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Jul 28 2014

Making Aliyah in the Midst of a War

By at 10:02 am

EL-AL

I moved to Israel last week with four kids, ages 5 to 12, right before they stopped most flights to Israel.

Over the last month, while Israel had fallen on tumultuous times, I had been running my own Operation Protective Edge to keep my younger children in the dark about what was happening there.

Shielding them in the Cone of Silence had been easier because we had been driving cross-country from our former home in San Diego to New York over the last four weeks to get to our flight to Israel. We experienced glorious national parks in Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming, stood at the foothills of Mt. Rushmore, zoomed across the Badlands in South Dakota, and splashed on slides in the Wisconsin Dells, the water park capital of the world.

During these parts of our adventure, I didn’t have to tell my youngest three, ages 10, 8, and 5, what was happening in their soon-to-be-home because they weren’t in school or camp so there were no friends to educate them. They were either off on adventures with us or sitting for hours in the car with headphones on, glued to the DVD player (the single best cure for fighting in the car, a blessing from above). While even the smallest Israeli kids seem to know everything that goes on there, my kids were not Israeli….yet.

But now Israel is at war. As tensions flared further when Operation Protective Edge began, I remained silent, hoping it would be over by the time we boarded our aliyah charter flight at JFK.

But in the week leading up to our move, I realized that time was running out and Israel was only embroiled deeper in the conflict. My friends and family in Israel have been shuttling their kids in and out of shelters. And the chances were high that I would have to do the same in a few days time.

So one by one, I had to talk to them. I asked each kid about the drills they experienced in school to prepare for dangerous scenarios. My 8-year-old in particular enumerated the different color codes her California school used for school shooters, for fire, for earthquakes, all of which they practiced, but, thank God, never had to use for real. Then I matter-of-factly told them, one by one, that Israel has red alerts, that sometimes bad guys shoot rockets that thankfully are neutralized by the Iron Dome (which truly sounds like something out of a Marvel comic) and that people need to get to a safe place. Then I casually mentioned that we might have to do that when we get there. Each of the three asked, “But is it just for practice, or for real?” Gulp.

I told them it was sort of both, that rockets were real but that they make the sirens sound for lots of people even when the rockets are not so close just to make sure everyone is safe. When I told my 5-year-old that if we hear a siren and we are outside, he should lay on the ground and that mommy or daddy will lie on top to cover him, he thought that was the funniest thing he had ever heard. “I won’t do that, Ema. That’s silly.” I didn’t push it then.

Our flight was amazing and blessedly uneventful. We flew with over 220 other people starting new lives in the Jewish homeland, including 100 children and a bride. I talked more with the kids on the plane about the rockets and sirens, but we also watched movies and did Mad Libs with an adorable young couple sitting next to us and we were too excited to sleep. While I was slightly crushed when we learned they had to cancel our big arrival celebration in Israel due to security reasons, my heart soared as the whole plane all sang together while we landed (and we even did the wave). We were welcomed and lauded by dignitaries including Natan Sharansky, a true hero, whom I got to meet and who amazingly was inspired by us–little old us–moving to Israel this time. Not one family on our plane canceled.

As we waited to get our bags, weary after a long journey, I said a little prayer to keep the sirens at bay, to give my kids a quiet first day. It turns out we just missed an airport siren when we left (with 18 pieces of luggage and the six of us in two small taxis, surely a miracle in itself) and thankfully had our first day siren-free.

Instead we had the cheers of our family and even strangers who draped our new home with signs, who filled our fridge and tummies with food. We looked at messages from friends across the world, rooting for us along with the rest of the people of Israel. The kids are so happy and content. So far, so good.

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