Exactly two weeks ago, we were at Ben Gurion Airport, freshly minted Israelis, exhausted and exhilarated after a sleepless night on our aliyah charter flight. We came in the middle of a war and, along with all the excitement of a dream come true, was the specter of the sirens: When would we hear our first one? What would it sound like? Would we know what to do? And most importantly: Would the kids be OK?
As we drove home from the airport, and many times since then, whether it was while enjoying the vibrant landscapes of our glorious homeland or munching on decadent dulce de leche waffles at a cafe or standing on line to open our first Israeli bank account, I would suddenly think: “What if it were now?” But those thoughts have been fleeting and instead we’ve gone about building our new Israeli lives–making friends, learning the way to the local park, buying choco at the makolet, meeting the school principal, and figuring out which Israeli cream cheese is the most like Philadelphia for my kids’ discerning American palates.
We had danced around the danger. Right after we left the airport two weeks ago there was a siren there (the one that lead to the cancelled flights). When we went to dinner in Jerusalem last week with new friends, it turns out we had just missed a siren there. While at dinner that night, we missed a siren back at our home in the Judean Hills. Calls and texts flooded my phone: Are you OK? Were you scared? Our new, extraordinarily warm and welcoming friends near our barely-lived-in-yet home were checking up on us newbies to make sure we weathered the siren well. We’re OK, we reassured them. We missed it.
But then this morning, Tisha B’Av morning, the darkest day on the Jewish calendar dawned. My husband had left to go to synagogue and my four kids who were home were asleep. I was lazing in bed thinking about the fast and the haunting reading of the Megillat Eicha (Lamentations) I heard the night before. I had heard Eicha read many times over the years, but this time was different. We had gathered not far from my new home, in a neighbor’s backyard in the Judean Hills in the shadows of Jerusalem. Another neighbor sang the lugubrious Eicha melody so sweetly and painfully that tears stung my eyes. And the words. All about the desolation of my backyard hills, of the Jerusalem I can now travel to in 12 minutes time, the images so raw and so much more real after terrorist attacks yesterday and the preceding weeks of devastation in this war. The howls of the wind and the cries of the prowling cats as we sat together served as perfect special effects.
My thoughts were interrupted when I heard a jarring boom and then a short time after, the wail of a siren. There it was. I sprang out of bed in my PJs, ran to my oldest daughter’s room, and shook her awake.
“Siren,” I said firmly. “Go get your sisters and go down to the mamad (bomb shelter).” I leapt to get my 5-year-old son and we all hurried down the stairs, hearts pounding and footsteps echoing against the siren’s warning.
As I reached our basement two floors down, I heard a voice ask, “Are you OK?” I had forgotten that we had someone spend the night down there, a man from Haifa who worked late setting up my husband’s home office so my husband invited him to stay over. It was reassuring to have someone–a former chayal (soldier) no less–right there, looking out for us, someone who had been through it before. Jaded from previous sirens, he went back to his room after he made sure we were OK.
The kids and I sat on the cold tile floor in our still empty shelter. It is customary to sit on the floor as a sign of mourning on Tisha B’Av, so I thought: how fitting. I asked the kids how they were, my voice bouncing off the walls in the vacant room. My three older kids said, “Mom, we’re FINE,” and rolled their eyes. Israeli already, they took it in stride. My little son crawled on my lap and asked, “But is there really a rocket?” Yes, I told him. But it’s OK, we’re safe here. We’re safe. I hoped I was telling the truth. (I didn’t tell them later how close to home the rockets fell.)
I felt a small pinch of relief. We got through a siren. I didn’t have to wonder anymore how the kids would react and if we would know what to do. Because we did. And they were OK. We waited the appropriate time and then left the shelter, with kids off to camp and thoughts back to unpacking and what to make for dinner to break the fast.
I thought back to two weeks before, when we were standing at the airport, welcomed by Natan Sharansky, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, and other dignitaries who praised us along with the over 220 people who made aliyah with us, telling us how brave we were for coming now, heralding us as heroes.
But we are not heroes. We are just Israelis.