Jan 15, 2009
Sirens in Jerusalem
Sirens in Jerusalem
By Menachem Lipkin
January 15, 2009
By Menachem Lipkin
January 15, 2009
The morning of Shabbos Chanuka (Saturday, December 27th) as we were preparing to begin one of Randi's sumptuous Shabbos meals, I was in the kitchen when I heard Randi say that she thought she felt an earthquake. Our whole family was there along with a few additional guests. My first reaction was, "darn I missed another one". (There have been two other minor earthquakes since we've been here. I slept through one and just didn't feel the other.) Others felt it also. Some were saying that they still felt some tremors. Yet, still I wasn't feeling anything. I was getting very annoyed. Not that I want there to be an earthquake but if there is one and everyone else was feeling it I wanted to as well. We then all noticed that the vertical blinds in the dining room were swaying back and forth. At least I had visual evidence that something was happening. We went outside and way off to the Southwest we heard a series of dull booms.
We wouldn't find out until after Shabbos, when we could get to the internet, that what we were hearing was the beginning of operation Cast Lead. It was a bit disconcerting to realize that we were close enough to Gaza to be able to hear some of the bombing. From the initial reports it appeared that this was going to be a repeat of the Lebanon war; massive air strikes, but then what? A chance for Hamas to acquire more and longer range missiles as Hezbollah has done? In short order we saw that, thankfully, our military and political leaders had learned something from their mistakes in Lebanon. The outcome is far from clear, but at least we are going in a direction that may make things better for all concerned in the long run.
The mental gymnastics we go through to settle our cognitive dissonance are quite amazing. It became apparent early on that the main weapons in Hamas's arsenal were Kassam rockets and the more sophisticated Grad missiles. (Courtesy of Iran.) Kassams have a 7km range and the Grads 40km. We pulled out our trusty map and figured out that Beit Shemesh is about 45km from Northeastern Gaza. Whew, out of range! Life could go on as normal. Can you imagine, those of you living in HP/Edison, if the Pennsylvanians were firing missiles that could "only" reach Piscataway! Be that as it may, this mental ability is one of the great gifts G-d has bestowed upon us mortals and we might as well take advantage of it.
It's almost comical in that this range limit is so hard and fast that, just as in the Lebanon war, organizations in Beit Shemesh are actually providing support and respite for those living "in range". But the reality is that those people are dealing with sirens and rockets on a daily basis and, so far at least, we're not.
Unfortunately, Raanan is not so lucky. The Hesdar Yeshiva he attends, Kerem B'Yavne (KBY), is, as the name implies, in Yavne. Yavne is "in range". It's just slightly East of Ashdod. So pretty much from the first week, Raanan has been experiencing sirens and the occasional sound of rocket impacts. Don't I sound very calm writing about my son being in the line of fire? I'm not really sure what mental games are at play here, but they seem to be working. The study hall at KBY was built by the British before 1948 and is "reinforced" to withstand, I don't know, maybe cannonballs, but the idea that it's "reinforced" gives us some piece of mind. Of course the sirens also go off when he's in his dorm room. In that case he just hides under his "reinforced" bed. Hey, there are TWO blankets up there OK! At one point I did ask him if he wanted to come home, in a classically shrewd teenage response he retorted, "Do you want me to want to come home?" He does come home pretty much every Shabbos, so at least then he's in the safety of Beit Shemesh. Actually, he spent the Shabbos after Chanuka at his old high school yeshiva on Moshav Mattisyahu. Earlier that week one of my work colleagues, a guy from Ireland, was IM'ing me about the situation. I mentioned where Raanan was and what he was dealing with during the week and, get this, that I was happy he'd be spending Shabbos in the relative safety of the West Bank that weekend!
It's all relative. So many parents are sleeplessly coping with their boys actually being in Gaza. Ben, the son of close friends of ours here in Beit Shemesh, a boy who's diapers we changed (though not recently), got "the call" that first Shabbos afternoon. He had to report to his base immediately He's some sort of communications officer, so in our minds' magic we were able to imagine him working from some subterranean, high tech chamber that looked like an air traffic control room or the command center on "24". We were able to imagine that ... until his mom sent us this video (you can see Ben at 2:14, 3:50, & 4:15 into the video) showing him praying in a house in Gaza. At some point the mental fences do get breached. Then his mom told us that one night his unit was, unknowingly, sleeping in this booby trapped school in Gaza until one of the guys woke up to pee and noticed a fuse wire leading from a detonator in the children's' zoo to a pile of rockets and such in the building. Prayers, lots of prayers.
