Shabbat dinner with my cousins is always tons of fun. Dina and Yair work together as a couple to provide Jewish opportunities to the 8,000 students at Sapir College in Israel’s southern city of Sderot. They arrange Torah classes and invite students into their home. For many students, this is their first positive religious experience and for others it is a reminder of their families and feels like home. Each week they host students in their dining room for kiddush (the prayer over wine at Shabbat dinner), challah bread, and a warm family Shabbat dinner. This week, the guests included students studying in the school of social work and my wife, myself, and our cute baby son.
My wife and I had finally put our 1-year-old to sleep and were sipping soup and listening to a student tell a story about his adventures traveling on a motorcycle in Thailand. Suddenly, a sharp, oddly calm, almost robotic announcement came over loudspeakers.
“Tzeva Adom – Code Red.” We know that we have 15 seconds to run to a bomb shelter as a rocket speeds towards us. This is not a test.
There goes Shabbat dinner.
We all bolt up and, as if practiced, run to the bomb shelter at the back of the house. Ten seconds left.
I run into our bedroom and scoop the sleeping baby out of his crib. Like a football player running downfield. I hold him under one arm and guide people down the hallway to the shelter with my other. Tzeva adom…tzeva adom…tzeva adom…three seconds left.
We dive into the shelter and slam shut the heavy vault door just as the first blasts shake the walls and rattle the roof. From the window which was open a crack we see bright blasts illuminating the sky. The light of the Shabbat candles is replaced by the darkness of the bomb shelter.
With shocked stares the guests whisper to one another wondering how long this will continue. Our sleepy 1-year-old claps his hands and screams BOOM BOOM, the same way that he would if he knocked a box of cereal off the table. For him, this is about the same thing as a falling cereal box. For the rest of us, the muscles in our backs tense up and adrenaline courses through our bodies as we realize that rockets are attracted to our Shabbat dinner just as the guests are.
Ten minutes later, we leave the shelter to sit around the table once again and pretend that things are normal. After a second barrage of rockets half an hour later, we decide to leave our son in the bomb shelter overnight with the other kids. At least we will not need to wake them up if more rockets are fired at us. Indeed, at 2 a.m., when we are awakened by an ear deafening announcement “Tzeva Adom – Code Red,” we jump out of bed and are in the bomb shelter within 15 seconds, happy that our son did not wake up from the alarms and the blasts.
The Tzeva Adom announcements were followed by more distant blasts as the Israeli army retaliated and attempted to stop the rocket barrage. 3 a.m, I lay in my bed, wide awake, listening to the buzz of helicopters and drones overhead.
In the morning, the sun was shining and the sky was quiet. It was as if nothing had happened the night before.
The news reported “The Israeli army said that Palestinians launched 10 rockets from Gaza into Israel on Friday evening, eight of which were intercepted. Police said that a home in the southern city of Sderot sustained a direct hit, causing damage but no casualties.”
The dry, factual report, belies the fact that WE got bombed at Friday night dinner! That thousands of families cower in fear on both sides of a border as rockets glare and bombs are bursting in the air. That babies are scooped up in the middle of the night and carried like footballs to bomb shelters. That Shabbat dinner involves more running than eating.
As I stroll to synagogue on that quiet morning all I can think about is the song with which we began Shabbat dinner.
“Shalom Aleichem malachei hashareit…”
“Peace unto you, ministering angels, messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.”
Peace unto you and peace unto us all.