Foreword: The recent rockets attacks from Gaza wreaked havoc for tens of communities close to Gaza — causing injuries, anxiety and panic attacks for many residents, while also disrupting the lives of many thousands of families that live within these communities. While there is no question that the communities of the South are on the “front lines” of these battles each year, and for that all of Am Yisrael owes them tremendous Hakarat Hatov. At the same time, what sometimes goes unnoticed is the impact that these rocket attacks have on the daily lives of tens of thousands of other families- those who don’t live on the periphery but are within range of the rockets from Gaza. It’s important for people to realize the impact that this reality has on these families as well- in order to be able to put into perspective the full impact of these rocket attacks on Israeli society.
As a glimpse of this impact, below are reflections (in the form of a daily timeline) from my day on Tuesday, the first day of the recent attacks.
Tuesday, November 12th
6:45 a.m. My wife Shifra and I wake up and go wake up our children to get ready for school. I check my phone for important news that may have occurred overnight. As the menahel of Midreshet Torat Chessed, a gap-year midrasha in Israel, who is responsible for the safety and security of my students, I receive special text messages any time there are important security updates and information. I see that I received a text message at 5 a.m. about the assassination of al-Ata, a major leader of Islamic Jihad — and already received follow up messages regarding various closings down south in anticipation of the expected rocket response from Gaza.
My immediate reaction is mixed. On the one hand, I fully support the actions taken by the IDF to do what is necessary to send a message to the leaders of our enemies, but at the same time the expected response — and the impact it will have on our lives — is as of yet unknown. A regular day has suddenly become anything but.
7:20 a.m. As we also go through our morning routine of trying to get our sleepy kids out of bed, dressed, eating breakfast, and their lunches and snacks made- there is also a flurry of information and speculation going around. Reports of sirens around Ashdod, and many other Southern communities — every minute or two, updates of more rockets. Many are stopped by Iron Dome, others are not. Now we hear that there are rockets over Rishon Letzion, getting closer to our community of Shaalvim. How far will they shoot? Will my kids have school today?
As my wife and I try to balance our pre-school preparations with all of these questions and concerns, of course are four older children (Temima – 11, Chaim – 9, Yehudit – 7, Dovi – 4) notice something is off and they ask what is going on. As a parent in these situations, you have to find the right balance of what to tell your children and in the right way. The approach that my wife and I generally take is to be honest with our kids and share with them as much information as we feel they can appropriately handle- though there is no question that in Eretz Yisrael kids need to grow up faster and confront this information at a much younger age. We explain to them the situation- my older two children remember the last war in 2014 so for them it is more “normal”, but our 7-year-old, Yehudit, gets nervous and scared — we do our best to calm her down and explain that b’ezrat Hashem everything will be okay. Dovi asks lots of questions as he tries to assimilate this information into his 4-year-old mind as best he can.
7:45 a.m. We receive word that school is closed for our area. I now need to decide what I should do — the seminary I work at is in Netanya, which is further from Gaza and therefore is having a “regular” day, and I also feel a responsibility towards my students who will also need reassurances- do I leave my wife Shifra with all five kids? What if there is a siren and she needs to get all five children into the miklat (safe-room) by herself? Also, my drive to Netanya will take me through Tel Aviv, which has also been virtually closed down as of this morning — is it safe to drive? My wife and I discuss — thankfully Shifra is a very calm and capable person, and she is confident that she will be okay, and she encourages me to go to the seminary. I think that deep down we both are confident that there won’t be a siren in our area anyway.
I get ready to go daven and then go to work — but before then Shifra and I get our miklat ready just in case. We put in food, drinks, an emergency light and phone, games for the kids in case they need to stay in for a while. I say goodbye to my kids, and Yehudit comes running over crying — she doesn’t want me to leave because she is scared. What do you respond to that? We assure her that b’ezrat Hashem everything will be okay, and I leave.
8:50 a.m. Davening is over, and I am on my way to Netanya. I check with my wife and kids that they are okay, and am in touch with the staff at my seminary to check in and see how our students are doing. As I drive, I replace my usual music or shiurim with the news. I remind myself what the instructions are if there is siren while driving — one should pull over to the side, get out of the car, go down on the floor with your hands over your head. But what if there is no place to pull over? If I am on a highway with many cars driving fast, is it safe to just pull over and assume that everyone else will do the same? I am reminded of many people who are injured during these attacks not simply from the rockets themselves but on their way towards the various safe rooms.
9:50 a.m. I arrive in Netanya, where it is peaceful and quiet and feels as if nothing is going on. I teach at 10 a.m., and of course in class we spend the first 15 minutes of class discussing the situation. The students have so many question and concerns- and it is important to me to do my best to allay their fears. One thing I have learned from living here over the years is that it is impossible to predict what is going to be — there are so many possibilities and variables that are at play. That is a bit hard for the students — as they simply want to know what to expect, how long it will last. I try to find that balance between being reassuring and also realistic, confident but honest. I encourage the students that one of the best things we can do is continue to daven and learn that Hashem should protect us and give our leaders the guidance to make the correct decisions. I ask all students do put their phones in a box in the middle of the room, to avoid distractions during the class- they all have the app that goes off each time there is a siren, and I know that if they have their phones during class, they will go off each minute.
