It’s a week and a half since the war in Israel started.
I’m on my way home back to Australia.
Let me describe to you what the past week has been like.
Shabbat- I woke up early in the morning planning to go to the Kotel
Last year on Simchahat Torah, I joined Yehivat Hakotel for an amazing Hakafot around the Arab quarter, where some holy Jews got shot a few years ago.
By going there, singing, dancing and saying words of Torah, we are elevating their souls and showing the Arabs this is our land and we are not afraid.
The first siren went off around 8:30am.
My niece is a nurse at Shaarei Tzedek Hospital. She woke her three kids up, and we all ran into my bedroom, which is the fortified room with a sealed window and door.
We locked the windows with the extra metal protection and the door.
We stayed there for the obligatory five minutes.
We came out slightly shocked, but my sister-in-law told me it’s probably nothing as this never happens in Jerusalem.
I was still planning to go to the old city.
The second siren went off half an hour later.
We repeated the same thing again.
My husband had already left for Shul.
I decided if there were any more sirens, I would not go to the old city. Too unsafe.
And it happened.
The third siren really got us all shaking, especially my niece’s gentle, souled, nine-year-old son.
He was on edge, shouting we must stay in the room for the full five minutes!
I stayed home and worried how my husband was faring.
The kids got kvetchy; one wanted the lolly bag she was going to get in Shul as is customary on Simchat Torah, the younger one wanted to go outside and play, and the nine-year-old wanted everyone to stay inside.
The sirens kept coming, I think three or four more.
Shocked, scared, bewildered and worried were some of the feelings I felt.
Finally, my husband came home, and he reported to me.
Israel had been attacked by Hamas.
We didn’t know too much info at that time. We stayed indoors, not knowing what was happening.
At around 4 o’clock, after a few hours of no sirens, I felt the need to go check up on my mother.
She lives 10 minutes away from my sister-in-law and is in her 70s, and despite my brother being there for Simchas Torah, I wanted to see her and see for myself how she was feeling.
I fully believe that when I am going somewhere to do a mitzvah, I am 100% protected.
So much so that I felt surrounded by angels on each side of me.
I walked calmly and purposefully.
There were few people on the street.
You could feel the heaviness in the air.
In the front of her apartment, there were two boys, one with his army uniform on already, and the other sitting on the bench, tapping his foot.
I asked them what was happening. He told me he was waiting to be called up to the army.
Things weren’t looking good.
My mum was very happy to see me. I stayed for a short time as I did not want to walk home when it got dark.
Saturday night- We got the news-Israel is at war.
Hamas had entered Israel via the Gaza border and had ruthlessly murdered men, women and children.
We did not yet know the extent of it.
My nephew -who is in ‘Miluim’ (reserve duty for when one has finished the army), ran in as we were making Havdalah in his full army uniform.
As he was putting on his boots, I wondered out loud how come they don’t make them shine their boots anymore.
He replied, “Sori, in battle, we don’t have time for shining our boots!”.
Sunday- My niece had to tell her children that they were not going on their much anticipated holiday to Cyprus because their daddy had to go to the army to fight the bad people.
Tears and tantrums ensued.
The 4-year-old was pacified with her mum making her pancakes.
The 7-year-old wasn’t happy until she got a lollipop, and the nine-year-old was totally silent. Worry and pain etched on his face.
I could see the kids needed some distractions.
Since Sunday, there were no sirens; we mostly played in the front yard. Venturing outside was still too scary.
Monday- My niece, who is a nurse at Shaarei Tzedek Hospital was called in to help.
My sister-in-law and husband wanted to go to the funeral of their family friend whose son had just tragically been killed on Shabbat.
This holy boy was a decorated professional soldier (married to a Lederman from Melbourne) who had actually been given a year off for his studies, but as soon as he heard what was happening in Gaza, he had gone to help.
May God avenge his blood.
I happily took charge of the kids.
In situations like this, my best tactic is to do something, to be of service, to help where I can.
We played music, and I tried to get the kids to copy my dancing moves.
Not everyone wanted to join in.
One kid wanted to bang on the piano. Another wanted everyone to watch her dancing moves, another wanted me to whizz her around; it was chaotic.
In the middle of all this, the dreaded siren went off again.
“Quick, quick!”, I yelled,” everyone, let’s go into the room!”.
We all ran as fast as we could into the bedroom. The youngest kid was screaming. “Where’s my Wally book? I want my book,” she yelled even louder than the siren.
I ducked out of the room as quickly as I could, found her book under the table, ran back in and locked the door.
The 9-year-old asked if I secured the window properly. I had not. Bang Bang, I shut it tightly.
The little girl is screaming, “I can’t find Wally on this page!” The other girl says she’s hungry!
The boy is begging me with his eyes to please stay in the room for the full five minutes like his mother dutifully does in the hospital.
“Stay calm,” I told myself, breathe.
Five long minutes later, we went out.
My 9-year-old nephew had a friend coming over. Great. He came.
They played, and then his mother rang to say she urgently needed to pick him up early.
