What a week. And here’s the truth of it: nothing makes you want to connect with other people more than a crisis- and for me that means writing, blogging, and Facebook.
I was contacted several times this week by reporters of the mainstream news, but I’d rather tell my own story in my own words.
The Siren Sounds
On Wednesday morning, March 23rd at 5:30 am, the alarm sirens blared in Beer-Sheva. For those of you who have never been in this situation, the siren sounds for 60 seconds and you have that amount of time to get to your bomb shelter, safe room, or the nearest approximation [see footnote].
I was sleeping with my two and a half year old son (my husband was working) when the siren sounded. I grabbed the baby, my shoes, and the keys and walked rapidly toward a building across the street so that we could make it to the nearest staircase [left].
(The closest bomb shelter is more than a minute away, which doesn’t leave enough time to get there from sleep to siren. It’s been locked before, so wasn’t worth the risk. My husband and I had already decided that in case of emergency, the nearest stairway was the best bet.)
Let me tell you this. Unless you live in Sderot, perhaps, when you hear that siren, your heart stops, but you don’t think it is going to affect you directly- meaning in front of your eyes. You believe that there may be a missile coming toward you and that you need to take action to protect yourself, but you don’t believe that it’s coming straight at you. My opinion on that front has now changed.
— Keep reading —
We made it outside the house and across the street when the siren stopped. I was next to a neighbor who had also come outside- we were the only ones, everyone else was apparently still in their houses, asleep. The woman wasn’t moving. She was frozen, staring. I tried to get her inside, away from the open space, but she wouldn’t move.
And then the explosion. Booom! Only about 30 meters in front of us.* The noise. Gray smoke everywhere. The smell. Debris flying. Your heart flips and flips and flips- and doesn’t stop flipping- like a fish on the dock desperately trying to get back to the sea.
My neighbor started screaming and jumping up and down. Standing next to her, I could feel that her heart was jumping out of her chest and her breathing was panicked. Fearing a second explosion, I grabbed her arm (baby in the other) and dragged her into the nearby building. She was hyperventilating. I helped her sit down and tried to help her breath more normally while rubbing her back.
By that time, the residents of the building were in the stairwell, bleary eyed, some looking out the window (yes, the stairways have windows, so are not as safe as they might be).
“Your baby is cold. Why didn’t you dress him warmer?” asked one, in typical Israeli fashion.
“I didn’t have time,” I said, recognizing that this ludicrous response was a reflexive motherly reaction, well out of context of the last two minutes. But yes, he was shaking visibly, and wide-eyed.
We waited several minutes to let the debris settle and to ensure that a second missile wasn’t coming. I helped my neighbor back toward her house, where her family met her at the door and she collapsed into them. (Checking in on her later, she was being treated by a medic for shock.)
I looked around to get a sense of what was happening. People were standing in front of their houses in small groups in pyjamas, asking each other if they knew where the bomb had fallen. I scanned the area to determine if it was stable and saw that people were already beginning to gather around the site. I moved forward to see its impact, but decided to leave shortly thereafter as there was a live wire down and I didn’t want to endanger my son further.
We made our way back home where I called my husband to update him on what had happened and to let him know that he should be careful biking home in case of scattered shrapnel on the street or fallen electric wires.
When he returned some time later, we went to see the area together. By that time the police had already arrived- and so had the crowds and cameras- and the site was blocked off with police tape.
I was relieved that I hadn’t aimed for the shelter, as it had been locked and doing so would have brought me dead even with the bomb. Wanting to check out the shelter- which had never been open when I’d gone to see it before, but was now unlocked (post-impact)- I was dismayed.
Unlike the other shelters I’d seen, this one was dank, dark, and dirty. The stairs and floor were rough and poorly lit. Downstairs in the open area meant for gathering, several people were crowded back in the dark (not clear why they were still sitting there or why the area wasn’t lit, but wanting to curtail the nightmare factor, I returned to the light outside).
My husband updated me that those shelters were primarily relevant in case of chemical warfare (Iraq, now Iran) and that in such cases- heaven forbid– we would have a five minute warning to gather water and grab a sweatshirt or pair of diapers.
Days Later (and Later That Day)
It’s been two days now and I can’t say that I feel much calmer (although I’m grateful to have remained quite calm throughout).
What happened next? Another siren sounded at 9:30, but by that time I was already at work (where I have no concerns about safety) and gan (daycare) having been cancelled, my son had moved out of the city to visit relatives in a more secure location (in a house with a built-in safe room).
At approximately 3:00 that afternoon, I started hearing gasps up and down the halls of my office building. A bomb had exploded in Jerusalem, wounding 50, many of whom were severely injured.
While at work, I (and everyone else) kept one eye on the news. I saw that:
- Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared: “While the State of Israel has no intention of bringing about a deterioration of the situation, the IDF will continue to take determined action to defend Israeli citizens.”
- An 8 year old Palestinian boy who had been injured by the Israeli Defense Forces in crossfire was being taken to an Israeli hospital for emergency care.
- And in a bright spot to the day, an announcement came that the Mandel Foundation had pledged a total of $60 million to establish an ‘American style humanities graduate school’ at Hebrew University
Are things back to normal two days later? Not really. We’re sleeping in our clothes with our shoes perched at the doorway. I haven’t showered yet, fearing that a siren will go off mid-stream. I’ve scouted out new locations around near my house for the next time a siren sounds. And every time I’m outside I’m mentally mapping where the safest locations are should it be necessary to run.
“How Are You?”
In the words of my friend Mariela Socolovsky:
“Dear friends if you happen to ask to me today: ‘How are you?’ I will definitely find myself in a very hard situation. We started the day with the sad news that the city of Beer-Sheva was once again bombed and at almost tea time (around 15:00) Jerusalem was victim of a terror attack. So I have trouble to answer to the simple question of HOW ARE YOU?”
But the answer that I will give you- and it’s true- is that I’m fine. We were incredibly, incredibly lucky to have come that close to an explosion and come away clean.
Yes, when my husband asked my son what happened, the baby said:
“Bomb. Po. Bomb nafal me’ha’shamayim. No geshem. Bomb. Boom!” (Roughly translated as: Bomb. Here [pointing]. Bomb fell from the sky. Not rain, a bomb. Boom!)
I started my post talking about connections and that’s how I’ll end it. What’s the number one thing to do if someone you know has recently suffered an experience like this one? Reach out. Acknowledge it. Offer gestures of love and affection. We can’t control other people or countries or politics, but we can control our own actions and reactions. The bottom line? It’s love that makes a difference.
Footnote: 60 Second Siren
* Upon examination later, it was a bit further than 30 meters away (thankfully), but that was my estimation at the time
** Note that I’ve made efforts to eliminate all identifying details both in descriptions and photographs.
For those of you (almost all, I hope), who’ve never experienced an alarm siren, here’s an example from YouTube.
- Title photo: France24.com
- Stairwell and house: my own. Please ask permission before using
- Grad’s street scar: Igor Zvagelsky (with thanks)
- “Grad Rocket Injures Beersheba Man” (YNetNews)
- Israeli Homefront Command website (multiple languages)
- “Grad Redux” (another perspective of this day in Beer-Sheva from my friend Reesa Cohen Stone)
- “What Not to Wear- In Case of a Rocket Attack” (Allison Kaplan Sommer via the Jewish Daily Forward‘s Sisterhood blog)