Busy work under fire

For one resident of Nahariya, the booms and bombs resonate as far as London.

By HADASSAH BAT-HAIM
August 10, 2006 11:10
4 minute read.

 
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When upset or worried or simply in a bad temper, said my mother, "Cook something. It's creative, needs concentration and then you can eat it - if you haven't been distracted too much." Other remedies are offered - indeed, urged. One friend digs in his garden, uprooting previously cherished plants and substituting others. But I have no garden, only a window box that already looks very discouraged. One of my aunts, in a different conflict, knitted enough sweaters to outfit a regiment. Useful, but I can't knit, and being blind absolved me from any feelings of guilt in this direction. Yes, I know there are blind people who knit, but they probably learned before they were 80. I could make a bread pudding. There's a lot of stale bread. It is wholesome and, when tarted up with Kiddush wine, very palatable. Our building has five of its dwellings still occupied. We are too stubborn, too optimistic ("It'll be over in a day or two"), too old or too lazy to accept one of the generous invitations to come and stay for the duration. Offers are as widespread as a kibbutz outside Acre to Miami Beach. We gather in the shelter for tea and an exchange of news. Grocery stores are open, and someone is ready to go. We accept a ride. Everyone listens. Was that a rocket? Or a cannon? Was it one of ours? We are five km. from the border, so there's no mistaking the sound of explosives. Was that the alarm? For a long time we had no siren. The explanation - when some official could be pinned down - was that a siren was too noisy and would frighten people. "But isn't that the idea?" one could ask. At this special time in our history, citizens have to face the truth: It is very scary. The alarm, such as it was, had evidently been borrowed from an ice-cream vendor and tinkles gently up and down the main streets, reinforced by police vans with a stern message. Now we have a real siren, and although the rockets land before the sound of the alarm, we are satisfied to hear it. It's more professional. At its wail, the offer to go to the supermarket is withdrawn. It's good to have a real alarm, but we have no all-clear signal. Old timers and those with wartime experience - which covers most Israelis - offer different estimates: "Fifteen minutes after the last bomb, it's safe to go out." This, when we had 150 missiles aimed at us in seven hours, is not easy to calculate. The supermarket had to wait. Still the bank is open, allowing a dash between alarms. Once inside, there might be a wait before there is a gap. The post office is bravely selling stamps, but the cafe nearby is boarded up. Scuttle home. A tremendous swoosh. It probably fell into the sea. Thousands of dead jellyfish litter the beach. We intractable "golden oldies" are well taken care of. Every day somebody comes, wails and crackles notwithstanding. A nicely packed, warm meal is delivered into my hands. I don't always know what it is, but it's always palatable and varied. From across the road a friend dashes over in the morning with a freshly baked breakfast roll. Simha, my friend and pedicurist, visits between booms to prepare my feet for London pavements. This visit was fixed last year, and though I would not leave here feeling that I have been driven out, a long-time promise is also an obligation. We have heard that in places far from here - Tel Aviv, for example - life goes on as usual and we, in our shelter discussions, are amazed. We are all apprehensive. All of us have a son, nephew, grandson or neighbor in uniform. We do not express anxiety but it is there, and there is immediate silence for newscasts, an exchange of glances, a silent nod or weak smile. Not this time? In the shelter I offer pieces of bread pudding. It is accepted politely, though with some suspicion. "English food?" they ask. But the Kiddush wine excuses any taint of Anglo-Saxon cuisine. The siren is wailing and I have to go. I make a modified dash for the taxi. How odd to think that tomorrow night there will be no siren. No booms, no rattle of windows or rumbling, only the sounds of the traffic on Edgware Road. Police, fire, ambulances, trucks, drunks fighting. Shall I sleep better? LONDON (Sunday) - At 2:30 a.m. there is the unmistakable rumble of tanks rolling past my window. I try to ignore it or at least to shut it out, then a feeling of unreality creeps in. Can't be tanks - this is London. Barefooted, I approach the window cautiously. We have been warned about glass splinters. Down in the street, moving ponderously on six sets of wheels is an immense pantechnicon taking up half the road and dragging behind it another vehicle. In big letters, this gigantic moving van proclaims to contain a complete mobile home with luxurious fitments. In the distance there is the rise and fall of an alarm… No, it's a police car speeding toward an accident. Or a burglary. Or maybe an ambulance with an expectant mother. Nothing to do with me. London is not at war. The bangs and crashes I can hear are buildings under construction, not homes blasted by missiles. Those booms are not bombs. Though Londoners have not forgotten the attacks on them last year, they have absorbed that episode into a wariness that was not there before. In the Galilee I left yesterday, it is still evolving. It is not easy to treat noise as just noise. Nothing to do with me, it will take time to realize that absence of personal commitment - the obsessions with newscasts, the endless discussions. It certainly feels better, easier to sleep, even to eat. Will it last when I get home again?

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