Alison Epstein

‘Bomb Shelter Selfies’: 10 years and counting

A decade after Operation Protective Edge, Anglo-Israelis still take pictures for our Facebook group, with good humor and a focus on the positive
Our daughter Zoe Epstein spent her 14th birthday in the bomb shelter. (courtesy)

Facebook thinks that it’s time to get the party started! A pop-up reminder tells me that the Bomb Shelter Selfies group is 10 years old. But such an anniversary is hardly a cause for celebration. It is an opportune time, instead, to revisit the timeline that Facebook offers.

My husband Stevy and I created the group the day the 2014 Gaza War began, 10 years ago. The first photo was of us and our almost-12-year-old daughter, Maayan. She and her almost-14-year-old sister Zoe were supposed to be at scouts’ camp. But the previous night, they and thousands of campers had to be evacuated when Hamas launched dozens of rockets into Israel.

It was Zoe’s turn on the hammock when the siren went off. There were no bomb shelters in Eshtaol Forest. The kids just had to hit the ground. Maayan remembers booms; Zoe remembers smoke. They both remember being sent on separate busses home to Rehovot.

The next day, Hamas doubled the number of rockets it launched into Israel. It was war, and a new Facebook group was born.

The first selfie posted to the group, on July 8, 2014. L-R: Stephen Epstein, Maayan Epstein and Alison Epstein.

Over the nearly seven weeks of Operation Protective Edge (a.k.a., Tzuk Eitan), there were many posts to our growing Facebook group of mostly English speakers. There were similar groups for Hebrew speakers, and we all made the news.

There were funny and endearing bomb-shelter posts:

  • A young man picking up his date and having to spend 10 minutes with her family in the mamad (protected room). (Happy ending: They got engaged about a month later!)
  • Lots of people in their jammies.
  • Lots of doggies and even a few bunnies. “In Be’er Sheva. No bunny left behind.”
  • People in shelters and wearing only towels.
  • People in shelters and wearing only towels meeting their neighbors who also are wearing only towels!

The point was to keep smiling, giving each other courage and sharing our gratitude. (Despite some ludicrous complaints – Why didn’t Israel build shelters for Gazans? – it was never about gloating.) For many parents, posting a selfie with their kids was the best way to focus on the positive.

Not every selfie was full of smiles. But, thank God, we were safe.

Six years after Tzuk Eitan, Stevy and I moved to Ashkelon, site of one of the five cities of the ancient Plishtim (Philistines), who warred for generations with the Israelites. Hamas targeted modern-day Ashkelon heavily in 2021 and in the current war. There were more Bomb Shelter Selfies.

Also, since 2014, our daughters moved on – from scouts camp to boot camp. One completed her IDF service and was called up for miluim (reserve duty) during this war, as was her husband. The other is in keva (extended service) as an NCO.

Most of their friends from scouts and school served in the IDF and continue to serve. These Gen Zers are some of the best and bravest defending our country now. They make their parents proud.

Like all parents in Israel, we had hoped our children would know peace. Stevy and I brought Zoe and Maayan as little girls to Israel after the Oslo Agreements and just months after the Disengagement. We didn’t come as a result of those political events. But to us, the dream of peace in our lifetimes seemed within reach. Surely, things were moving in a hopeful direction.

But the dream began to fade just months later, with the kidnapping by Hamas of Gilad Shalit. And then Hezbollah’s deadly ambush and abduction of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev and the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006. It grew fainter with Operation Cast Lead (winter 2008-2009), Operation Pillar of Defense (2012), and the aforementioned Operation Protective Edge (2014) and Operation Guardian of the Walls (2021). And in between there were car-rammings, the “knife intifada,” and an untold number of other terror attacks.

Sometimes during this war, I have wondered whether we did the right thing to make aliyah (moving to Israel) with our daughters. But then I ask myself: Where is it better or safer to be a Jew today?

This war has made me realize that the Jewish timeline is much longer than I had imagined. There have been 3,800 years of Jewish history in this land, going back to Avraham. But now, I can imagine myself standing on a dot on a timeline that could stretch for another 3,800 years.

Or even further.

This war has sharpened my Jewish identity, as it has done for many Jews in Israel and the Diaspora. And it has tested my faith.

This past Shabbat, I looked anew at Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith. He died more than 800 years ago, after a life that involved exile and deep personal loss. Perhaps he too saw the long timeline.

Principle 12: I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah and even though he may tarry, nevertheless, I yearn every day for his coming.

He did not give up hope. Nor will I.

I yearn for the day when we can finally close our Facebook group. In the meantime, we’ll keep posting, giving Israelis strength, and keeping the faith.

About the Author
Alison Tranbarger Epstein lives in Ashkelon, Israel, with her husband Stephen. A former journalist, she works as a graphic and web designer and online-content manager.
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