11:00 a.m. Class ends, and as usual I go back to my office to check my phone for any updates. My heart skips a beat when I see that at 10:15 a.m., there was a rocket fired over the Modiin area and intercepted by the Iron Dome, with a siren all over the area. I then look to see that I had a missed call from my house, and message from my wife that BH they are all okay. I call home, and Shifra explains that she was down in the basement and didn’t hear the siren, but our son Chaim was playing outside when the siren went off, and he ran in to tell everyone to get into the miklat. Shifra had to gather the kids herself, including waking up our 1-year-old who was napping. She said the kids were great overall — but that Yehudit was scared and crying the whole time. She told my wife that she is scared, and that she wants to move to America, so that this doesn’t happen to us. Shifra explained to her that we daven that Hashem will protect us and that we need to stay her to show the enemies that they can’t win — not sure how much of it resonated with her.
Aside from my concern for the safety of my family, I am concerned for the impact this reality has on my children. It is not normal for a 9-year-old playing outside to hear a siren and run into the house to tell everyone to get into the miklat. It is not normal for my 7-year-old to have to deal with these fears. It is not normal for us to have to explain to our 5-year-old about the “enemies” that want to hurt us. I pray that the lasting impact will not be great.
I ask Shifra if she wants me to come home — I had originally planned to be at work all day today, and to actually stay late and stop off to play hockey in Tel Aviv tonight, my weekly exercise. Should I just forget it all and come home? She says that right now she and the kids are fine, so I should stay — and we will see how the day continues.
Throughout the day, I receive tons of jokes from friends and neighbors via WhatsApp about the security situation. My favorite was a joke making light of both Israel’s security and current political situation — suggesting that once the kids are off from school and it’s a Tuesday, we might as well just go to elections again today (elections in Israel are always held on a Tuesday)! We all laugh and enjoy the jokes — but I can’t help but think that this must be the best way that as a society are able to deal with such intense times — by somehow finding a way to laugh about it.
5 p.m. It has been relatively quiet the last few hours, and it looks like I will be able to keep my original plan of staying late at work and playing hockey in Tel Aviv before coming home. I get a call from the house, and it’s Yehudit, who wants to know when I am coming home. I tell her I will be back late, after she is sleeping, but I will see her in the morning. Are you going to play hockey? Yes. She starts to cry — I don’t want you to, I want you to come home. I assure her that I will be okay, and will be home later.
As I hang up, I begin to question my decision — maybe I should go home to help calm her down? Am I being a bad parent by feeding into her fears? Is she maybe correct, that it isn’t safe for me to be playing hockey out in the open in a park in Tel Aviv?
7 p.m. The kids call me before they go to sleep, again Yehudit is crying and asks me to come home. I speak to my wife, and she assures me that the kids will be fine, I should go about my planned schedule.
We then about how the kids’ day went overall. Shifra tells me that our oldest, Temima, had a birthday party at the kibbutz nearby, but there was a complication — because the house where the party was meant to be didn’t have a shelter, so they had to move the party to a location where they would have enough time to get into a shelter if the siren went off. They even did a test run before the party to make sure it worked. 11-years-olds, a birthday party — and this is what they have to worry about.
10:30 p.m. Driving home from Tel Aviv after getting some great exercise, for the first time today, I allow myself to listen to some music instead of the news (obviously after first calling and checking in on my family). As I get closer to home, for the first time today a sense of calmness comes over me — as I am able to reflect upon the fact that despite all the decisions and questions, despite all the tension, fundamentally I truly feel a sense of safety. I feel safe knowing that our country’s leaders are working day and night to protect us even as they carry out whatever necessary operations must be carried out, and that the level of intelligence that the IDF has is beyond more than I can imagine, and that the incredible protective shield called Iron Dome will continue to do its job. And most of all, I know that our Father in Heaven is watching over us, whatever may come. It’s a distinctly comforting feeling.
11:10 p.m. I finally get home. I get to check on my kids, and sit with my wife to discuss the today. We talk about how each of them are doing, and what we can do to help them through this. School was cancelled again for tomorrow, and as I am off on Wednesdays, we decide to make it a family day together and try to keep things as normal and fun as possible. Temima asked if we could do a little hike in the woods near our house, but we feel it would be best if the whole family stays local.
11:45 p.m. Before we got to sleep, we make sure that the windows in our bedroom are open so that we would hear any siren go off, and we make a plan of action should a siren go off in the middle of the night — she goes to get the baby, and I wake up the other kids and get them down the miklat. We both daven that it should not be needed.
As I doze off to sleep, I think about the hectic day. A day that started out so normal, and yet at points fell like anything but. I think about the thousands of other families who live on the border of Gaza and therefore have to deal with a situation much more intense and scary than mine. I also think about the tens of thousands of families that had a day similar to mine — where on the one hand they were able to mostly go about their regular day, but yet there was so much more to think about, wonder, and consider. I think about the question that Yehudit asked Shifra when in the miklat — why can’t we move to America so that this won’t happen to us? And I remind myself that while the day certainly had its challenges, these are the “yissurim” that come with living in the Holy Land, and defending the Holy Country. I am home — and the greatest thing we can show our enemies is that we won’t leave — we aren’t going anywhere.