To my friends and family outside, let’s get technical.
It’s Saturday morning, and your plan was to sleep till, oh, 9am. Take it easy, get everyone dressed for shul, go get your Simchat Torah aliya.
But instead, you wake up to an absolutely awful 80s video game sound, obnoxiously loud, and wonder if your husband clicked some stupid reel with the sound up. But you’re feeling forgiving, so you roll over until it sounds again and you realize – siren.
When did he download the Pikud HaOref app? Did he always have it? Your thoughts come in waves, and that one is quickly tucked under the following one: Get upstairs, now, wake your sleeping mother and maybe you’ll even coax your wary dog to follow you up. Maybe.
Seconds later (it has to be), all seven of you – dog wimped out – are locked behind the slammed heavy shelter door, and you’re, well, kinda eye rolling inside. Yeah yeah ok. Huh? Yeah whatever. Been here, done this.
On the second one, the one that sneaks up before you had a chance to make coffee, you think, Ok, I guess someone’s asking for it.
On the third one – still no coffee – your husband is mouthing to you that it’s actually really bad (he’s checked).
You eventually get that coffee between a few more sirens; what you don’t do is open your own phone. One of us scrolling is enough, right?
As the day gets worse, you become glumly proud of your decision to leave your phone off. Oh, no, it’s not piety. It’s… staying calm for the kids. Who are staring at you, even when they’re not.
The day falls further and further apart as you have no choice but to hear – your hearing works, unfortunately – as more and more people around you fill you in on gruesome things that can’t possibly be true but are. Numbers that don’t make sense. Facts that can’t be nonfiction.
By sundown, there’s no more calm to keep. Emo has set in. Reality is an altered state, and it’s pulled you under, wave by wave by wave.
A significant portion of your country has been slaughtered.
Now you’re wishing well the men your age – your friends and peers; the reservists who packed a bag and left when called; you’re clicking somber uniformed selfie after somber uniformed selfie in your community Whatsapp group.
At some point you tell your son that what’s happened is the first pogrom in a long time; he asks, what’s a pogrom and you weep because whatever vacation from Jewish reality we’ve all been living in for decades is now, brutally, over.
Your big task is to make sure your mother gets on her flight back home to the US, yes, this very night, because it’s about to get much, much, much worse and you’re grateful that her induction into terror life was only a succession of bomb shelter disturbances.
That’s a word you can’t scrub from your mouth, from your ears, from your children’s questions. You had to, you see, explain to your eldests about the hostages, because they grow up in a world where 3-5 second videos are easily shared to handheld computers in their tiny little innocent pubescent palms; 3-5 second videos weaponized in such a way as to give nightmares that would put my accidental seeing Silence of the Lambs at age 13 to shame.
So we have The Talk.
The Whatsapp talk.
The rumors talk.
The hostage talk.
The No, I don’t know what comes next or how long or how any of this actually happened talk.
I admit to my kids that my trust is broken; that I really don’t know. I really don’t know.
I admit to myself that, indeed, the pact we make when we live here, in Israel – the pact signed with a one-way ticket, stamped with our Hebrew names on an ID card, sealed with the births of our sabra children, giving them a whole identity most of us longed for for thousands of years – that pact – the pact we make when we live here, in Israel, is broken when the state we threw our hat into can no longer deliver on its promise – to be the ultimate Jewish sanctuary, to be the place Jews can trust that their survival means something, that they’re valued.
Oh. It got heavy there, for a minute. Let’s get technical again.
You somehow fall sleep after 3am; somehow. You somehow wake up, willingly one supposes, to reenter this nightmare that is now the next day. Numbers, faces, would-be mourners, scrolling, refreshing, higher numbers, more videos, more weeping parents, more confusion, more unanswers, more governmental scrambling, more rumors. More jeering, more cheering.
But the show – the shit show – goes on. So it’s Sunday, and across the world outside, it’s still a holiday. So you may forget that your friends and family abroad have no idea – or a sliver of an idea – what the hellscape you’ve been wading through.
You… work? Kinda? Stare into space? For sure? Answer so many questions from your wide-eyed kids? Definitely?
The planes are non-stop overhead. Rerouted passenger planes are a welcome break from the louder fighter jets making their way back for more.
The deaths start pouring in. Three degrees, two degrees, one degree. The deaths make you realize how many people you have in your life with 20-year-old children.
You realize your calendar will be clearer for funerals, shiva. For now though – bodies, where are the bodies? – you’ll have to wake up from the trance and start volunteering, or setting a better example of functioning for your kids.
You’ll find out people in your family circle are missing – missing – unaccounted for, and you realize the story there ends in three ways – they are deceased, they are kidnapped in Gaza, or they will somehow, some way, magically appear again.
At some point you’ll realize this is all a spelled-out section of Lamentations. You’ll recognize that feeling in the back of your throat for the last two days was feeling the need to vomit.
On day three, you’ll find a way through some of the cloudiness to be somewhat productive. You recruit your daughter to join you on an excursion to the next town over to buy supplies for reservists. She’s not doing so great so you want to be calm as possible, but you’ve also just been told by a trusted source that it’s time to prepare for a next stage, so your excursion turns into a somewhat upbeat scavenger hunt for bomb shelter supplies, which gets even more “haha Ima c’mon” when the third store doesn’t have bottled water.
The weather is ominous in its own right; dusty and yellowish and dim. You return from Beitar Illit to pick up another daughter and take her to her reading tutor; you figure it’s a worthwhile distraction from all the gloom. Right?
Right? Was that a radio you didn’t know you had on, or…
It’s a siren, and it was too faint at first, but you just let your nine-year-old out the car on the passenger’s side and told her to go upstairs to the front door before you realized there is a siren, right here right now, and it registers that she registered it already and is frozen in place and you shut your car off and scramble around it to pull her under you as you both tear up the long flight of stone steps, the explosions are so loud you’re aware, somewhere in your whirring brain, that they were not intercepted – and they are really really close – and there’s one, two – you get to the front door, she’s in front of you and pushes the handle, it’s locked, she’s thinking quick, bangs on the door as the third boom crashes into your ears and the door opens to the horrified face of a person who can’t believe they just opened their front door without checking who it was in these times.
“I knew, I knew from the knocking – I knew it was ok,” he says seconds later.
You’re still holding her tight, your arms around her front, you’re hovering, and you realize, even with the belated siren still blaring overhead, you didn’t have 90 seconds, that’s what it’s like to not have 90 seconds.
Later, when you’re back home, together on the couch, holding her again, you can’t believe how lucky you are.
It’s not that you dodged a bullet; you didn’t, there are thousands of people an hour away who did or didn’t dodge bullets in the last 72 hours, and nearly 1,000 of them are now social media fodder.
It’s that – well – it just is. You’re just here. Your kids are home. They’re happy to see you. Right now, right here, you exist, you breathe, you smile, you feel.
You don’t and can’t know what comes next.