This summer, noises make me jumpy. “What if I miss a siren,” I wonder to myself, thinking of a friend who lives in a neighborhood where she depends on friends to SMS her when the siren blares. The loudspeakers just don’t work right.
What if I’m not near Akiva, our youngest who has special needs, when the siren blows? Happily, he’s coped, even one Saturday afternoon when the siren blew during B’nai Akiva, the local youth movement not known for its organization and planning.
I was less nervous when a siren blared when he was at one of his afterschool programs, where there’s plenty of trained staff and a shelter below. Thankfully, social media stepped in. Within moments, I had heard from his counselor via whatsapp, complete with a picture of Akiva.
Sleeping is complicated, even though I know that my life in Jerusalem has basically remained the same. I don’t live in Sderot; or Ashkelon or even worse, Gaza, but when a siren sounds or a truck backfires, I pause and listen before going back to what I’m doing.
The media barrage, the sights and sounds of rioting locally and the aggressive rhetoric of hatred increase my distress, my sorrow and my fear.
What’s Akiva absorbing, I wonder?
While he doesn’t understand what’s going on, he’s sensitive to our moods and to the attention paid to him, which has been less focused than usual. This morning, when he arrived at my bedside at 5:40 a.m., I wondered if his need to get into bed with us and go through his morning chatter was connected in some way to this chaotic summer of sadness and sirens.
There are few other conversations around the table, at work, on the phone or via email. Starting with the brutal kidnap and murder of Naftali, Eyal, and Gil-Ad, and the horrific murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, followed by the onslaught of rockets, it’s been almost two months of nonstop violence and death.
It’s hard to get any work done during what is normally my busy season. As the co-founder of Shutaf Inclusion Programs, I’ve struggled, along with the rest of the team, to focus and prepare for our biggest program of the year, Shutaf Day Camp.
This year, it’s our largest camp ever, close to 100 children and teens, August 3-21, in Jerusalem. Three wonderful weeks of inclusion, community and fun.
We’ve had to solve new challenges caused by the current, unstable security situation.
We’ve adjusted the program so that our teens will spend more time on-site or only travel on Shutaf buses. We’ve secured a new location for our program, one with spacious, safe rooms on every floor. We’re maxed out on camper spaces and currently have a waiting list, so we’ve opened up another younger children’s group. Even though it’s challenging financially, we’d like to offer stressed-out parents the respite they need and every applicant, a safe, secure, fun and inclusive environment.
They need it. We all do.
We wish we could do more, especially for those children and teens with disabilities and their families in the South. Like the Weissman’s, who moved to Israel from Washington State in 2013. Parents to three lovely girls, their middle child uses a wheelchair. We ‘met’ online. I recommended against moving to Jerusalem, non known for its accessibility, and recommended Ra’anana, home to the world-renowned Beit Issie Shapira.
They chose Ashkelon for it’s lovely beaches and great weather. According to dad David, “after a bit of worrying, we decided to all sleep in our safe room.” Tremendous understatement given that if they’re not in their safe room, they have only 30 seconds to get to safety. I’m spoiled with a whole 90 seconds.
And we attempt to adjust, grateful for the success of the Iron Dome, grateful that we live in a democratic society, grateful we have the right to agree or disagree.
We live this new normal, tacked on to other normal of disability, the one we hope we created, the one that we hope we conquered when our kids were born, or when they were diagnosed.
We pray that we’re strong enough and resilient enough, to always keep them safe.
P.S. For more about how to prepare a child with special needs for the siren’s wail, read this article from November, 2012.
This article was first published in The Jewish Week’s The New Normal: Blogging Disability on July 21, 2014.