“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.