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Jul 16 2014

From Birthday Parties to Bomb Shelters

By at 10:14 am

children lighting birthday cake candles

Thursday morning. Hundreds of rockets have hit Israel in the last few days, but for the moment, my city seems to be in a sirenless bubble, even though Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, which lie to either side of it, have been targeted. We in Modi’in are an island of warlessness in a sea of war, reading on Facebook as friends report their siren stories. The mother of a classmate of my almost-5-year-old daughter calls. Is the birthday party still on? It’s going to be in the park across the street, the same shady spot we’ve had it for the past two years. The party is also for my other July baby, who’s turning 3. I say it’s still on unless the situation changes. She says her son will come.

I should be asleep, but I’m not. I think I hear the beginnings of a siren wafting in through the kitchen window. Well, that’s it, I’ve gotta cancel the party. Can’t have it in the house, there are still boxes lying around from our move, no time to clean up. A second later, the wailing morphs into the late-night laughter of teenagers in the summer. Oh, just a joke, ha ha, well, okay then.

Friday dawns beautiful. We set up the crackers and pretzels, the pita and hummus, the cucumbers and peppers. I had initially thought hiding out under one of the cement benches next to the sandbox would make more sense than running across the street with more than 20 kids. Just in case the sky explodes. But we settle on a plan to herd the kids into the parking garage under the apartment building on the other side of the street, and from there into the stairwell. We have 90 seconds, plenty of time, not like the people who live across from Gaza and only have 15. The kids start coming and I show them where the bubbles are.

Pass the parcel, three-legged race, chocolate cake. Crawling, sitting, cavorting on the grass, in the sprinkler-made mud. My sister doesn’t come, though. She lives less than half an hour away, but she only has 60 seconds to reach shelter and she’s already had a bunch of sirens and she’s closer to the South. Some of her kids are sleeping in the computer room/bomb shelter off the kitchen, but they don’t all fit. As I am trying to keep the light breeze from blowing out the birthday candles, she is viewing the outdoors with the dread born of wondering how you could possibly manage to grab all four of your kids out of the playground and into safety before the boom.

shelter-birthday

I also have four kids and I pull two of them out of their beds when our first siren eventually goes off around 9 p.m. on Saturday night. My husband carries the other two, one under each arm. We head into the bomb shelter we are lucky to have inside our apartment. “Bomb shelter” sounds kind of scary, but it’s really just a room. A reinforced room, with extra-thick walls and an extra-thick ceiling and a heavy metal door that you don’t want your kids to play with because if it slams on their fingers, that would be bad.

I blindly pull a children’s book off the bookshelf in the shelter. It’s in Hebrew, an unfamiliar one I didn’t even know we had, about a girl named Tali who asks a lot of questions involving word play, like why a heat wave is called a hamsin, and as I’m reading out loud I cannot believe I have chosen the one storybook that contains an exclamatory sentence using a Hebrew word that sounds exactly like the name of a certain group: ‘The hamsin comes from hamas!””

My husband lets me know the 10 minutes we’re supposed to stay in the room are over, and we decide to move in some mattresses so we don’t have to wake everyone up again if there’s another one. They’ve just gotten settled down when we hear the second siren. I pick a different book this time.

My sister texts me: “Welcome to the club.”

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