From Terror to Complacency in Five Short Days

Smoke from a downed missle

Smoke from the downed missile

Some more thoughts from our war zone…

It amazes me how Israelis, especially the youngest ones, adapt so quickly to situations and normalize them so fast. Once again, while we were on the baseball field somewhere in central Israel, at 16:30 today the sirens went off. Because we are in an open area, the sound of the siren isn’t very loud. I heard it and immediately ordered the kids near me (10-11-year-olds) to move into the safe rooms near the field. None of them looked very concerned. One quickly said: “But it sounds so far away. Why do we have to go?” My response was short and to the point (to say the least), and they all got up and hustled over the bases, past the dug outs, into the safe room.

Some claimed to have heard the booms, signifying that a missile  has been intercepted by the Iron Dome (may it be blessed). Just a couple of minutes into being the the safe room, the kiddies were restless and ready to leave. These situations create a short learning curve – within hours of the first missiles being fired last week, we understood that the danger comes in the minutes after the Iron Dome intercepts the missile, because that’s when the hot metal fragments come plummeting down to earth. So once again I had to exert my motherly authority and use my “strict” voice to keep them from scuttling back to the field prematurely. The players from the older team (14-15-year-olds) rolled their eyes at me. But I stood firm.

Glad I did. When we emerged, I noticed that not too far away, there was a significant display of billowing white smoke. Then the emergency services sirens started blaring from all directions. A brother of one of the players showed up with news – a missile had in fact been shot down and its fiery remains lay smoldering in a field not too far from us.

On the way home, with my 15-year-old son and two of his team mates in the car, I got a little jumpy when I heard a song that had siren-like sounds in the background. I quickly turned off the radio to check if the sound was coming from outside the car. And more eye rolling – this time from my son. “Mom, you’re being paranoid,” he said in his droll teenage monotone, without lifting his eyes from the What’s App screen on his phone. I confess that I am a little envious of this state of youthful complacency in the face of all this terror we are enduring. Oh to be 15 again!

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From Quiet Canada to Israel Under Fire

Filling a secure room with sweaty baseball players

Filling a secure room with sweaty baseball players

When the first missiles were fired into central Israel on Tuesday, my family and I were coming to the end of a short trip to Toronto for a family wedding. News from home, which first came in via What’s App messages to my daughter telling her that in our small town there had been an unprecedented air raid, was gut wrenching. We had just short of 24 hours to digest the awful news that no area of the country was immune to the rockets being launched from Gaza. The thought of flying into Israel, particularly into a Tel Aviv that was being targeted rather effectively for the first time, made me more than a little nervous. An online message from a friend slightly eased my fears – “You know the news is always darker from far”.

So true. In fact, the closer I got, ironically the less I feared what we were returning to. At the El Al check in counter at Toronto airport, I asked the attendant if there were a lot of cancellations. Her answer, in a heavy Russian accent: “No-one has cancelled. Very brave people.” That already made me feel better. Then I spotted a family of 6 who were clearly making aliyah, given away by a massive pile of baggage, punctuated by a large Mac computer box (no-one goes on vacation with such a piece of hardware). All I could think was this is the best and the worst time to make aliyah – the worst, well that’s obvious… missiles aren’t the greatest first impression; the best…things can only get better.

The mood on the plane did little to bring me down again. One tourist, about to spend three weeks in Israel, smiled broadly when he told a fellow passenger that the situation didn’t deter him because he likes a little action in his life. All around me, Canadian tourists were looking forward to spending time in Israel, undeterred by the less than sympathetic welcome they were surely going to get in Tel Aviv. Canadians, ey?

We landed, and Ben Gurion Airport was decorated with signs pointing the way to the air raid shelters. This was the only clue that something was amiss. Everything else was plain old normal – just the way we like to keep things as best as we can when the going gets tough. The nasty traffic on the way home was caused by our “normal” traffic accidents – five of them in total. And while the news stream was confirming many of my fears, and detailing the truly horrendous situations facing almost all residents of the South, life all around was going ahead as usual.

This morning, when the sirens went off while my son’s baseball team (that I manage) was in the middle of a pre-tournament practice game, we all quickly obeyed Homeland Security instructions and trooped off the field into the shelters. The experience of being in a small stuffy room with a team of very sweaty baseball players was far more unpalatable than the thought of missiles (no offense guys). We waited for the required 10 minutes, by which I mean an abbreviated 2 minutes, and returned to the field under the clear blue summer sky. The only hint of chaos was three tiny white puffy clouds in the distance – the last vestiges of the three missiles that had been intercepted by the Iron Dome minutes before.

