In 1991, two months after the end of the First Gulf War, which sent Israelis not only running for shelter but sealing rooms and donning gas masks against possible chemical attack, a new immigrant I worked with wrote as an introduction to a feature, “As the country gets back to routine…” Only then did I realize how traumatized he must have been. Most of the country, as I pointed out to him, was already fully functioning in time for the Purim holiday, days after the war. Occasionally, during the intervening 21-plus years, I’ve thought that maybe the newcomer’s response was the correct one.

Perhaps it isn’t normal to get back to routine within hours or days. Perhaps, in fact, we’re only kidding ourselves.

During the Gulf War, The Jerusalem Post ran a column with curious stories from the sealed rooms – no mean feat in the days in which readers had to actually write letters and mail them to the paper if they wanted them published. One anecdote stuck in my mind. A family described how the rising notes in the opening bars of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue had them running for safety. It hasn’t ruined the piece for me – it would take a lot to make Gershwin bomb in my opinion – but I admit it came back to me with a vengeance during the latest round of hostilities.

Any Jerusalemite who lived through the waves of suicide bombings that accompanied the Oslo Accords and during the second intifada instinctively counts a different type of siren – ambulances. One is acceptable, two is disturbing, three and you check to see whether there’s been a pigua.

In this month’s mini-war, Operation Pillar of Defense, as in other wars, the veterans helped the newcomers – and also the missile novices. I know of a family in the North that had sought temporary respite with a family from the South during the Second Lebanon War and this time returned the favor. A friend from Ashkelon whose daughter got married as the missiles still fell recalls a number of acts of kindness, including being able to move the event from the Southern city to Tel Aviv’s upscale Azrieli Center for the same price.

A former colleague and veteran of the shelling in the greater Beersheba area shared advice with the traumatized Tel Avivians that made me smile: Her suggestion via Facebook: Always carry a towel with you (that way, if the siren catches you outside, you can lie on the ground without, Heaven forbid, getting dirty). I’m surprised that more people didn’t pick up on the cosmic ramifications: “Don’t panic” is the No. 1 advice Douglas Adams shared with fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The other necessity? “A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value – you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal...; you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.”

I have often heard it said that Tel Avivians live on a different planet. I don’t know if the towel advice is proof, or if it’s a sign that they had brutally been brought back to earth.

No war would be complete without a mention of those to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. In this category, surely, former defense minister Amir Peretz, a proud resident of Sderot, must take one of the top spots. I, like many others, laughed at his blinkered vision when he was caught trying to observe military maneuvers without taking the lens cap off his binoculars, but it must be said he had some kind of vision and defense strategy since he fought for the development of the Iron Dome anti-missile system. Without it, journalists and pundits all around the world wouldn’t be asking how come Israel lost so few citizens (as if we should apologize and, perhaps, come up with a system in which every family should leave at least one child outside the bomb shelter whenever the BBC or CNN are in the area).

Another “thank-you” must, of course, go to the reserve soldiers who dropped everything (including, figuratively at least, newborn babies) and prepared to give their all.

While Hamas TV broadcast videos of children stating their desire to become martyrs and of terrorists clutching a Koran in one hand and a weapon in the other and promising to “open the Gates of Hell” to the Zionist soldiers, my Facebook feed was filled with clips of IDF soldiers singing and dancing, celebrating life with Breslovers who came to cheer them, drumming a “No More War Concerto” on an APC and performing the most gangly Gangnam-style video I’ve seen – going through the motions, hampered by flak jackets.

I came to the conclusion that this could be a form of psychological warfare on our part to make our enemies think we’re crazy. In any case, I’m thankful to be on the side that knows how to laugh about life in this world rather than the one concentrating on reaching the next one.

This war that wasn’t a war didn’t manage to produce any hits of the musical kind, but in an utterly Israeli gesture, Shironet, the website that provides Hebrew lyrics, invited the public to vote on their favorite songs in times of emergency and entertainers from particularly Kassam-prone areas got extra play on the radio.

(Sderot has produced a large number of local stars, including the groups Teapacks, Knesiyat Hasekhel and Sfatayim.) In fact, the Israeli entertainment scene divided into those who went South to give free performances in bomb shelters and those (fewer but better known internationally) who signed on “anti-war” protests (as if everyone else actually wanted war).

As in previous campaigns, Hebrew newspapers provided extra pages of puzzles and games dedicated to readers stuck in the worst kind of sheltered existence.

There were also special advice columns on everything from how to handle stress to dealing with children and trauma and maintaining a healthy sex life for those whose partners had not been called up by the military.

(Basically, aim for intimacy and cuddles until “after the war.”) One of my favorite spots belonged to a dietician speaking on the radio about how to deal with the (apparently natural) urge to eat more during the fighting.

Only in Israel would a dietician warn residents of the South to battle the bulge now, before the onslaught of traditional oily Hanukka dishes next month.

And this might be a good point to note that while Gaza’s main export seems to be rockets and missiles, among Sderot’s main industries is the Menora candle company, which brings light to homes around the world and helps celebrate the miracle of Jewish survival in Jerusalem.

May the forces of light always conquer the forces of darkness and may our enemies speedily realize it’s time to throw in the towel.

liat@jpost.com

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