I have lived in Israel for more than 12 years at this point, and over those years we have had plenty of skirmishes with Hamas. Within the first 6 weeks of being in Israel, living in Beer Sheva, Hamas shot rockets at the city, and many other locations. This was my first experience with a siren going off and having to run to a shelter. My first, but by no means my last. During my time in Beer sheva there were a number of occasions in which Hamas launched rockets and we had to take cover, not always within a shelter. I can clearly remember one time I was out riding a bike and the siren sounded, there was nowhere to run into so we laid on the ground and covered our heads. Suddenly the ground shook and we knew something happened. A rocket hit a kilometer away, in a school playground, and I understood then how serious things could be.
Once I moved to Tel Aviv I thought things would be quiet, because it was very rare for rockets to be sent to that area. However, in late 2012 Operation Pillar of Defence was launched and once again I found myself running for shelter – except this time with the knowledge that my now husband was on the front lines. Having a loved one in the army, or as a reservist during these times is nearly unbearable and yet it is also a known part of life.
In the summer of 2014 we were once again launched into life with sirens, except this time I had my 6 year old stepson to think about. Something changes in a person when they are no longer running to a shelter for themselves, but also carrying their child or worrying where they are when the siren goes off.
Things were relatively quiet, regarding rockets, until May of 2021, when my son was set to have his Bar Mitzvah. Unfortunately, it was exactly at this time that Hamas began launching rockets once again, and we were unable to go to the Kotel to have his ceremony. It is rare that rockets reach Jerusalem so we never imagined having to cancel his dream ceremony. But this time what was rare became reality and we were forced to make changes. Luckily we still had a beautiful day, despite the sirens.
Over my 12 years the sirens have simply been an unpleasant aspect of living in Israel. For me, they were the worst the situation could get. Suicide bombings feel like a thing of the past for me, and apart from the occasional terrorist attack, life is very normal here. Then came October 7th. And every morning since has also been October 7th. Collectively, as Israelis, and possibly as Jewish people, we wake up every morning reliving that day.
My husband woke me up at 9:10am and simply said “Jen, you need to get up. We are at war with Hamas and there are terrorists infiltrating Israel. Check your phone”. The shock of that statement still comes to me every morning, except now, when I wake up, he doesn’t need to tell me to check my phone, it is the first thing I do, before my eyes are even completely open. For me, it is the unimaginable thought that there were terrorists infiltrating the cities in the south. Something I never, in my wildest nightmares, could comprehend.
We were taken completely by surprise by the attacks of the 7th, meaning all factions of society, government, and military. The events that unfolded over the next couple of days haunt us all still, and will stay with us forever. For my generation, especially in Israel, this is our pogrom, a living nightmare.
It is hard for me to put into words what those first few days of war were like. My focus was so completely on keeping my kids safe and oblivious to the horrors that were happening just outside our door. We lasted 11 days in Israel after the 7th before I brought my 3 kids home to Saskatoon. We stayed for 6 weeks – being physically removed from the conflict but mentally and emotionally still stuck every second, of every day, in the dark reality that had taken over this beautiful country. I became obsessed with knowing everything that happened on October 7th, thinking if I had more information I could understand better. Unfortunately, there is no understanding of the barbaric atrocities that were committed on that Black Shabbat, and now I am stuck with the knowledge that there is pure evil in the world, and worse, it is close to home.
When we made the decision to come home to Israel it was not because everything was back to normal and there is no longer any danger here. It was an incredibly difficult decision to make, but in the end we understood this war was not going to end any time soon and we needed to continue with our lives, which is in Israel.
So what is it like being in Israel now, with the war happening? Well, for me, it is constantly walking on eggshells. Being aware of your surroundings at all times, and especially watching what you are saying and to whom. The reason for this is simple: everyone knows someone who was murdered on the 7th, or has lost someone in the defense of Israel in the months that followed. Or, best case scenario, they “simply” have a loved one who is currently fighting for our freedom on the front lines.
It is being hyper aware, all the time; where is the closest shelter? Where I am taking my kids when the next siren sounds? Which car seats they are sitting in; are they the ones with the 5-point harness that take longer to get them out of, or the boosters that are less safe, but faster to get off?
It is waking everyday to see the names of the young men and women who have died the past day fighting for my right to live in a Jewish country.
It is sitting with my son when he found out that a boy he knew died by throwing himself on a grenade to save many people; talking to him about what a hero this 19 year old was and how beautiful it is that he got to know him.
It is supporting our neighbor who has 3 little kids and a husband on reserve duty for the last 10 weeks.
It is celebrating Hannukah with a dark cloud hanging over everything, but pretending for the kids. Thinking of those who are not celebrating with their families.
It is feeling overwhelming sadness every time you think about the hostages and their families, which is constant. What they have been through, and what over 130 hostages are still going through.
It is looking at my beautiful daughters and trying to find the best way to answer their questions: Why do people not like us? Why are they shooting rockets at us? Why do they want to hurt us? What happens if we meet a terrorist on the street, will they try and kill us?
It is feeling an even stronger connection to Israel and the Jewish people. It is feeling safer in Israel than any other place in the world with the rapid antisemitism that is spreading like a disease.
It is waking up every morning proud that I am raising Jewish and Israeli kids who will be strong and resilient, and will one day, proudly serve in the IDF like the brave men and women we keep in our thoughts every day.