One player commented that this was probably the first baseball inning ever to be ended by a missile attack. But I’m sure there were other moments in history that involved baseball and missiles. Either way, this was one moment that made me realize that hearing about an air raid from across the ocean is far more terrifying than being in one. In the midst of the chaos, I felt so much calmer. It really is less dark here than there. Still, I’ll be very happy when it’s all over and the only booms we hear at baseball are the sound of the ball cracking on the bat.

 

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Team Mom: A Really Comfortable Hat

I’ve worn many baseball hats over the past few years – IAB Secretary General, IAB board member, town coordinator, coach, umpire – but none has given me more pleasure than the most recent – Under 16 Israel National Team Mom.

Team Israel

Team Israel

We landed from our trip to the PONY Tournament in Prague at 4:00 this morning, with the silver medal trophy in tow.  After getting a little sleep, it’s now time to share the 13 reasons that this hat was a particularly comfortable one, and here they are (in alphabetical order): Adam, Assaf, David, Ely, Ethan, Hadar, Jacob, Michael, Noam, Omri, Yoav H., Yoav M. and Yotam.

These are the 13 members of the U16 Israel National team that I’m bursting with pride to be associated with. Not only are they incredible ball players with guts and determination, they’re also respectful, considerate, and courteous. I often had to remind myself that they are only 15 and 16-years-old because they’re mature beyond their years. They’ve all clearly been raised well by great parents. On the baseball field, they are committed, determined and exceptionally talented. They’ve been coached to be the best players they can be, not accept failure, push through disappointment, practice until they can’t stand any more. But their coaching doesn’t end there: They’re also coached to be the outstanding people they are; to take responsibility for themselves and their team; and to behave the way representatives of the State of Israel should when they are serving as ambassadors of our country. Bravo parents; bravo coaches!!

Being team mom isn’t a bed of roses: It involves running around from Czech supermarket to supermarket, with no local language, trying to find essentials for the team (e.g., a pot – it was Pesach); it includes being mooned by team members on a Prague highway and having no recourse whatsoever (!); it involves hearing the very gory details (including photographic evidence) of pranks the guys play on each other after the games (TMI!); it involves constantly having to nag kids to take food to the field, so they won’t starve because it’s Pesach; it involves being photo-bombed by a large group of players, while taking a post-game picture with my son; and more.

But here’s where it’s all so very worthwhile:

When the players do something great on the field and come over and make sure I saw it. (I never miss a second.)

When a player sends me a note in the middle of the tournament saying that “everything has been great and a lot has to do with you,”… instant lump in throat!

When a player says: “We need to count how many times Margo says ‘No thanks, it’s OK’.” (The boys offer to help me with so much so often that I really constantly had to say it.)

When, during an exchange of 16-year-old off-color banter, a player says to my son: “I would start cursing your mother now if she wasn’t so awesome.”…Ego explosion!

When dinners with some of the boys at Chabad, instead of being eat-and-run affairs, turn into long and interesting chats about everything and anything, and I have to remind myself again that these smart, mature kids are 15!

When every car trip ends with “thank you”s, and every effort I make is acknowledged and appreciated.

When a player, after asking a particularly stupid question in the car, reminds me how much I like him and as such, please not to put the incident forward for Kangaroo Court.

When my own son gracefully deals with the fact that Team Mom is his real mother, and doesn’t cringe at the fact.

And mainly, when they all go out there, play like superstars wearing Team Israel jerseys, support each other from the dug-out loudly and proudly; and do it all with poise and respect for the game, their opponents, their coaches and each other.

To my 13 baseball “sons”, besides your real parents, I am your biggest fan. You warm my heart. I so look forward to seeing you all take your next steps both on and off the baseball field, and to the successes you will surely achieve. To each and every one of you, thanks for being so awesome and keep it up.

See you at practice!

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An Exchange

Margo Sugarman:

A brilliant take on the Haredi protests against conscription.

Originally posted on Rabbi Pruzansky's Blog:

Earlier this week, I was contacted by an old friend who now lives in Israel, part of the Chareidi world. He sent me his thoughts, and I responded, and the exchange is reproduced below, with minor editing. I have deleted the friend’s name.   -RSP

6 Adar II 5774, March 8, 2014

Dear Steven,

Ahead of the mass gathering of Torah true Jewry scheduled to take place tomorrow in Manhattan, I’m reaching out to you, our brothers in America, to share with you the sad truth: here, in the State of Israel, Torah Jewry is subject to religious persecution.

