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This Mini-War: In Israel, On the Road Between Jerusalem and Tzur Hadassah

My week.

Monday evening sitting in someone’s home in Tzur Hadassah, around 10 p.m. Talking about some great ideas. Suddenly, without warning, the alarm siren goes off. We are sitting in his protected room. He and his wife hesitated to bring their kids until they heard the booms (the booms, as I learned later, can be heard from pretty far away, as my husband in Jerusalem about 20 kilometers away, who had grabbed our three sleeping children and brought them downstairs in our building to the most protected area, heard them too).

I was shaken up. I called Tamir, my native Israeli husband, and asked what should I do? Sleep over? He said, “Mah pit’om…what suddenly?…Come home.” So, after chatting a bit more to calm my nerves, I drove home, keeping my brother in Columbus, Ohio, on the line as I made the 25 minute ride. This week, by the way, I have not taken the “tunnels road” that crosses the green line for 10 minutes going by Beitar Ilit and Hussan. And I have found that the most veteran Tzur Hadassah residents are doing the same.

Tamir’s words to me when I came home were: This is what you do: When there is a siren, you go immediately to the protected space. When it’s over, you carry on as usual. These are the orders of the home command.

So, when my friend asked if I thought she should still have her daughter’s birthday party at a park on Thursday afternoon, I said yes – carry on as usual. We’re sitting in the park, the kids are in the mini pool. We’re eating hotdogs, talking about the situation. And, yup, here comes Jerusalem alarm siren #2. We go to the nearest building, huddling in the hallway, until a local says, “Come down to the bomb shelter.” There we go, all set up. My son, almost 7, who is enthralled with his newly acquired reading skills, had to be torn away from his book to go into the building. The second he entered the bomb shelter, he found a chair, sat down, and continued reading. My daughter, when I shouted at her to come, stared at my dumbfounded. Eventually, she came. All the moms tried to play off their nerves once we got to the bomb shelter, saying to their kids, “Isn’t this fun? What a great room!” The birthday mom took a photo – a birthday party to remember! She reminded of my words “carry on”. I stood by them. After the few minutes passed and we heard the booms, we returned to the birthday party.

Carrying on.

I left Tamir with the kids at the party to continue on to a wedding that I was officiating at. The wedding was supposed to be at a moshav where the couple lives, near Tzur Hadassah. The bride called me Tuesday. “Stacey, are you still officiating at our wedding on the moshav, with the situation?” Me: “Are you still getting married?” Yes. “So, of course I’m coming.” The bride called me Wednesday. They decided to move the wedding and found a place in Jerusalem, very accessible to a protected area, unlike the space on the moshav. The alarm had gone off two hours before we stood underneath their huppah, everyone there determined to celebrate with them. (And it was a beautiful wedding).

I went to my congregation in Tzur Hadassah for kabbalat Shabbat services last night. Not too many people were there. (Everyone the night before had cancelled coming to our Torah study – just after the alarm siren). The prayers took on a different meaning. They asked to recite birkat hagomel, the blessing for someone who had gone through a life-threatening experience. We all recited the blessing. And we all recited the response. Certain prayers stood out to me Hashkivenu Adonai Eloheinu L’shalom…. Oh Adonai, our God, lie us down in peace, and rise us up, our Sovereign, to life….We read selections about peace, hope, and faith, which the Reform Movement had sent us. We prayed for peace for all peoples.

Tonight at 7 p.m. was alarm siren #3 in Jerusalem. My son jumped to attention immediately and walked calmly downstairs. My daughter again hesitated. When we are down there, my daughter (age 4) asks, “Why are we here?” My son (age 7) answers, “So we won’t die.” I again, am shaken by the experience. My husband says, “You haven’t gotten used to it, huh?” I ask my son, “Were you scared?” He says, “No.” I believe him. I was about to leave for Tzur Hadassah for an event we have been planning for many weeks now with an artist who arrived from the North. Should we cancel? No, was everyone’s response. We carry on as usual. I sent out the text message – “There’s wine, there’s art, and there’s a safe room – come to the kehilah!”

In the middle of the evening – which really was very lovely – we heard booms without any alarm. People whipped out their phones. There was a hit but not exactly in our area to warrant the alarm. A few people jumped up and left. Everyone else wanted to stay, but you could see that people were having a harder time focusing. We continued on, but not for too much longer.

What to think being here? What message do I want to send my family and friends abroad? I feel I must respond. On the one hand, I am not afraid. I am in awe of my country Israel, which goes to such great lengths to protect its citizens – the Iron Dome is amazing. Of the thousands of recruits who are being called up to serve and go willingly. Of the people in my communities who offer help and who seek my and my congregation’s help to get through this. It’s really a test of nerves. That what the terrorists want – to get on our nerves. Of the daily life that continues here. I think of the Palestinians getting killed, both guilty and innocent. I think that there are hundreds of armed conflicts going on around the world. I reflect: Why? How could a person think this is preferred over living in peace?

What is this thing called humanity? For this we were created? These images of God who are set on killing and terrorizing? Here is nothing compared to other places in the world. A bar mitzvah parent just wrote me – oh yes, remember when we had that sniper running around the D.C. area? Now that was scary!

I suggest to everyone to do what your conscience leads you toward – come here/be here, if you are prepared for more uncertainty than usual, still witness to a thriving moving society where everything is open and happening. Or donate money to causes that helping those who are really caught in the thick of things in the settlements close to Gaza. Petition the leadership, all leadership and every leadership, to give full gas to bring PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

And, as my congregants and I determined last night, never lose hope or faith.

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