I grew up in the pleasant and sunny climate of Arizona and never enjoyed the classic “snow days” off from school that so many others experienced regularly. My kids, now also growing up in warmer climates, have also not had that joy, vividly described to us by my New Yorker wife, as the magic of waking up early to find there’s nowhere to chase to and everything outdoors so enchantingly altered from the night before. In fact, when we moved back to Tel Aviv from California just a couple months ago, surprisingly one of my kids’ first questions was, “when is it going to snow?” I delivered the obvious yet disappointing answer. Having lived just 20 minutes north of San Francisco, we had experienced many unfortunate “fire days,” where for weeks the smoke was so bad we could only go outside with filtered masks. But soon we were to experience another type of unexpected day off from school…also accompanied by a stark discovery at dawn, but of the type that I uncreatively term a “war day.”
Admittedly, our plight in Tel Aviv was light in this round with the Jihad compared to our compatriots in the many communities just south of us. Leave the extremity of the strain on the actual Gaza periphery towns like Netiv HaAsara, Sderot and Netivot aside, and just consider that Ashdod, some 20 minutes drive southward, had rockets incoming every few hours. All of this held the attention of Tel Aviv residents. But just taking our young children to the apartment building’s stairwell for shelter during an incoming barrage once was enough to set the tone of these “war days,” and clearly left them traumatized. Even in Tel Aviv the effect of minimal rocket fire is apparent to all. One rocket is enough to impress upon everyone the reality of indiscriminate ballistic bombardment. It makes you think twice about what you and your kids wear to bed, picturing bumping into your neighbors in the stairwell. It makes you newly consider the timing and duration of a shower… imagining the more awkward bump into the neighbor… albeit a common one (I recall a neighbor in a towel in 2014.) I have a friend in town who jumped down a whole flight of stairs scrambling for shelter, badly spraining his ankle and now walking on crutches for the foreseeable weeks. Even one rocket thrown into your regular world can alter it irreversibly.
But the true lasting effect includes the involuntary trembling of my 6 year old’s hand while standing in the stairwell, immersed in the eerie slow high and low wail of the air raid sirens, feeling and hearing the explosions somewhere overhead as the awe-inspiring and completely game-changing Iron Dome went into action to protect us. The inevitable questions that follow are a parents’ nightmare. We started out with the semi-silly explanation that ‘just like kids throw things and fight, so do adults, just with exacerbated, high-explosive-tipped rockets.’ But that falls pitifully short when your child asks “but what happens if the missile hits us?” And as they are going to sleep two nights later, “why don’t they want us to live?” Hell of a topic to tackle along with your good-night hug. (If anyone has a good answer to the above, please send it my way.)
We fully realize that this is our welcome to the new reality. I’ve lived along the Lebanese border, where rocket fire was such a staple of life that the nearby town earned the unfortunate name of “Kiryat Katyusha” (Shmona). It’s a place where I learned that rocket insurance on your home was a standard supplement. I met people there whose young son had lost his best friend when a rocket hit the neighboring building one random night. Those harsh realities have now become an inseparable part of the culture in the Gaza periphery, and even as far as the great ‘bubble’ of Tel Aviv. The city has had its fair share of conflict, to be sure, but I’m not sure it has seen an era like this in decades. I’ve lived (and served) through the rocket conflicts of ‘06, ‘12 and ‘14. Those latter felt like and were essentially defined as wars. For all its ferocity, ‘06 didn’t touch Tel Aviv.
What we experienced last week was more of a hybrid; unsure of what it is. We were at war, yet things were supposed to carry on as normal as possible. Covering the live news desk at i24news, I, like everyone else, learned of the incoming storm first thing that morning. Shortly thereafter, sirens were ringing in Tel Aviv, the entire broadcast control team rightfully went to the shelter, and I decided to stay on air, with the backing of my fearless Producer, and an unflappable former IDF intelligence officer as a studio guest, all the while speaking to a motionless camera with no one at the controls, but an international audience catching a mere glimpse of our reality on the other end. It was just another day at work. Our Director of News wrote to the staff this week: “the correspondents that were not used this time will be used in the next round.” With the cancelation of school and, for most, work, and mass uncertainty of when the rocket weather would blow over… “Would it be a couple days…or months?” Everyone here looking to each other for the elusive answer.
It was surreal seeing the city go into a mode that wasn’t quite recognizable. It wasn’t a holiday, it wasn’t Shabbat, but neither a full blown war. Yet disturbed reality was palpable everywhere. Coffee shops suddenly closed up midmorning. Far fewer people than normal were on the streets. Schools took the almost unprecedented step of closing before any rockets had been fired.
Yet we weren’t in any clear situation that we could define. Was it war? Is it just the new reality? It was strange on those “war days,” as our kids anxiously awaited each morning of the week to see if school was on or not. Now dubbed Operation Black Belt, left us uncomfortably questioning this week “did that war just end?” But we all know the answer. More “war days” are definitely in the forecast. We just don’t know which season will bring the storm.