Author’s note: Around a year and a half ago, during the last spate of rocket attacks from Gaza, I wrote a reflection trying to capture the experience for the hundreds of thousands of Israelis living within striking distance of the rockets. As we have entered another war with Hamas, and face a barrage of rockets all over the country once again, I feel it appropriate to once again share a glimpse of what it is like here in Israel. But I want to make two important introductory points:
- My intent here is not to minimize the impact that the current war is having on those living on the front lines- particularly those communities that have dealt with constant sirens and attacks, including many direct hits — causing many deaths, injuries, anxiety, and panic for tens of thousands of families over the last week and a half. My main purpose is to give a glimpse into the impact that these rocket attacks have even on the hundreds of thousands of families who live outside the main target areas, but are still within range of the rockets. Its important for people to hear our experience as well, in order to get a full perspective on the impact of these rocket attacks on Israeli society.
- My intent is also not to be overly dramatic. B”H overall we feel safe, and we are generally able to go about our lives and schedules, with some adjustments — we are not walking around in constant fear and anxiety, though our thoughts and tefillot are always with those who are living that reality. Again- my purpose here is simply to share the impact it has had on us overall.
Below are reflections (in the form of a daily timeline) on the past week:
Monday, May 10th (Yom Yerushalayim)
The past few weeks there have been many reports of rioting and fighting around Yerushalayim — including on Har Habayit as well as around East Jerusalem. While we wish there was never any violence, unfortunately, they have become commonplace, especially around the time of Ramadan. So it all seemed pretty normal, and didn’t really seem like a cause for extra concern.
6:00pm– I am driving to the annual Rikkud Degalim march in Yerushalayim with three of my kids, meeting my parents there. As we enter Yerushalayim, my wife, Shifra, calls me with reports that the rioting has gotten worse around Yerushalayim, including rioting on Har Habayit and rock-throwing at the Kotel. She also mentioned that the news reported that Hamas fired a number of rockets towards Yerushalayim, and that one landed near Telz Stone, at the outskirts of Yerushalayim — and that the march has been canceled. This is all news to me — as we didn’t hear any siren driving in — and since we are only a few minutes away, we decide to go and see for ourselves. We get there, and there is still a large celebration going on. Thousands of teenagers and families fill the streets of King George/Keren Hayesod singing and dancing for Yerushalayim — through a bit of a smaller group than usual.
We meet up with my parents, and they confirm that there was in fact a siren in Yerushalayim a little while ago that we somehow missed while in the car. It’s a bit of a shock — because it always seemed that Yerushalayim was a place that the enemies would be hesitant to attack by rocket. No one knows where this is going to go.
As we continue on the Rikkud Degalim, a large number of people up ahead turn around and walk back — it seems that many high schools and seminaries/yeshivot decided to leave the event following the siren, just to be on the safe side with their students. We decide to keep on going- since things seem safe now.
As we continue, the group gets smaller and smaller, and there is much more security and police presence than before. Whereas in past years, the route would take us through Shaar Shechem in East Jerusalem, this year that is avoided for security reasons. In addition, even the regular route in the Jewish quarter is changed, seemingly for security reasons as well. I find that I am also more cautious than usual as well. If we walk by a group of Arab men or women, normally I wouldn’t really think twice about it — but now I am extra careful or aware, just in case they choose to attack. I don’t love that I am “racial profiling”, but it’s a natural outgrowth of what is going on.
8:30pm — after a few stops and breaks, we finally get to the Kotel, where there are thousands of people singing, dancing, and celebrating Yerushalayim. We join in the festivities, and we are having a great time. Suddenly, we hear a few loud “pops”, and there appears to be fireworks on Har Habayit. Then one of the fireworks accidentally catches fire to a tree, and a huge fire erupts. It keeps getting bigger and bigger, and ashes start to fall down onto those davening at the Kotel. No one really knows what’s going on exactly — what exactly happened and what it is. The singing and dancing continue — as it doesn’t appear dangerous to us, because we are down below- though those close to the Kotel are instructed to move back. But my kids are a bit scared, they want to get out of here and go home. We start exiting the Kotel plaza, and then the firemen come and put out the fire, BH. We end up staying a bit longer, and then make our way to our car.
