Yesterday, I sat surrounded by tutu-sporting 8-year-olds in the basement bomb shelter of a Tel Aviv community center. There is nothing more tragic to watch than wet-eyed and fearful miniature ballerinas. The twenty minutes I spent there summoned with clarity many of the reasons that brought me to Israel eight years ago in the first place.
When we heard the siren, it was unmistakable. If you’ve heard the Shabbos horn in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, it’s the same sound. And I see the same behaviors here in Israel as when my family heard our first tornado alert in rural Colorado: we looked out our front window to see our elderly neighbor sitting drinking a beer in a lawn chair in his driveway casually watching the sky. The atmosphere here is likewise the same practiced routine with one eye always on the news. If anything, people seem to believe they’ve seen this TV episode before and know how it ends: the Hebrew press is now reporting that Israel authorized 75,000 reserve soldiers be called up and asked Homeland Security to prepare for 7 weeks of fighting.
When talk does turn to the escalation, I hear a similar escalation in internal-Israeli debating. After noting to a Tel Avivi friend that 1991 was the last time the alarm was heard here, he tersely replied, “Yes, we’re more used to suicide bombers in nightclubs and cafes.” Later that day, someone from the north commented that it was about time Tel Avivis felt something personal at stake. And as of earlier today, rockets have fallen near Jerusalem too.
And meanwhile, the civilian residents of Gaza — impoverished and deprived of myriad simple freedoms — huddle in their homes while leaflets and text messages from the IDF warn them to leave combat zones. But to where, it’s not apparent. Unlike the alarm and shelters that I have access to all over Tel Aviv, there is no warning for incoming IDF airstrikes on the missiles hidden beneath the house next door, nor are there fortified bomb shelters to retreat into. Certainly their ruling, blood-thirsty, religious fundamentalist junta will take seriously their demands for ceasefire…
All of this was yet to cross my mind as I sat in the shelter with ballerinas full of confusion. There’s little to do in there except pondering a little of your own mortality. Those minutes — let us hope they will not add up to hours this month — make you reflect briefly about what you value and hope for most for the world, and wonder whether you are working hard enough for it to come to be. An end to wars is definitely on my list and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I am now even more dedicated to.