As an educator, I’m always interested to see the similarities and differences between children in the States and in Israel. During this time period of Operation Protective Edge, the differences seem even starker.
Thursday as I walking through the Havat haNoar (where Ramah Israel offices are, also number of Israeli day camps), there was a group of Israeli children with their counselors. They were sitting on the steps of the Auditorium with their too-large backpacks and excited laughs for another day of camp. As I approached this group, I overheard the counselor explaining to the children they were going to learn a new prayer today. She instructed the children to repeat after her: “Misheberach avoteinu avraham, yitzhak, v’yaakov, hu y’varech et hayaley tzva gibor l’yisrael…” and these young children dutifully began repeating this prayer. The prayer for soldiers who are defending the state Israel: May it be your will Gd of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob he who blesses the fighters of the Israeli Defense Force… This prayer isn’t hypothetical or far away for these children; the soldiers manning the Iron Dome or crossing into Gaza are as real as their counselors at camp. In fact, some of them may be the same person, called up from reserve duty and pulled away from their summer jobs. They went off to war and their campers prayed for their safe return.
On Friday Ramah Seminar participants go to spend Shabbat with family/friends around Israel and I too went for Shabbat to my teacher Nechama and her family, one of the many people who adopts me when I’m in Israel. This Shabbat, her nephews were visiting for Shabbat as well. They entered the house and each claimed their bed, bouncing excitedly on their mattresses. Then Nechama said, “Come boys, let me show you where we need to go if there is a siren.” The boys sobered and followed her to the staircase where she showed them which steps they would sit on. It struck me that this is what Israeli children learn to do when they go to a new place.
Saturday afternoon with Nechama and I went for a walk with the boys. A neighbor commented to Nechama, “O you should take the boys to see the Iron Dome*! It’s just up the road, then turn onto that path.” Two of the boys wanted to go. Since I was curious, I went along for the walk with Nechama and the boys. We were clearly not the only ones who had this idea; the path leading to the Iron Dome battery was busy with people coming and going. It was almost like a tourist attraction.
The icing on the cake was reading this article in Haaretz entitled “When 90 seconds isn’t enough time to reach a shelter: For Israel’s disabled and elderly, the sounds of sirens present unique challenges.” http://www.haaretz.com/mobile/.premium-1.605767?v=0335940A745CADC6FC07A8F9E8DFF4A2
I flashbacked to fire drills with my students throughout the school year. In Montgomery County, MD we are required to have fire drills once a month. My students generally do this in a calm and orderly manner, but there are always a few who are agitated by the loud noises and disruption to their routines. There was one morning as the buses were unloading this past year when the fire alarm went off. This was clearly NOT a drill. School had no even started yet. My co teacher and I frantically started trying to direct our students off the buses and away from the school doors. But they were confused and upset and not inclined to follow our directions. Would I have been able to get them to safety if I had a 90 second time limit and a potential missile heading toward me? For some families, the answer is no, and they need to weigh the risks of moving their disabled child or elderly parent versus the risk of a direct hit by a missile. One Tel Avivian stated: “We figured that it was riskier to get him to the bomb shelter, which requires that he go down some stairs, than to keep him sitting in his usual place in front of the TV. The chances of the house taking a direct hit, we figured, were smaller than his falling trying to make his way to the safe space in less than a minute and a half. All we asked is that he sit away from the windows so if shrapnel falls in the yard and the windows break, he doesn’t get cut.”
Observing the children praying for IDF soldiers. Helping the little nephews practice crouching on the stairs. Walking to see the Iron Dome. Reading about the horrifying choices families need to make when they hear a siren. This has been my life here in Israel the last few weeks. But this is every day for Israeli children and their families. And I’m sure it’s not different for the Palestinian children in Gaza. It’s mentally draining and psychologically trying. The past few weeks has left me emotional and confused, but overwhelmingly, I just feel sad. I’m not sure where is “here” and where is “there” anymore but I am sure that these experiences should not be happening to anyone, anywhere.
*There are nine units that make up the Iron Dome, in Hebrew Kippah Barzel. They can be quickly constructed and deconstructed in a matter of days and moved if necessary. So far in Operation Protective Edge, eight have have been deployed in the field.