A bitter routine

Our children have no place where they can really feel safe.

By MAURICIO BALTER
November 7, 2011 23:12
Rocket-damaged school in Beersheba [file]

Rocket-damaged school in Beersheba 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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After the Hebrew months of Elul and Tishrei that are so full of meaning and spiritual repair work on our souls, we enter the month of Heshvan.

The feeling is strange. We move from one kind of atmosphere to another – from an atmosphere of soulsearching to one of great joy. Suddenly, Heshvan (the month’s original name is Marheshvan) arrives.

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And why was this month called Marheshvan? There are two reasons. One is that Heshvan is considered a month that has a bitter taste (the Hebrew word mar means “bitter”): It has no holidays, no festive days and, in fact, according to Jewish tradition, several disastrous events occurred during this month. The second reason is that this is the month when rain begins to fall in the Land of Israel. The word “mar” also means “drop of water,” as it is written in the Bible: “Hen goyim ke-mar mi-dli (Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket),” Isaiah (40:15).

My original intention in writing these words was to express the idea that in Marheshvan, we can now finally return to our usual routines – children could resume the school year, our synagogue, Eshel Avraham, could begin our study groups for adults, that men and women around southern Israel could resume their usual routines. In Israel, as everyone knows, life goes back to normal “after the holidays.”

However, although the holiday season was, thank God, tranquil, our normal routines did not return.

The residents of southern Israel, especially Beersheba, returned to a harsh reality.

After the joy of Gilad Schalit’s return to his home in Israel, there was a lot of talk in the Israeli media about negotiations with the Palestinians, perhaps even with Hamas. Unfortunately, as we have learned from our past experiences, whenever there is progress, there are also fanatics bent on sabotaging any possibility of conciliation or an easing of tensions.

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As I write these lines, all the schools in Beersheba have been shut for three days – nursery schools, kindergartens, elementary schools, junior high schools and high schools. All the pupils are at home.

No, this is not a mini-vacation. We are under siege.

Let me tell you what it is like to live under siege. The first problem is that although children are not in school, their parents are expected to be at work. But somebody has to look after them. This is not a vacation period. There are no summer camps. No sleepover camps. So, in most families, one of the parents must ask for a day off from work in order to stay at home and look after the children.

The second problem is actually leaving home. Traveling in a vehicle suddenly becomes dangerous when threatened with missile attacks. If the air raid sirens go off while you are traveling, you have several alternatives, as the instructions issued by the IDF’s Home Front Command tell us.

The first alternative is to get out of the car and to take shelter in a nearby apartment building. In theory, this is a good solution. In practice, however, it is not such a good solution. We were on our way back on Sunday from a series of meetings in Tel Aviv when the sirens shrieked. In extensive areas near the entrance to Beersheba there are no apartment buildings.

The second alternative is to get out of the vehicle and stretch yourself out on the ground. The third alternative is to stay in the vehicle.

All these alternatives are problematic. It is no coincidence that all of the persons injured and the person killed (in Ashkelon) in the recent rocket attacks were traveling when the air raid sirens started to wail.

The serious disruption of our normal routine is the heart of the matter. Yesterday, at 6:30 p.m., the sirens sounded in Beersheba but the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system downed the Grad rocket that was fired at the city. A half-hour later, I returned to my home. I was about to enter the apartment building when one of my neighbors emerged in order start her daily jog – just as many of us do.

One of my neighbors saw her and called out, “Hey, are you crazy? Why are you going out now to jog? It’s dangerous to go out now. What will you do if there is another air raid siren? And what if a missile falls? What will you do? Run a little faster?” The missiles are having an impact on more than just on our day-to-day activities. They are also having an impact on the basic elements of our lives. In effect, we are living in a constant state of tension, 24 hours a day, a state of passive tension. Every noise sounds like an air raid siren, making us run to seek shelter. Then, when everything is over, we keep hearing the air raid siren. It is as if we are actually seeking the sound of the air raid siren.

This is not paranoia; this is survival. You have only one minute to get to an air raid shelter or some suitable alternative; you have no time to waste checking whether this is really an air raid siren or whether your imagination is playing tricks on you.

It’s always good to find a bomb shelter; at least this is a place where you can feel safe. The sad fact is that we have still not been able to raise all the funds needed for the construction of an air raid siren for the children attending the nursery schools in our congregation, Eshel Avraham. We pray each and every day that there will be no surprises in the middle of the school day and that no missiles will fall, God forbid, on Beersheba.

Our children have no place where they can really feel safe.

So we pray each and every day for a normal routine instead of the present situation. A life that is not routine can sometimes be a blessing. In our present reality, it is a curse.

“May He who makes peace in the heavens make peace for us and for all Israel and for all the world’s inhabitants. And let us say ‘Amen.’”

The writer is rabbi of Eshel Avraham Congregation in Beersheba and president of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel.

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