An 18th Birthday

16 Nov 2012

Yesterday was my youngest daughter’s 18th birthday. All she had asked for was for the family to join her in watching a movie with popcorn, a simple enough celebration. My middle son works in Netivot, so he wasn’t present. We spent a fair amount of the early part of the day huddled together in our ‘safe’ place — a small hall at the centre of the house, which puts the largest number of walls between us and Gaza; the direction any rocket would be coming from. There are no windows in case an outside hit might shatter glass. There is no safe room here, or in the houses of any of our neighbours. The nearest bomb shelter is quite far away – even a good runner couldn’t get to it in fifteen seconds.

As the spaces between the booms got wider, we contemplated starting our celebration, only then the power went off. I’ve no idea what was hit, or what caused the power outage. It doesn’t matter much. Fortunately the power was back on fairly quickly.

We all went into our den, a long room with a futon sofa, an easy chair, and some floor space in front of the television. My daughter started her movie of choice and my husband made the popcorn. We had a surprise for her, an ice cream cake that my husband had picked up in Netivot while driving middle son to work in the morning. Mercifully, there were no rocket alerts during the movie.

We brought in a few small presents that we were able to pick up. Most of the stores were closed, but we managed to find a couple of things, paints, a case for holding beads and other small objects, some paint brushes. Not terribly exciting, but as I said, the stores were closed. A promise was made of picking up our special present for her when next we can get to Be’er Sheva.

In the midst of this, a friend called to see if we were all right. She asked if we had a safe place to go to, and I started to laugh. After five years in the Gaza periphery I still don’t know how to respond to people asking about a safe room, or bomb shelter. Once I started laughing, I wasn’t able to stop. It was a quiet laugh, not really hysterical. More about the impossibility of ever explaining – there are no words – to anyone not here what it is like.

My daughter waited patiently for the phone call to end and we resumed our party.

She is eighteen now. She has her date for going into the army, in April. My two older sons are out of the army and waiting to see if they are called back. My youngest son is thirteen.

We moved here knowing that rockets were a part of life here. I truly believe that Hashem brought us here specifically, that this is where we belong. Everything about it is right for us. When we heard our first rocket boom, we’d been here a few weeks. Not too long after that came Operation Cast Lead. We stayed here, with farm animals it is not easy to just pick up and leave a place. We spent a part of one shabbot all crowded into our ‘safe’ place with two guests who had joined us for a meal. It was awkward and interesting. I guess that is one way to really get to know someone.

When the rockets started falling again this time there was one difference. The Iron Dome system didn’t exist here during Cast Lead. Now in addition to the rockets going over head and landing around us, there are these very large booms up in the sky that were quite startling at first. I haven’t adjusted yet, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.

Of course I am afraid sometimes. Still, one of us could be killed crossing the street, or being mugged in NYC. And if we weren’t here, we wouldn’t be in the place that Hashem wants us to be, where he placed us and where we have put down roots and call home. I worry when one of us is in transit. Somehow I don’t feel afraid for us as long as we are here in our un-safe home, or the ones at work are at their jobs. I don’t want my working son or daughter tremping – too much time spent outside without shelter. Silly to think of when we haven’t any real shelter here, but it’s how feelings work.

We had a nice birthday party, and there were a few booms at the end of it, while I was trying to make a short video to show to family members outside of Israel.

Today is a normal day. My working son should be coming home in an hour or so. We’ve had two tzeva adoms, one in the wee, small hours when youngest son literally walked in his sleep to the centre of the house. I think next time I’ll tell him to stay in bed, but to put his down comforter over his head. It’s not that much more dangerous.

I don’t know what other people think about when they think about or hear about 200 rockets. I think, it’s not 200, it is one tzeva adom at a time. It is being grateful for making through an hour-long movie without interruption. It is waking up after midnight wondering whether others on our moshav even bother to get out of bed for the alarm. It is buying paints and a plastic box as a birthday present, because no place that sells anything as trivial as gifts is open for business. It is being relieved every time one of my kids comes in the door, and it is crying deep in my heart for those families who aren’t so lucky. It is not knowing what to say to well meaning friends, and not being able to talk about it with those who are here because we are all coping the very best way that we can.

I believe that Hashem brought my family here for a reason, and I have faith that He didn’t bring us here just to abandon us. I don’t know what to say about my experiences during the last few days of increased rockets. I guess, first I’d have to have an answer to why the increased rocket fire demands a story, when the rockets that fell in all the previous days, weeks and months weren’t considered worth mentioning. What is different today? The IDF blows up things in Gaza, and the ground shakes here and our windows rattle. That is about it.

It doesn’t change the amount of faith needed to get through each day. A rocket that is launched today isn’t any more dangerous than the one that came last week, or a month ago. Each day is a gift from Hashem. If a day brings a rocket, or more than one, I don’t rely any more on Hashem, although perhaps, sometimes, I am more aware of how much I must rely on Him.

I love where I live. I love the State of Israel, and all of it’s people. I love the life that Hashem has given me. Rockets are a part of that life. Today, in addition to my regular prayers, I am adding one that we shouldn’t have to be evacuated. That is what I worry about today. Tomorrow, maybe it will be something different, but the answer to it all is always Hashem.

Happy Birthday Simcha!

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.