Zahava Kalish
A proud Jewish Zionist originally from London, Israeli-in-training since 2014. Married mother of two.

Normality and War

A Flag of Israel on Masada
A Flag of Israel on Masada. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

There’s this stereotype of Israel being a war zone, but most people who live here would say that, for the most part, it doesn’t feel like that. Despite occasional spates of rocket, stabbing or car ramming attacks. This time feels different though.

Last week, there was no initial shock wearing off, after the news came out on October 7th. Instead it only grew by the day, as the numbers of victims went up and as details of atrocities were revealed. Mass murder, events reminiscent of the Holocaust, the largest massacre of Jews since then – something unthinkable to happen in this lifetime, in 2023 in our historical homeland, where we came and established our own army to prevent such things ever happening again.

I’ve been dreading going to bed each night, afraid of what I’ll read in the news the next morning. I’ve tried to avoid certain pictures, videos, horror stories, but it was inevitable I’d see things, scrolling through social media, reading articles even if they weren’t specifically about things Hamas did. I just see a phrase and my mind plays images that seem like they come directly from hell, not a planet where humans live and breathe.

One night I worked late (a welcome distraction) and as soon as I finished, the racing thoughts started. I lay in bed for hours, shaking and my stomach churning, as I thought about all the worst case scenarios of what had already happened and what could happen. At 5am I messaged my sisters, who it turned out were both also awake. I’m trying so hard to keep it together, keep things positive and normal and functional at home, to work productively, take care of and play with and appreciate the extra time with my kids – I had to dump my negativity somewhere. 

We’re trying to find this balance between normality and caution. For a week and a half, our kids hadn’t been further from the house than our balcony. By yesterday things seemed to be calmer at least in Jerusalem on the home front, so I took the kids to visit my sisters and cousin, the whole walk planning where we’d go if there was a siren. A couple of hours later, my sister’s rocket alert app went off, but we couldn’t hear a siren. In Jerusalem we’re supposed to get 90 seconds’ warning, so I stuck my head out of the garden door to check if I could hear a siren outside. Instead I saw two rockets streaking across the sky above us. My baby was buckled in her pram. I made the quickest decision I’ve ever made, to unbuckle her rather than try to wheel the stroller through the apartment, and we all bundled into the safe room.

A week and a half ago, that might have meant I’d stay home for another week. But who knows how long this war is going to last. Schools and kindergartens that have shelters are beginning to open again. We have to figure out how to live in this reality. So this morning I took the baby the five minutes walk to her regular physiotherapy session, planning ahead where exactly we would go if there was a siren at any point. 

In theory we want to stay home as much as possible except for necessities, but it’s a necessity to get fresh air and a walk, groceries, a change of scenery. 

It’s also necessary for one’s sanity to _not_ follow the news all day. My work gives me something productive to do, something to focus on and get lost in. One of the compartments in all the compartmentalizing going on. My kids are another blessed distraction. I’ve even occasionally watched a TV show to take my mind off things because my mind so badly needed a break. And when my stomach stops churning and my appetite comes back, my husband makes comfort food for me

But all the moments of normality are tinged with guilt and fear. 

Guilt that we can even enjoy such luxuries, while others are at best displaced from their homes, at worst grieving loved ones or agonizing over the unknown fate of hostages, and in between, like many people I know, praying for their husbands, sons or brothers away in the army.

Fear for our soldiers, those we know personally and those we don’t, for our people suffering, and for the war that has to be won.

Meanwhile, my daughter goes back to kindergarten tomorrow, which has been moved to a different building that has a shelter, since the old one doesn’t. Tonight I briefed her in Hebrew about sirens and rockets, since she only knew the words in English until now. I feel like her initiation as an Israeli child is complete, in the saddest way.

And yet still, I feel grateful and privileged to be living in this amazing, special, unique, miracle country of ours. Yes we are also terrified and vulnerable, but the Jewish people and our country has seen miracles before – and we have to believe and pray that we will see them again soon, that our good, heroic, brave soldiers will win, do us proud, and make our enemies regret trying once again to destroy the Jewish people.

About the Author
A proud Jewish Zionist originally from London, Israeli-in-training since 2014. Married mother of two.
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