I never thought that rocket sirens would make me feel the way they do.
I’d never experienced war, or anything close to it. I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, which was voted the safest city in America five times in the period between 1999 and 2008. The scariest thing that had ever happened to me was getting a parking ticket.
That is, until this past weekend when I found myself shocked out of my safe little world and sprinting down the seven flights of stairs as fast as I could to get to the bomb shelter in the basement of my Tel Aviv apartment building. About 10 seconds after I made it in, I heard a terrifying, reverberating “BOOM” from above. What was my reaction? I started to cry.
My Israeli-born husband, trying to comfort me, couldn’t understand why I was crying. “We have the Iron Dome to protect us, why are you crying? Nothing will happen to you,” he kept repeating.
But I couldn’t get him – or many of the Israelis around me – to understand why I was hysterical. It’s true, I’m not a resident of the south of Israel, which was being bombarded by rockets and not nearly as protected by the Iron Dome. Nor was I an Israeli soldier called to duty to prepare for a potential ground invasion. Nor, for that matter, was I an innocent civilian in Gaza. Nevertheless, I was petrified.
I didn’t sleep well that night because I feared that a siren would go off and I might sleep through it. The anxiety flowed like a toxic liquid through my veins. When will the next rocket strike? Will there continue to be one rocket a day, or two, or more? What if I’m in the shower, or what if I’m driving on the highway? What if the Iron Dome, which I’ve been told is 90% effective, experiences its 10% failure rate? I could feel the stress making me physically ill.
But when I looked around me, I saw that most, if not all, Israelis were carrying on as if nothing was out of the ordinary. People were going to work, going to the gym, going out to bars – if you didn’t hear the rocket siren and accompanying BOOM every few hours, you would have had no idea we were under attack. When I decided to work from home because I feared being out of range of a bomb shelter during my commute to work, my colleagues asked me, “Why are you at home?” as if they couldn’t possibly fathom it.
The way a lot of Israelis in Tel Aviv saw it, a rocket attack was more of an inconvenience than anything else: having to drop what you’re doing, run to a bomb shelter, and stay there for 10 minutes. They shook it off and went right back to their smartphones and Zumba classes and cappuccinos on the beach. Whereas for me, coming from my sheltered Newton life and never having heard a bomb or touched a gun or experienced someone actively trying to kill me, the rocket attacks were utterly traumatic.
I could see this difference between the Israelis and me even in the way we ran to the bomb shelter – I sprinted for dear life, whereas Israelis casually headed toward the nearest safe room, first making sure they had their iPhones and their dogs with them.
Yet, if I want to find a silver lining in this horrific mess, I can find comfort in the fact that being under attack does bring people together. For example, at Conduit, the hi-tech company where I work, huddling together in the bomb shelter with 400 other employees was definitely a bonding experience. The cafeteria was transformed into a small playground brightened up by laughing children (and their toys), brought to work by parents who live in the south and had nowhere else to put their kids. Some employees even brought their pets with them to work, either because their dog walker was called to reserve duty or they were worried about the safety of their pets. When you’re feeling anxious most of the day, it’s an especially calming moment to see children and dogs chasing each other through the hallways. It makes the world suddenly feel normal again, even when 20 kilometers away you know that there’s a war raging.
I think with each passing day I was starting to become more “Israeli”; with each additional rocket siren, my heart raced slightly less and I was able to hold in my tears just a bit more. I am truly inspired by my colleagues who were able to stay focused on the job at hand, despite the interruptions. I saw first-hand how resilient Israelis are, both as individuals and as a nation, and it makes me even prouder to be a part of them. Because now I’ve had a taste of how hard this is – and the fact that a nation this tiny has accomplished so much despite being constantly under attack is nothing short of a miracle.