Miriam Herschlag
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Gimme shelter…in Tel Aviv

My landlord gave me information about where to go in case of an air-raid siren...and then he said something really important
A bomb shelter somewhere in Israel – most probably not in Tel Aviv (via iStock)
A bomb shelter somewhere in Israel – most probably not in Tel Aviv (via iStock)

One night last week, the secret soldiers who carry out their classified duties in an unmarked military facility in an undisclosed location somewhere in Tel Aviv were having a very loud karaoke party. I could hear it from my place, and so I meandered across the street just to get a closer listen.

Their singing was more enthusiastic than tuneful – whoever had the mic (and I heard several in succession, male and female) was backed up by the rest of them, all having the time of their young lives at the top of their powerful lungs.

I found their exuberance so amusingly incongruous that I had half a mind to record them, but you probably would have to have half a mind to do that: Standing with a recording device at the perimeter of an unmarked military facility in an undisclosed location somewhere in Tel Aviv might not be the smartest move.

This secret – or at least secretive – facility came up in a conversation earlier in the week when my landlord stopped by. I hadn’t talked with him since we moved into the apartment five and a half months ago – he’s a sort of hands-off, live-and-let-live-in-my-house kind of landlord. But he came to fetch some mail and we chatted.

You know, he said to me, this building does have a bomb shelter.

This was news – and it seemed important. Somehow we never got around to asking what our options were in the event we needed to make a run for it. The only possibility I’d seen in the ‘hood was a public shelter that would take us around seven minutes to reach if we ran fast – by which time the all-clear would have sounded and we’d look awfully silly arriving out of breath just as everyone was leaving.

And indeed, the question of where to run had actually come up just a week and a half earlier, during the brief but vicious clash with Gaza, when sirens had twice warned Tel Avivians that rockets were coming their way. We weren’t home, in fact we were out of the country, but our son was staying in the apartment.

Yup, my landlord said, and pointed. The bomb shelter is at the end of this row of units. But you can’t use it – no one can, because there’s radon. It’s toxic. Lots of the old bomb shelters have a problem with radon.

Oh. Well. Thanks…I guess.

But his point – and he did have one – was that we don’t need to run to any shelter, because our apartment is so well-built, it’s practically its own bomb shelter.

The reason for this, he said, was that these buildings were built back in the day by the Berman Workers construction company, and they built the place for their own families so they went above and beyond the normal requirements. The steel bars inside the support columns are twice as thick as they need to be. Nothing, said my landlord, will knock this building down.

So I said, well that’s a good thing because there kind of is a target, you know, not too far from here.

So Moyshele – my landlord’s name is Moyshele – he said, nah, not gonna happen – nobody knows about that place. And why would you strike there, when you’ve got the Kirya military headquarters just over there? He gestured toward the location not too far to our north.

Oh, that’s a good point, I said. I’m very reassured.

You know, I say to Moyshele, I asked my son where he thought was the best place to go when there’s an air raid siren, and he says right there, in the foyer of the apartment, near that corner.

And Moyshele looks at where I’m pointing, and he says, that’s exactly the right place. Your son is very smart.

And I don’t quite know how to feel about a secret military facility where I can hear the soldiers partying, or about a public bomb shelter that’s too far away, or about a residential bomb shelter marinating in carcinogenic gas, or about an apartment building constructed in 1957 that can supposedly withstand a rocket constructed in 2022, or about the risk of living in a city that is almost never the target of rockets except when it is, but as God is my witness, I do love it when someone tells me my kid is smart.

About the Author
Opinion and Blogs editor at The Times of Israel (Cover photo needlework by Yocheved Herschlag Muffs.)
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