On our walk back to the car, I receive notification that my children will not have school in person tomorrow, due to the developing security situation. I let the kids know — and my 9-year-old, Yehudit, seems a bit nervous. What does this mean? What is going to happen? I have no answers — but I stress to her that we will listen to whatever security directions we receive while also davening to Hashem to protect us.
As I drive home, I notice many police cars at the exit near Telz Stone — I wonder if that is the area where the rocket landed. Totally crazy.
Tuesday, May 11th
7:50pm — I am leaving the house to go to Tel Aviv. It has been a relatively quiet day by us- while there have been plenty of rioting all over Yerushalayim and rocket attacks down South, and we are constantly thinking about them and davening for them, practically, the attacks didn’t impact us in Shaalvim — aside from my kids being home and my older kids having class by zoom. Shifra, a nurse, was able to go to work normally.
As I leave the house, I mention to Shifra that since she will probably be sleeping when I get back, we should probably decide on a plan on the outside chance that there is a siren in the middle of the night- who should get who? We decide that I will get the baby from the basement and she will wake up the other kids to go down to the miklat. I also ask her to put some food and water in the miklat just in case. Neither of us thinks that there will be any sirens, but given that the situation is somewhat volatile, we decide to plan just in case.
8:30pm — My weekly exercise is playing pickup roller hockey in Tel Aviv, and I am currently on my way there. I am listening to a podcast in the car, with the air conditioning on as well. I am 5 minutes away from the Sportek in Tel Aviv, where the game is, when I look out my left side window and see a shooting star. My initial reaction is “cool!” — but then I realize that the location of the moving light is much too low down in the sky to be a shooting star. Is that a rocket? Is there a siren? I roll down my window, and lo and behold, a siren is clearly going off. What do I do? According to protocol, if a siren goes off when, you should move to the curb, get out, and lie on the floor with your hands over your head. But when driving on a busy thruway with cars all over and no official shoulder of the road, its easier said than done. Not only is it not practical — it’s a bit dangerous to pull over and park your car if the other cars don’t do the same. Up ahead I see a few other cars pulled to the side so I pull up behind them. I get out and then lie down with hands over my head. But then I see the others looking up at the sky- and my curiosity gets the better of me. I look up to see at least 10 lights flying through the sky at various heights, and hear a bunch of booms. I am not sure what is a rocket, and what is the iron dome- but the craziness of it then hits me. This is Tel Aviv — not a community on the border of the country — to see so many rockets fired toward this area at once feels a bit disconcerting — as the terrorists are clearly increasing their capabilities.
The siren ends — but now what to do? Before I can decide, a minute later, another siren comes, with more lights in the sky, and more booms. Watching these lights is very surreal — at one point, your mind can play with you and have you thinking at the light is coming davka in your direction. On the one hand, on another level it feels far away, and I don’t feel like I am in immediate danger. Confused emotions.
After the second siren finishes, I watch the others in front of me before deciding what to do. I put on the radio to hear what is happening and check the news. I hear that there were sirens over much of the country, including Modiin and the area where I live. I want to call Shif and the kids- but then I realize that I need to move my car first, as I am pulled over on the side of a thruway blocking a lane with cars speeding by.
I get in and pull over at the next exit. I call Shifra to check in. She confirms that they had a siren — which meant she had to grab the baby from the basement and the other 4 kids into the miklat herself- but BH they are overall okay. Our Yehudit, is the most shaken up, which is to be expected. Yehudit gets on the phone, crying, and asks what I did when the siren went off by me. I explain to her that I did what I am supposed to do — and that she should also continue to do exactly what they are told to do. BH she calms down- and I promise to come home as soon as I can.
