We’re 6-years-old and the school year is almost over. First grade: A red backpack on my back, a lunch-pack hanging from my neck. A tight pin in my hair. T-shirt. Maybe shorts, or a skirt. “Comfortable” shoes. It’s a pretty straight route from home to school. My mom walks with me up the stairs, waits for me to cross the street, and waves good bye.
I’m a big kid. I know the way by myself. I know how to handle myself. And I definitely know what to do that morning in early June when the sirens sound. We just practiced it for Yom HaShoah. And Yom HaZikaron. When there’s a siren, wherever we are, we need to stand at attention, bow our heads slightly, and remember our heroes with somber faces. We practiced. We won’t let anyone down. Other kids stand still too.
But wait! This siren is different!! People hurry towards us, waving their hands excitedly, motioning us to run to the school and find shelter. There is no shelter. We sit in the hallways, away from the windows that might shatter.
At home, we have a partially empty “machsan,” sort of a storage “cave” under the house, but not underground, with one dusty orangey light bulb dangling from the ceiling. All the neighbors assemble, huddling together. Every so often, someone walks out to look at the sky in an effort to guess what’s going on. One neighbor brings a “transistor.” He wiggles the antenna as we try to listen to news — rusty, crackly, broken up voices say things we don’t understand and no one explains. My mom is pacing in the semi-darkness worried: her parents live in a moshav right near what was then the Jordanian border. We had visited not long before, to help dig trenches in the orchard, my mom begging her father to come to Haifa, which he, of course, refused.
My other grandma, who lives next door, is not much different. I notice she does not come to the shelter. And I panic. During one of the calms between the sirens, my mom sends me to see what’s with her. She sits near her green, felt-like board, her cards stretched in front of her, trying to figure out which one to put on top. “Omi, Omi,” I call out (yes, in German), “you have to come to the miklat (shelter)!” She doesn’t budge. I inch forward to check if there is room for the 2 of hearts. “Omi?” I try again.
“I survived World War I, and World War II,” she says, “came to Israel and lived through the War of Independence. And the Sinai Operation. I am not going anywhere. If He wants to take me now, He can come right here.”
He didn’t. Not then.
Soon it was all over. Names we had heard only through Torah stories became places we could go visit. At the end of the summer, our parents took us for a day trip to see Jerusalem and the famous sites: buildings with bullet holes in Mt. Scopus; the views to the Dead Sea; the houses and stones (so many stones!) of Mamila; the Kotel — a crowded space near a tall stone wall with people everywhere, people in tears.
Everything feels a bit delirious. We’re told to put a note, and we do. We still do, still ask for mostly the same things. So what. We’re standing next to a home we had 3,000 years ago. If things take a little longer then we expect, that does not mean they won’t happen.