On Tuesday morning I woke up and got ready for work as usual. I kissed my kids goodbye for the day and left my house around 7:00 AM. Only on the way to work did I hear on the news that half of my country did not have a typical morning. Tens of thousands of people woke up to sirens throughout the night and early morning hours. Schools were closed for about half the country. Hundreds of business were closed. Many roads were closed. Train lines were not running.
By the time I arrived at work, an hour later, my phone was full of messages about the security situation or matzav in Hebrew, as we call it. My kids’ schools all sent messages telling the parents not to worry as they were prepared in case of an emergency. My three-year-old’s teacher sent a message that they practiced going into the mamad (secure room).
Having grown up in Chicago, I thought to myself, “I’m used to fire drills and tornado drills, so why not rocket siren drills?” I think it’s the extent that our security situation has pervaded our everyday lives, the realization that such young kids have to practice drills entering bomb shelters.
After knowing that my own family was safe, I now turned towards my “OU family.” What many people don’t know is that the Orthodox Union (OU) in Israel operates 20 youth centers for at-risk Israeli youth in peripheral communities throughout the country. We have hundreds of OU staff “in the trenches” working to strengthen youth in the communities of Sderot, Ofakim, Dimona, Holon as well as many other cities affected this week.
Local municipalities partner with us, a requirement for opening an OU Youth Center, providing a physical space for each center’s operation. It happens to be that most municipalities offer us abandoned bomb shelters which we turn into an experiential educational space to work with “our youth.” Shelters are locked throughout the year, yet we have access to them for our programs. When they are needed for security purposes, such as during this recent crisis, they are unlocked and opened for the public, something which our staff spent the morning preparing.
Rocket attacks not only threaten the physical wellbeing of our children, they also compound our youth’s ongoing trauma and ability to work through it. During an attack our Youth Centers suspend their programming in order to protect our youth’s physical welfare. Youth are robbed of the only means to work on expressing themselves and overcoming their trauma. Not only are they home from school all day, worried about the possibility of an impending attack, but they cannot attend the very program that provides them with the tools to deal with their fears, anxiety and trauma.
While closed, however, our Youth Center advisors work relentlessly to maintain constant contact with the youth in their care to guide them through the crisis. The OU Israel Youth Centers’ whatsapp groups buzzes and buzzes with our staff offering to help each other and provide resources to their colleagues in
cities that are most affected. Stories of our advisors reaching out to our youth and checking in on them are all too inspiring as they provide an outlet for youth to express the fears they do not want to “burden” their parents with, acting as true heroes as they put on a brave face so their own parents won’t worry.
Despite the craziness, the fear, and the uncertainty, there is an unwavering feeling that there is nowhere else we would rather be. One message and realization that comes through from our crisis is that we are all united, “Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh’ Le’ Zeh” (all of Israel is responsible for each other). It is through our Jewish unity and concern for one another that that we find the continued strength to go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning not only to the ringing of our alarm clocks, but to the screaming sound of our sirens as well.
Visit ouisrael.org/donate to give an expression of your solidarity and enable us to continue to provide OU Israel’s youth with the strength to brave the current crisis and see the light of a brighter, calmer day.
Laya Bejell is development officer for OU Israel.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.