Now what do I do? On the one hand, I want to get home as soon as possible to be with my family. On the other hand, its around a 40 minute drive, and from what I can tell, being on the road is the most dangerous place to be during a siren. I am torn. As I consider my options, another siren goes off. This time I am near a building and try to go inside, but it is locked so stay under the awning, watching the sky once again light up.
I then decide that I will just drive home and hope for the best- there is nowhere else to go, and I want to get back to my family. This time, I have my windows down and radio on. I hear the news of a direct hit in Cholon, which is only a ten minute drive away, as well as in Rishon Letzion, a bit further. During my drive home, I have another two sirens. For the first, I was able to pull over to the shoulder and get out. But for the next one, I was at a busy intersection at a red light. Many are cars around me — some keep on driving, others try to pull over. The people in the cars in front of me get out of the car and walk quickly to the nearest building. I don’t feel comfortable just leaving my car in the middle of the busy thruway here, so I get out of my car and wait. After the siren finishes, I get back into my car, but am blocked because the drivers of the cars in front of me haven’t returned. As cars speed by, I am forced to maneuver around the parked cars, almost getting into an accident. As I continue on my way, pondering how dangerous the situation is traffic-wise.
9:30pm — I get home BH- Shifra seems okay — we process whats going on, and she tells me that the fact that I suggested earlier putting food and drinks in the miklat helped her, because it got her thinking about the possibility of a siren- and when it did go off, she was able to jump into action quickly. I go into the kids, who also seem okay. Yehudit is still a bit scared, but I lie with her until she falls asleep.
Before Shifra and I go to sleep, we download an app on our phone that alerts us if there is a siren in our area — and again make a plan for getting the kids if there is a siren in the middle of the night.
3:00am — I wake up to use the restroom, and as I get back into bed, Shifra asks if I heard any siren. I did not. She says she didn’t hear one either, but she did hear a big boom. Since we didn’t hear a siren or an alert, we decide not to do anything. The next morning we find out that there was in fact a siren that we missed.
Wednesday, May 12th
9:00am — coming back from davening, there is a lot of chatter on the community WhatsApp group about what’s going on. Lots of jokes/memes going around- this is part of how we deal with the stress as a community. One of my favorite jokes is that “once we are already up in the middle of the night anyway, we might as well just learn throughout the night and celebrate Shavuot night now, and get it over with!” A big discussion ensues on the group as well regarding Arab riots taking place in Ramle and Lod — both cities close to us — and these worry many almost more than the rockets do, because it is something new and within our borders. A debate ensues regarding Arabs in our communities, and employing Arabs in general. It is a touchy and tricky topic, with many emotions flying in both directions.
7pm — I go to Mincha a couple of blocks away. During silent Shemone Esrei, a few loud booms are heard. It’s a bit hard to concentrate, anticipating a siren any second — but we do our best. Walking home from Mincha, I discuss with my neighbors whether our basement can count as a safe room as well, since it’s underground. Some seem to think it does, others think it does not.
9pm — The younger kids were put to sleep, but Yehudit cant fall asleep. She gets all worked up, and it seems to be getting worse. She went into our room to try and sleep there, but now she seems to be having trouble breathing- it seems like the start of a minor panic attack. BH after some time she falls asleep.
11pm — Shifra and I get ready for bed. We decide to put our baby in a pack n play in the miklat so there is one less person to have to get if there is a siren. Yehudit had fallen asleep earlier, but woke up when we came in and now she can’t fall asleep again. Again she has trouble breathing. We have her come into our bed and after some time she is able to fall asleep- though she will wake up a lot throughout the night. I go into our older two to wish them good night, and our 11-year-old, Chaim, is crying — he’s scared. I sit with him and assure him that hopefully everything will be okay. He also BH falls asleep. As I fall asleep, I feel sad that my kids have to deal with this at such a young age.
That night, as well, apparently there was a siren at around 3am both Shifra and I missed. While we wish we had heard it — in retrospect, now that we know that nothing happened, perhaps it’s a bracha that we didn’t hear it and wake everyone up in the middle of the night.
