Onnie Schiffmiller

Transitioning from the Sprint to the Marathon

I wrote the update below at about 4:00 PM yesterday.  I stepped away from my computer for what I thought would be just a few minutes.  At 5:00, Hamas launched a barrage of rockets and our sirens wailed. We weren’t in the bomb shelter for very long.  We emerged physically unscathed and went about our regular activities. But psychologically, I’m feeling so much more fragile than I was just a few hours ago. I thought of not publishing this piece because it no longer represents my mood. I was feeling a little more “normal”, and now I’m not. Ultimately, I decided to post it because I’m on an emotional rollercoaster.  The entire Jewish people, and their supporters, are also on this ride.  Publishing the piece, along with this prequel, is the only way I know how to share what life is like here right now.

We sprinted during the first days of the war. Don’t think, do! Clean the safe room. Buy extra food. Store extra water. Keep the children occupied. Cook for soldiers.  Buy supplies for soldiers. Go to a funeral. Pay a shiva call. Shower. Repeat. We simultaneously loved and hated our televisions.  Revolted by the reports but wanting to know everything that was happening. No time to think.  Just do.

But now we’re more than two weeks into the war and we’re learning how to live in this surreal reality. It’s simultaneously welcoming and scary.  My husband and I went out for coffee. A simple pleasure we hadn’t enjoyed for two weeks.  Most stores are open, and shoppers are tentatively purchasing again. And the Israeli drivers?  Don’t worry, their politeness was short-lived.  Just like before October 7th, horns are an acceptable substitute for brakes, and signaling is optional.  Oh, well.  And the children are back to school, sort of. Some parents are terrified that their children will be in school when sirens ring.  Will there be time for them to reach the safe room?  Will they be OK?  Some parents are just not ready to send their children out.  Others need the respite that the school routine provides. And the school’s response? It’s a hybrid system where some children are in school some days but not on other days.  Especially for younger children, it increases the chances that teachers can bring all of the children to safety just in case.  Older children are in school in some areas, Zoom in others. It’s not ideal, but I don’t have a better solution.

I feel both guilty and proud of that last paragraph.  Guilty because there are several hundred-thousand people whose homes and communities have been mercilessly destroyed.  They’re living in the spare bedrooms of strangers who have generously opened their homes.  Others are in youth hostels and still others in hotels that would otherwise stand vacant. Nobody knows when those children will have a place to call home again, and nobody knows how they will attend school.  Yes, some have Zoom but are too traumatized for studies. Guilty because with over 1,400 Israelis murdered and over 3,000 injured, I feel torn apart that I enjoyed a cup of coffee with my husband.

But a colleague made an astute observation.  He argued that the best thing we can do is continue with our normal lives so that our sons and daughters serving on the frontlines know that they really are protecting their country. When we share our guilty pleasures with them, we’re conveying that they are succeeding in their goal:  to allow us to enjoy daily life in our country. He served in the Israeli army reserves for twenty years.  I’ll gladly take his advice.

And pride? I am proud because the country has so successfully mobilized that we are creating a country that can function in wartime.  Proud that are refusing to throw the covers over our heads even though it’s sometimes exactly what we want to do.

About the Author
Onnie Schiffmiller is a tour guide and the owner of Israel with Love. She made aliyah with her family from New York in 2003.
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