Yelena, a Russian-speaking grandmother, shuffled up Jerusalem Street in Bnei Brak on Monday afternoon, carrying an adult gas mask and two children’s gas masks by the leather straps attached to their cardboard cases.
The Hadera native said foreign reports that Israeli jets had bombed sites in Syria and that the Assad regime had vowed revenge made the decision for her to make the trek from her home some 44 kilometers from Bnei Brak.
Yelena said she already had her own gas mask but came to Bnei Brak to pick up one for her son and two grandchildren, adding that her son wouldn’t be able to get off work to make it to the pickup spot.
It was a common refrain at the distribution spot outside the Bnei Brak Municipality on Monday – parents and grandparents picking up gas masks for their children who were at work and unable to come – though it was unclear how many of the concerned parents were taking matters into their own hands in the face of stubborn children indifferent to reports of Israel’s latest raids on Syria.
Noa Sigler, a 39-year-old Givatayim mother pushing a month-old baby, said she dropped by the pickup center because of the news from Syria.
She said she already has a working gas mask from the 2006 Second Lebanon War, but with two kids born since then, she felt it was time to visit the distribution center, though she added that others in her family, including her sister, were less concerned, even indifferent.
The municipality pickup center was one of two such centers being operated by the postal service in central Israel on Monday, the other being at a post office in central Bat Yam.
The Bnei Brak center was in a small, shaded corner of the courtyard in front of the municipality, appearing almost an afterthought with four young employees killing time on plastic chairs, with one of the girls, wearing leggings, pondering if they should be wearing skirts because they’re in Bnei Brak.
“We wore skirts and long sleeves when we handed out gas masks in Kiryat Sefer,” another female employee responded.
A foreign press photographer said there was a steadier stream of people at the Bat Yam center, but that “it’s more exotic here, it’s haredim, that’s what the foreign audience pictures when they think of Israel.” He then showed a picture of an ultra-Orthodox man picking up gas masks. Another depicted a young girl with a pink iPhone in hand, the Spongebob patch on her backpack in the frame of the photograph, next to the gas mask she was picking up.
While there wasn’t a mad rush for gas masks following the news from Syria, there was a steady trickle of Israelis coming to pick up the protective gear, most of them secular Israelis who said they live outside Bnei Brak or even Tel Aviv altogether.
All of those asked shrugged and said that the alleged Israeli bombing runs in Syria and the threats from Damascus were why they came to the pickup center. Many added that they didn’t see a reason to be too apathetic.
Others said that the fact that long-range rockets hit the Tel Aviv area in the most recent round of hostilities – Operation Pillar of Defense last November – was also a factor.
Yamit Stefansky, a young mother pushing a baby in a stroller, came to pick up a mask for her infant and to get two others checked. She said that she came because of the possibility of war with Syria, but added that she herself would probably not have come this week if she didn’t have a baby to think of. “I probably would have come eventually, but I would have put it off a lot.”
The Moshav Ganot resident added, “I think the situation up there [in the North] could definitely get worse; but I did this more for the kids, even though I don’t know if having this would help anyway.”