Thursday, May 13th
7am — I am lying in bed about to get up, and outside a hear a large boom. I jump up, thinking it’s a siren, and it turns out it was just the garbage truck driving by making a large noise.
8:00am — I am davening Shacharit, and a few times I think that I hear the beginning of a siren. But it’s nothing. I am reminded of the passuk from the Tochacha that describes a situation where Am Yisrael will run away from a noise, thinking they are being under attack, when it was really just the wind rustling the feathers. It feels the same here — every little noise I think is a siren.
Schools are canceled in the area again. I need to go into Yerushalayim for work- and because we can’t leave the kids alone at home in case of a siren, my wife needs to take a vacation day. On the radio, I hear debates about what Israel should do. On the one hand, some want the fighting to finish so that we can go back to our regular lives. But then I hear the mayor of Sderot get on the radio, begging the Israeli government to carry out a large operation and stop Hamas once and for all — so that residents of Sderot won’t have to live with the fear of rocket right every couple of weeks. I hear both sides.
On the community Whatsapp group that I am in, many are posting updates from the communities in Lod, Ramle, and Akko, who are facing nightly rioting, violence, arson, and damage. Many have friends or family living there. Volunteer groups are forming to travel to these cities and either protest peacefully in support of the Jewish communities, or for the more brave, to join those armed individuals who are actively protecting these families. Yet others are organizing volunteer families who are willing to host families from these cities, or those on the Gaza border- for Shabbos or Shavuot — in order to give them a bit of a respite. Tens of families sign up. Mi k’amcha Yisrael!
10:00pm — I just finished teaching in Yerushalayim and am getting ready to drive home. I called to check in at home, when my wife suddenly says “there’s a siren, I got to go!”. I feel horrible again that she needs to deal with gathering all the kids herself again — and wait a few minutes before calling to see how they are- BH they are okay.
I arrive home a half-hour later, and the kids are wired. They all decided that they want to sleep in the miklat together in case there is another siren. We move the baby and put mattresses down — it’s almost fun for the kids to all sleep together- though it does take them a while to fall asleep after all the action. Yehudit seems to be getting a bit better- still has some trouble breathing before bedtime, but not as bad as before. Hoping that it means the worst for her has passed. Chaim also has trouble sleeping- which isn’t unusual for him in general, but here it’s connected to the rockets and violence. When I come down to check on him a bit later in the miklat, he is lying in his bed saying Tehillim. I am both incredibly proud and heartbroken at the same time.
Tonight, as we go to sleep, we make sure to leave the windows wide open so that we hear any siren. BH there aren’t any.
Shabbos, May 14-15th
1:15pm — it’s been a relatively quiet Shabbos so far. No sirens — though at the end of lunch, there are a few booms, and from our backyard, we can see the smoke from what appear to be iron dome missiles.
Usually, as we finish our lunch on Shabbat afternoon, our kids go off to play with friends and we don’t see them for pretty much the rest of the day. But today, we are more careful — Dovi, our 6-year-old, has to stay on the block, he cants go to the local park because there is no miklat nearby. We tell Yehudit that she can go to a friend, but they need to stay inside someone’s house, where there is a miklat. The same with our older two. As they all go on their way, I think about how sad it is that my kids have to live with this reality, and that it has become somewhat “normal” for them.
12:30am — I get into bed, open up the door to our mirpeset and windows to make sure we hear any siren. All of a sudden I hear a bunch of booms, and I hear some neighbors talking excitedly about what they see. I walk out onto the mirpeset and see what appears to be a light show — a whole array of lights and explosions. While it’s clearly far away from us as there are no sirens, it still feels so close.
It quiets down and I get into bed to go to sleep. As I fall asleep, I feel a mix of emotions. Sadness at the situation, especially for those on the front lines dealing with the constant rocket fire. Apprehension of what is to come. Thankful to those protecting us. And davening to Hashem that He should give our leaders the strength and wisdom to do what’s right- whatever that is, because I sure don’t know.