We returned from a visit to the US two weeks before the Gaza war started. When my friends in Tel Aviv asked how my trip was, I told everyone the same thing: it was wonderful seeing my family, but I’m so happy to be home – there’s nowhere like Israel. Little did I know what was waiting for me. And this isn’t my first war; in the summer of 2014, I experienced my fair share of rockets. But this is my first war as a mother, and it’s a whole different animal.
I was alone with my kids on Tuesday night (my husband was on his way home) when the first barrage of 150 rockets hit Tel Aviv, and I was unprepared. In Tel Aviv we get a 90-second warning, which is light years compared to residents of the south, who get only 15 seconds. We are fortunate to have a “mamad”, a safe room, in our apartment. But the metal fortification over the window was open, and it’s heavy as hell, and I panicked counting the seconds trying to slam it closed with one hand while holding my crying 1-year-old with the other.
My 4-year-old didn’t understand what was happening, and while I tried to project calm for her sake, neither of us were. Even as I could hear the Iron Dome missiles shattering the rockets overhead, and I knew that the Iron Dome has an incredible 90% interception rate, I also knew that some rockets would fall, and a sh@tload of shrapnel besides—essentially bombs themselves. I tried to stay calm, but when you hear the sounds of someone attempting to murder you, it’s a sickening feeling — like your heart and your stomach are trying to switch places. (Compounded by the fact that when I open social media and see millions of people online want to kill me also, it just adds to the general awesomeness.)
So I said to my daughter, “Remember how this year we all wore masks, to protect ourselves from Covid? Well, we need to stay in this safe room now, because it protects us also.”
I looked at my baby son, blissfully oblivious, and I teared up thinking about the world we’ve brought him into. The first year of his life spent in the most sterile and limited of environments, learning the human face from behind masks. And now this, tucked to sleep every night in our safe room, with white noise on loud to help him sleep through the explosions.
And I think about my young daughter, the most pure and joyful of spirits, who since Covid has developed some germophobic issues: asking for hand sanitizer on the playground and running to wash her hands the moment we walk in the door. What fears will she develop now, as we spend our days and nights bolting to bomb shelters? She hasn’t been sleeping well this week, so on quieter days, we let her sleep in our bed. Last night, though, was the first time she asked to go to sleep in the safe room – and it broke my heart a little bit. Why does she have to understand at such a young age how unsafe the world is?
And I have my fears. I hear booms all the time. All the time. And sometimes it’s not just in my head – the sirens go on when the projected landing is in my proximity, but even when there’s no siren, I still hear the booms from neighboring cities. I’m always thinking about when the next barrage will be, where we will be. Showering quickly, windows wide open, always listening. And how after a year of the education system being closed, we are once again without daycare, and I am expected to keep the kids fed, entertained and safe—all the while delivering on deadline at work.
My husband, a native-born Israeli, sleeps soundly at night. He received his wartime orientation at the age of 9, during the Gulf War. Ever since I’ve known them, his family likes to joke about the time his father was caught in the bathroom during one of the air raids. Now I wonder, will my kids one day crack black jokes about these days?
Sleep eludes me. I know I’m privileged to write these words, compared to so many others who have it much worse. But I can’t stop thinking about it: in just the last year, the whole planet went to enormous lengths to save human lives: we shut down schools, businesses, entire economies in the effort to save one another from Covid. And then, in wartime, just like that, human beings take each other’s lives. Humans value life so much, and so little. Is there any hope for us?
I want so much more for my kids. They start out happy and hopeful, and I don’t want to contemplate the complexes they are developing at such a young age… and how they’ll have to serve in the army… and run to bomb shelters with their own children one day. I want more for them, and I’m sad that history just repeats itself.
But, I love Israel. I love Israel and its people with all my heart. For those who’ve been here and experienced this magical place, you know what I’m talking about. I always felt that Israel on a cloudy day is brighter than America on a sunny day… there’s just something special in the air here. I never doubt that this is where I want to live and raise my kids.
But it’s a conflict I have to reconcile.