Seeking Shelter in Israel
May 13, 2021 by
In the summer of 2014, our family rented an apartment in Jerusalem, signed the kids up for camp and set out to ‘just live’ in Israel for a summer. We didn’t intend to tour much – the kids were still pretty young and kvetchy – but just to give them the experience of going to the park each afternoon in the scorching heat, cooling down with an ice cream from the makolet, learning some extra Hebrew, and spending quality time with family and friends. We were in pursuit of a true Israeli summer.
What we got, however, was a war. The vocabulary we gained included miklat (shelter), azaka (siren) and matzav (‘situation’). Walks to the park became exercises in measuring distances to shelter, imagining how to gather up all the kids and the stuff to get to safety in under a minute. Historically, these types of rockets had not made it all the way to Jerusalem, so we were assured that despite our phones constantly beeping with ‘red alerts,’ it wouldn’t make it this far.
I was on my own one night, with the kids asleep in their bunk beds in the basement, when they did reach Jerusalem. The azaka sounded. I had absolutely no viable plan to get three kids from our basement apartment to the shelter, which required going upstairs, downstairs, outside, and downstairs again. I ran down to their room, recognized there was no way to get them down and out in time, and just sat quaking until the time passed and the coast was clear. As the Gaza War unfolded, there was so much loss all around us for Israelis and Palestinians – loss of life, property, security, and the loss of hope for imminent peace.
I thought that perhaps this intense and immersive experience might change me politically, pulling me to the right or to the left. Instead, as I encountered the destruction and desperation all around me, it just pulled me apart.
Rockets are flying again this week and parents are huddled in their shelters, trying to keep their kids distracted and calm while pretending not to be too scared themselves. They are worried for their family and friends, counting the minutes until they get the ‘all clear’ and reassurance in the family WhatsApp group. Our school community is also watching closely, following the alerts from afar, praying for the cessation of violence, answering our students’ questions in clear and calm ways.
Yesterday was Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the month when we celebrate receiving the gift of Torah. We have counted the days of the omer in mourning for what has been lost, and are preparing ourselves to take on this covenantal commitment with joy and seriousness of purpose. Just as we were all at Har Sinai for that revelation, our hearts are all in Israel today, hoping and praying and working toward a revelatory shift that will bring long-standing peace in a region so ready for the ‘all clear.’