On Wednesday, January 14th, we got the teeniest of inklings of what our brethren in Sderot have been going through for the past 8 years and what the communities in "the South" have been going through for the past several weeks. At approximately 12:50 p.m. I was sitting in class in yeshiva in Jerusalem when we heard a siren. So far, the only times I've heard this siren were on Memorial Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day. At those times the siren cranks up and remains at a high pitch for about a minute. The siren I heard Wednesday was oscillating and I knew from speaking with Raanan that this was the warning sound for incoming rockets.
For the first few seconds I felt that tingly, flight or fight, adrenalin rush one gets in any panic situation. One of the guys was yelling, "we have go to the shelter, where's the shelter?" Of course the first thing I did after being frozen (so much for "flight") for a few seconds was to grab my web-enabled cell phone so I could look on my Twitter feed and find out what was really going on. (There are a couple of good feeds on Twitter, an otherwise useless application, that give very timely updates about the war;Muqata and QassamCount.) I guess everyone was doing that or calling someone they knew, as I couldn't get anything on my cell. Meanwhile, the Rebbe, a seasoned Jerusalemite, said, "Let's just finish this Rashi and then we'll see what's going on". That's basically what we did, as pretty instinctively we knew that either it was a false alarm (after all the Grads just can't go that far, right?) or we did this little rapid analysis of "what are the odds of one rocket actually hitting this room in all of Jerusalem?"
Within a few minutes my Twitter feed was reporting that it was just a test or malfunction. Once Randi was able to get through, she informed me that the sirens also went off inBeit Shemesh. Randi and Yisrael went to the Maamad (our sealed, reinforced room) when she heard the siren. Apparently, in Meira's school they did not hear it. (Is that good news or bad?)
Then the reality hit me. What I had experienced in those first few seconds, the people of Sderot have been dealing with day in and day out for 8 years! They have felt it thousands of times. Children Meira's age know of no other existence. Their playgrounds have cement "caterpillars" where the children can run for shelter when the sirens wail. The adults can't comfort themselves as I did, hoping that it's only a test or malfunction. They know better. All these years, since we made Aliyah and before, these people, living just a 45 minute drive away, have been going through hell and we just merrily go about our lives. Yes, it's another asset of the mind games we play and helps keep us sane. And sure, we "support" them; buy their baked goods and send stuff, but we have been essentially oblivious to their suffering. We all know that it should never have gotten to this point. The first Kassam, and every one thereafter, should have been met with a forceful response; as Sharon had promised.
Naturally, I feel for the dead and wounded children in Gaza, notwithstanding the fact that starting from pre-school they are being brainwashed to hate us, kill us and "martyr" themselves in doing so, but we are now doing what any country would do to protect its citizens. The distortions and lies emanating from the shrill media freaks, liberal airheads, Euro-morons, and UN terror enablers aside, we are doing it with greater care, precision, and sensitivity than any other country on Earth would or has. As just a small example, the IDF has placed over 150,000 phone calls warning individuals in Gaza to get out of harm's way before an attack is launched. And when, instead of fleeing, they have women and children run to the sight of the planned attack it's called off. Who does this? The Russians? If the Russians were undertaking this type of operation there would be thousands of dead civilians. The Arabs? If it were up to any of the Arab countries, there would be virtually nobody left. And Europe, ha, well if it were up to Europe to defend themselves their women would be wearing Burkas and the men praying to Allah 5 times a day. Oops they already are!
Ironically, when all is said and done, if we succeed in neutralizing or at least neutering Hamas we'll have actually fought a war of independence for the Palestinians of Gaza. Will they seize this chance or will they take this opportunity to miss yet another opportunity? Who knows? As a bonus gift to the entire world it will also be a major blow to the Iran-inspired axis of evil.
So you all stay safe. Fight the fight for us against the other axis of evil, e.g. the NY Times, CNN, BBC, Time, and those nutcasepeaceniks who deserve to get "Darwined" out of existence yet will nevertheless benefit from those of us who actually "get it".
Most importantly, pray that G-d protects our soldiers, delivers us safely from this evil and these difficult times, and finally brings peace to us all.