His cousin had died in battle, and she wanted him to come to the funeral.
Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday- Days blur into each other.
What did I do all week?
Where did the days go?
How come I wasn’t even thinking of leaving Israel?
Good questions, I don’t have the answers.
Each day, I would wake up, do ten minutes of stretching, then pray to God to please keep everyone safe, especially the soldiers who are fighting for our country, and then walk to my mother’s house.
On the way, I would call her and ask her what she needed.
She always answered, “I don’t need anything, but u know, Sori, I’m running out of toilet paper..”.
Another day, bread, and every day, I would bring her a little treat to boost her morale. Each day when I went to her, I felt protected by God and an inner peace and tranquility.
My sister-in-law has a place in Cesaria.
My husband went with her to prepare it for the people in the South that had their house burnt down.
The kids were not getting easier.
I don’t tell their mum anything.
She is at wit’s end.
They don’t want to play.
They want to watch kid shows all day.
I tell them in half hour, they have to get off their screens.
They holler when I walk in.
I give them an extra half hour.
Eventually, they listen. They are hungry for food. They eat frozen pizza for breakfast.
I don’t protest. I cut them up carrot sticks.
They want Bamba.
The 9-year-old and I eat the carrots whilst playing Rummikub.
I think on Wednesday I wanted to take the kids to the park. My nine-year-old nephew wouldn’t hear of it.
He told me it’s still unsafe,” too dangerous”, he said
I called another friend over.
We all played Rummikub.
The girls were playing hide and seek in the pantry.
They were really quiet. I was pleasantly surprised.
I poked my head inside the pantry, and they had finished the jar of chocolate spread.
It was all over their clothes, faces and hands. They seemed happy, so all was good. At one point in the day, the electricity in the house went off. No lights, no air conditioning darkness.
I called my sister-in-law. She told me the fridge had been acting up that morning, and that’s the reason it cut off the electricity.
“No need to panic, I told myself, I can handle this”!
Then my delicious 6-year-old niece decided the fish were really hungry.
She poured all the fish food into the fishbowl.
I had to act quickly.
I’m not a fish lover, but I didn’t want the fish to die on my time.
I quickly emptied all the water whilst holding the fish.
He was not very happy.
Quickly quickly, I refilled it with freshwater. It took five years for the water to look clear again.
Phew, disaster averted.
On one of the days, whilst I was babysitting the kids, the doorbell rang. I thought it was one of the kid’s friends, so I buzzed him in.
In walked a Pakistani man with a big backpack.
“Oh No, I thought, he looks armed.
I scanned the room, ready to run out with the kids.
At the same time, I grabbed my phone.
He yanked his phone out of his backpack. “Excuse me, I asked, who are you?”.
I do speak English; where do I start?
I dialed my sister-in-law, fearing the worst. There is a man here with a large backpack; he has an extra finger. Do you know him?”
“Oh yes”, she replied, “He’s the cleaner I use when my other one doesn’t come”.
I was shaking badly.
This is nothing compared to what other people are going through.
My 9-year-old nephew has a Zoom class. Schools have been closed since the war began.
My sister-in-law reminds me he has to listen to it.
He’s not in the mood, he tells me.
I tell his sisters we need to be a little quieter because he has a class.
They only get louder.
After class, I asked him how it went. He said he couldn’t hear a thing, and he was not in the mood of learning anyway.
We chatted about the war. He is worried about his father.
He can’t sleep well, he tells me.
I tried to explain about positive thoughts. Telling our brain what we want to think about.
I told him let’s think about last week when we were at the beach.
It’s a hard concept for us adults to do what can we expect from our kids.
I remind myself to only talk about positive things around the children.
Every day is a battle at home.
Getting them off their devices.
The kids play mostly inside.
Soon, they get edgy, and then they start to fight.
It’s really hard, so hard for the mothers, grandmothers or the people looking after these children; they deserve a medal, too.
My children are asking me when I am coming home.
We booked three tickets on different airlines, and each one got cancelled.
We were meant to be leaving on the Australian government reparation flight, and even that got cancelled.
Saturday night- I opened my phone to see that yet another flight had been cancelled.
I started to lose it.
Seeing my distress, my husband took out his computer and booked the first flight on El Al to anywhere out of Israel.
It’s 7:45pm; he books an 11:30pm flight to Tokyo.
“Sori, we’re leaving now! Quickly pack, pack everything, we gotta go!”
I’m on automatic I do as I’m told.
We were lucky there were no sirens on the way to the airport.
My niece and sister-in-law were not so lucky. They had to endure a siren on the way back from the airport.
Getting out of the car.
Lying on the side of the road.
Waiting to hear the explosion, waiting a few more minutes and then continuing to drive home.
Scary is an understatement.
I’m returning back home to Australia, but my heart is in Israel.
I miss those beautiful children.
I miss sending videos to their dad every day to cheer him up.
Who will visit my mum to check up on her?
I will continue to do all I can from Australia.
Each Mitzvah-good deed we do helps- that’s the only thing we can do to win this war.