so fast, grabbed my gas mask that was sitting on a table next to the bed and my Siddur. We had about 45 seconds to get into our safe room, my daughter’s tiny bedroom.

In this room were my daughter and son-in-law, my other daughter, and my newborn grandson in some sort of tent that was the protection for babies. I put on my mask and my son-in-law adjusted it for me. I felt like I was being smothered. The chin strap was cutting my throat and it was hard to speak. I tried to daven but couldn’t, because the part for the eyes was too wide and didn’t allow me to read.

The safe room was nothing like it is today. In those days all you did was cover the windows with heavy plastic and masking tape. On the floor you put a wet towel by the door. We spent hours in this room until we got the all clear siren.

In the meantime, my husband and son were in Canada, worrying day and night. It took several hours to call Israel or for me to call Canada and when we finally got thru, we were usually cut off a minute or two later.

This scenario repeated itself daily. When it was time for me to go back to Canada and leave my family in Israel, I was very scared for them. My son-in-law was expecting to be called up to the army and that would have left my daughter alone with a new baby. When my son-in-law drove me to the airport we had to travel with our gas masks. He gave me instructions not to sit near any windows in the airport.

Now it is many years later and we live in Netivot. Over the past couple of years Netivot has been on the receiving end of grad missiles. In the beginning, Hamas could only reach the outer outskirts of the city, so they didn’t send too many rockets, just enough to let us know that they were around. This was more of a nuisance than anything else. But today, the situation has totally changed.

Now that Hamas has perfected their missiles and can shoot them further, we are receiving more attacks. Netivot has had some serious injuries and damage. Netivot has also had one death.

It is very hard to explain the stress one feels living under the threat of the air raid siren going off, rushing to the safe room and waiting for the boom.

It is not scary to hear the siren, it’s the anticipation of if and when the siren will go off, that causes of the anxiety. Like waiting for the other shoe to drop.

My husband has been driving for fifty years. We come from Montreal and he has driven in the worst winter weather. Our son was in Gush Etzion visiting his sister and her family all week and the plan was for us to go for Shabbat and we would all come home together.

I can’t tell you how stressed out he was about driving. The main route to the Gush is through all the cities and towns where the kassams and grad missiles were landing. At one point, he considered sending a taxi to pick up our son. He changed his mind so many times about driving.

The fact that he was stressed out about driving made him more stressful. My husband has a heart condition and seeing him so stressful only made me stressful. It was really a catch 22

The kassams and grads have also cost me parnassa. I teach English at home and my students are not coming. What parent would want to risk taking their children out for a lesson when a siren could ring at any time?

Doing daily everyday activities are also a challenge. When my husband walks the dog a couple of times a day in an open area, he worries what he will do if the siren goes off when he is walking. He won’t let me walk the dog because he says he can run home faster.

Going shopping for groceries or just window shopping and having to wait for the bus is another stressful activity. We can’t even just go for a relaxing walk. On Shabbat, there are usually so many kids playing outside and families going for a Shabbat stroll. Today the streets are empty. Sometimes you feel like a prisoner in your own house.

A friend of mine, who also lives in Netivot, wrote on her blog Operation Cast Lead and Me, that she had a dilemma. How was she going to take a shower? She has two young children, five and eight, and what would happen if the siren went off when she was in the shower? She decided that the only answer was that she could only shower if her husband was home. An everyday occurrence becomes another stressful situation.

Her link is
http://meandcastlead.blogspot.com/

I mention this dilemma because we had a discussion on this very topic in our home. My son asked me what he should do if the siren goes off while he is in the shower. I told him to close the water and stay in the shower area.

Last week, just as my husband was coming out of the shower, you guessed it, the siren went off. He rapped himself like a mummy in a large bath towel and ran into the safe room. An everyday occurrence becomes another stressful situation.

On Moetzi Shabbat, when we came home after being away for Shabbat, we decided to stop and pick up a pizza before going home. We called ahead but, when we arrived at the pizza shop it was not ready. My husband had to wait fifteen minutes while my son and I waited in the car. My son asked me what happens if the siren goes off. We both felt like sitting ducks. [We were parked to far to run into the pizza shop.]

Depending on how many rockets have been sent during the night, determines if there is going to be mail delivery in the morning.

Last week we were waiting for three very important envelopes. We hadn’t had any delivery for a day or two. Finally, my husband spoke to our mail lady and she told him that she had the three envelopes in the sorting office, but didn’t know if there would be any delivery that day. My husband arranged to go and pick up our mail at the post office. Just another stressful situation.

When you don’t sleep all night because your sleep has been disturbed by either the siren going off or the booming from the army, you feel “bugged out” all day. After this happens for many nights, it is difficult to function during the day. Lately, I have missed so many full nights of sleep.

As I have written before, when the siren goes off we have 15 seconds to get shelter. Not only do I worry about our safety, I also worry about the safety of our daughter and son-in-law and their 6 children. Let me tell you what you can’t do in fifteen seconds.

My daughter and her family live in Ma’agalim a Yishuv five minutes from us. Yesterday, she proved what she couldn't do 15 seconds. They live in a split level house. My daughter was in the basement doing laundry. Her 2 year old daughter was sleeping on the top floor of the house. The siren went off...my daughter ran from the basement upstairs to get her daughter [ about 20 stairs], grabbed her out of the crib and started back downstairs to the basement where their safe room is. She didn't make it. By the time she reached the first level, the siren stopped and she heard the boom. If G-D forbid the kassam had landed in Ma'agalim and hit her house, it is shattering to think what could have happened. By the way, a kassam landed last Shabbat in the back yard of her neighbors house 3 doors from her house.

We all have our own levels of stress and fear. We learn that Hashem never gives us more stressful situations than one can handle. I pray that Hashem helps me and my family handle this stressful situation.

May Hashem guide our government to make wise discussions, protect our brave soldiers and brings them home safely and protects Am Yisroel!

3 comments:

Kris Ayalla said...

Miriam,
Thank you. Please know that my, that our prayers are with you. Denver had a Support Israel rally at the beginning of this latest war. We in SE Colorado have a rally this coming Monday evening. May you, your family be safe. May Hashem's hand be ever guiding the IDF, politicians, and people of Israel.
Kris Ayalla

Mike Levine said...

Shalom
I'm a retired American journalist living in kibbutz bahan. I write articles about the situation in Israel. I also forward other people's writings. I am going to distribute your blog to my lists. Good stuff! Yom Tov,
Mike Levine

Alissa said...

I visited Sderot a few weeks ago - the Wednesday before Israel finally started Operation Cast Lead - and when I got home and started putting my thoughts down "on paper" that very thing that went through my mind: how on earth do you take a shower? Wash your hair?

The big things are what everyone thinks about, but as anyone who has been camping or had a water shutoff knows, going without a shower is a hygienic inconvenience. But it's a normal part of daily life. Add that to all the other normal parts of daily life that you can't do in 15 seconds, and it's overwhelming.

May you stay safe, and may your daughter someday soon, b"H, be able to leave her child upstairs in the crib, while she's downstairs doing laundry, and feel secure about it. Because that should be normal.