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
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
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
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).
“thank-you” must, of course, go to the reserve soldiers who dropped everything
(including, figuratively at least, newborn babies) and prepared to give their
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.
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
May the forces of light always conquer the forces of darkness
and may our enemies speedily realize it’s time to throw in the