To classify Torah students as “criminals,” subject to imprisonment, is only the latest and most absurd of anti-chareidi laws enacted recently by the government. In addition, they have  drastically cut education and welfare budgets, aiming to choke our yeshivos and schools, and even our individual religious freedoms, so prized by Americans and…

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‎25 years of Israel – the inexplicable and the great

January 23, 1989 - Day 1 of my ulpan at Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael. Me on the left with my friend Lara

January 23, 1989 – Day 1 of ulpan at Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael. Me on the left with my friend Lara

Today 25 years ago I arrived in Israel. It’s a lifetime ago. At the time, I wasn’t even sure I was going to stay, but the fact that I’m sitting here a quarter of a century (eek!) later tells the story.

To say that Israel is a quirky little country is probably the understatement of the quarter century. After so many years, it amazes me that there are still things that I cannot get used to (and it’s official – I probably never will), but some I wouldn’t give up for anything. So at this auspicious time in my immigrant history, it’s time for a “brief” list of some of the inexplicable as well as the “won’t give up for anything” quirks (and sometimes the intersection of the two) that make living here a unique experience.

The inexplicable

  • The list has to start with driving habits– 25 years later, and some of the scenes on the roads here still amaze and horrify me – red lights optional; parking in the middle of the road; driving down the wrong side of the road, etc., etc., etc., etc…. The upside: When you drive in Italy, you have no idea why people say Italians are the worst drivers. Compared to our roads, theirs are a pleasure.
  • I have yet to meet an Israeli who isn’t disgusted by the combination of chocolate and mint! Adding copious clumps of mint leaves to sweet tea is a national passion, but that same flavor with anything chocolate is met with total revulsion.

    Bamba

    Bamba

  • Bamba as one of the four main food groups for children! ‘Nuff said.
  • Israel has evolved into a sophisticated country, with Tel Aviv known as one of the most cosmopolitan hot spots in the world, overflowing with happening clubs, bars, restaurants, high culture, innovation…and yet we still love that high priest of musical kitsch, the Eurovision Song Contest. How? Why? Oy!
  • Hebrew spelling… after all these years I still make mistakes. The upside: It amuses my Israeli friends and colleagues, but nope, that doesn’t make me feel better.
  • The phenomenon of the Israeli line/queue… a cultural icon and the cause of much public strife. I’ve never understood why people would rather argue about their place in the line for 10 minutes instead of just waiting patiently; why they have to insist that “they had been there and just went to do who knows what” and are claiming their rightful place; why they cannot help themselves from peering over your shoulder as you punch in your ATM code… Confession: When I’m abroad, I have been known to employ local tactics to get ahead in lines of very polite and patient locals. Why wait? I’m an Israeli.

Won’t give up for anything

  • Living in Israel means being surrounded by technology, and being connected all the time (even if it does mean that 9 out of 10 people constantly have their heads in a phone). As a nation, our lack of patience with each other is only surpassed by our lack of patience with slow connections!I feel this most when I’m in another country and there’s minimal wi-fi, the connections are painfully slow and mobile phone reception is spotty, and I get to say how spoiled I am back home because we’re so advanced – score 1 for Israel.
  • The salad country

    The salad country

    Salad! No country in the world offers main course salads like Israel does. Our national obsession with fresh vegetables is a great habit we should be proud of. For years now I’ve never understood why you can’t get fresh vegetables for breakfast abroad or a big main course salad. Learn something from us, people!

  • Instant conversations: Everyone’s up for a chat, whether you’re standing in line at the meat counter, or buying shoes or in a taxi (less fun). You’re never alone and you’re never going to have to wonder what someone’s REAL opinions are (also sometimes not too much fun). On the downside – be prepared to reveal what you’ve paid for everything you own.
  • Our weather…we have a lot of tzurres here in our corner of the Middle East, that’s for sure, but one thing we can boast about is our weather. Years ago, a fellow oleh from the UK told me that he made not Zionist, but meteorological Aliyah – makes sense. Yes, it’s rather hot in the summer, but let’s face it, when our friends and family in the US are being battered by hurricanes, tornadoes, and snow storms, we can be a little smug about our reliable 8 months of sunshine and our relatively calm winters that every 10 years or so give rise to a conversation-worthy storm.
  • Applause on landing is one of those corny yet irresistible Israeli quirks. After 25 years of flying to and from Israel, it still makes me smile.

    That mushy feeling of coming home

    That mushy feeling of coming home

  • And then… coming home… no matter where I go, landing in Israel IS coming home, and there’s no place like this one.

