Yesterday I had my first bomb drill. I knew that by coming to Israel that I would probably end up having to participate in a bomb drill, but I never anticipated what it would be like. As an American who has never had to deal with a bomb (or gun) drill, I really couldn’t even fathom such a thing.
I know how fortunate I am to call America my home, a country that neighboring countries don’t want to annihilate simply for existing. I’m sure that there are Canadians and Mexicans who don’t approve of how the US does business, but they don’t say that America deserves to be wiped off of the planet. Israel, unfortunately, is not so lucky. This tiny country that is the size of New Jersey has to worry about being attacked every single day. America is not required to have bomb shelters in their homes, offices or schools. American children only have to do fire, tornado, flood or gun drills, not bombing drills. They don’t have to deal with the fact that they could get blown up on a bus, in a café, mall or school. These are the realities for Israeli children. I remember my Israeli tour guide on my Birthright trip telling the group that Israeli mothers who have more than one child send their children to school on separate buses so that in case one of the buses gets blown up, she only loses one of her children instead of all of them. As someone who has worked in the early education field for nine years, this is something that stabbed at my heart.
I see the faces of my students four days a week (unless I run into one of them when I gallivant around Netanya). These precious lives that I get to teach and learn from each week continue to soothe my soul when I am having an off day. Shortly after 10:00AM yesterday, the students at my school ran into the bomb shelter. Brian and I followed soon after and were placed in a room with one of our third grade classes. The teachers took attendance and handed out word searches and spot the differences pages. I watched as some of my older students wore safety vests and made sure the younger children made it safely inside. As a child, the only drills I ever had in school were fire drills and the students were expected to be quiet and wait until we could go back inside. As I’ve learned since I’ve been a teacher here, “quiet” is not a word in my students’ vernaculars. My students were not scared of this drill; they were high-fiving each other, babbling things to their teachers that I couldn’t understand and went about as if this drill was a reprieve from their classes. An outsider might say that the children are blind. I would say they’re resilient.
My students, no matter their ages, are not immune to the dangers that plague this country every day. They know where the bomb shelter is at school and in their homes. They know that they will go into the Israel Defense Forces when they are adults in order to keep this country safe. They know that the world does not respect this country, no matter what good she does in it. They go to school knowing that they could perish. It’s a burden that children in many other countries will never have to carry, children who don’t realize that they are lucky enough to be glum about so little.
It pains me that I cannot protect my students from everything. I know I can’t do everything and be everything for them. But I do my best to help. I want to be there for these kids when they need me, and not just for teaching them the difference between “right” and “write.”
I’m in this for these children. I’m in this for the long haul.
These children came into my life like a storm, a tornado of unexpected good fortune when I thought I had hit rock bottom after a difficult journey to get to this country.
I never thought that I was a person for blessings and luck with the tragedy of my past. But working with these amazing and resilient children, giving me some of the most joy I have ever known and having them love me back, is the best thing I could have hoped for. They are the personification of Israel—beautiful, tough and resilient.
After coming back from the gym tonight, I bumped into one of my Fellows, Dascher. One of her sixth graders does ballroom dancing at a dance studio right across the street from our apartment. He had asked her if she would come and watch him dance and she agreed. She invited me along and I was glad to be able to catch up with her for a bit. As we watched her student and the other various kids in the class, I was struck by how happy these kids looked. They looked like they didn’t have a care in the world. That is what they should be able to experience all the time, not hiding in a bomb shelter or being separated from their siblings on the bus ride to school. Oddly enough, because the children here are used to the threats that Israel faces every day, they can go on about their business after a siren ends. They’re resilient ones, those Israelis.
Amidst the loud voices yesterday in the bomb shelter, my students kept asking me for stickers. I had bought stickers at Harrods during my Chanukah vacation in London because my students deserved a treat as they are the best. My students rushed towards me, went into my bag, grabbed a sticker (or two) from the sheet of stickers that’s in my notebook and exclaimed “Thank you!” They are like sea urchins—prickly, little things in many colors. They worry about their home being destroyed, just like sea urchins deal with the polluted waters that they live in. I help the waters by not polluting them. I help my students by teaching them English. Even though my sea urchins have a tough road ahead of them, I love all of my sea urchins—my beautiful, resilient, sea urchins.