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Not taking taking the kids to school for granted

I dropped my kids off at school this morning and the thought foremost in my mind was how lucky I am to be doing this today, on a day when thousands of school kids in Israel, who should be in their classrooms and at their desks, are at home instead. The Home Front Command closed the schools in all towns within 40km Gaza as rockets continue to bombard Southern and Central Israel. This gives me pangs of what I can only compare to survivor guilt. I live just north of the center, not near any area that is attractive to the Hamas as a target, and our schools are open. I can work while my kids study at school. When they come home, they can go to their after school activities and walk around freely. Not so elsewhere.

Kids in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi running for shelter as the siren goes off. (Picture: Israel Defense Forces)

Hamas is holding half of Israel hostage. The barrage of rockets that has intensified over the past days is merely a continuation of the constant bombings that began in 2005. Since then terrorists have fired more than 8,000 rockets into Israel, mainly into the south. So many of us in Israel have tried to express this to the rest of the world. Imagine your neighboring country launching 8,000 rockets into your territory for no reason other than the fact that you live there. It’s hard to believe.

What’s even harder to believe is the indifference of the Western world. Let’s take a look at The New York Times today. On the front page there’s a picture of IDF reserves in their tanks, waiting on the border, not yet engaged. On the inside page, a large picture of an Gazan woman and her daughter taking cover during Israeli Air Force bombings of Hamas targets. Here’s the message from the NYT – Israel – big and strong with lots of tanks and soldiers; Gaza – weak and frail with terrified women and children. No pictures of Israeli children in shelters, no pictures of heavily armed Hamas fighters or their rocket launchers, no pictures of blood-stained floors of Israeli apartments where innocent civilians were killed and maimed by Hamas rockets. Israel is expected to take the rocket fire lying down, literally. The world is OK with seeing innocent civilians lying face down in the streets of Ashdod or Sderot when they don’t have enough time to reach shelter within the minuscule 15-second window between siren and impact.

I don’t wish this situation on anyone, but sometimes I do imagine what would happen if citizens of the US or the UK for example, had to live with seeing their children face down on the sidewalks as rockets fly overhead at a nearby apartment block or having them cooped up at home weeks on end because it’s not safe for schools to be open. I don’t take it for granted that my children are safe and at school. What about you?

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A siren call

“Mom, is something happening there?” It was my 16-year-old son calling me at home from inside a bomb shelter at the Tel Aviv University earlier this evening. I had no idea at the time that sirens had just sounded all over Tel Aviv, sending more than 400,000 people running for shelters.

“Why?” I answered as my stomach churned, because from the sound of his voice and the fact that at that time of the day he should have been in a math tutorial and not on the phone to me, I knew immediately what was going on. The threat of “the gates of hell” had crept north and touched our central plain and its biggest city.

“The sirens went off,” he said. All I could think of was that this was a nightmare scenario come true – my son was far away from me during a time of real fear. I had no control and neither did he. Except that I am the mom, and I should be able to protect him, but I couldn’t.
“Are you in the shelter?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied. “So just stay there. Do as you are told. Don’t leave unless someone who knows what they are talking about tells you to. Call me in five minutes.” I really didn’t know what to tell him. I just mimicked what I had been hearing on the radio all day – follow the instructions of the Home Front Command. But they weren’t there, and I could only pray that there were enough responsible adults to guide my 16-year-old to safety, knowing that university isn’t school and everyone has to take care of themselves.

“Where’s Aba? I can’t get hold of him,” he asked. I realized immediately that my husband was probably in a shelter in his office in one of Tel Aviv’s tallest buildings, one that makes a very attractive target. I couldn’t get through to him either. Later I found out that my son had heard rumors that the rocket had landed right near that building, which had only added to his stress.

Hearing me having this conversation with my eldest, my two other children were mortified and worried. “Don’t worry,” I reassured them. “It will be fine.” It was. Tel Aviv was soon given the all clear and my son went back to class. Eventually my husband called to say they were all OK as well.

This was one incident. It made me shake for hours and will remain with me for many years to come. Down in the south this is the routine. I have never taken their hardship for granted or ignored their suffering. It mortifies me to think that parents in the southern towns send their children to school (when they are open), not knowing what the day will bring and whether their children will reach safety in the mere 15 or 30 seconds they have before rockets crash down around them.

There are no words to adequately describe the feelings parents have when they are incapable of creating the safe havens that they would like to provide for their children.

My son arrived home with my husband hours later. All I want to do is lock the front door and not let them out again. I know I can’t but  I confess that I’d like to. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to live like this for not only days, but years. What I do know is that I never want to receive another phone call from any of my children who are alone in a bomb shelter, far from home and don’t know what’s going to happen next.

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