Teaching during terror

(By Anav Silverman)
It''s 7:30 in the morning. I leave the house, lock the door and walk down to the bus stop in Jerusalem. I''m not late and the bus is on time. A few minutes later, I enter the school with time to prepare for the next lesson.
A good start to the day so far.
But the atmosphere in the teacher''s room is different. Sure there is the usual sipping (or gulping) of coffee and conversations about students and weather. But when I overhear one teacher remark that classes have been canceled in Ashdod, Israel''s fifth largest city, something''s amiss.
I soon learn that a Grad rocket fired from Gaza exploded on the coastal city during the night, prompting the decision to cancel school. It was the first time that the Israeli city of 200,000 residents was struck by a rocket in the past two years since Operation Cast Lead.
I enter my seventh grade English class, reworking my lesson to talk about the recent events. One student worriedly tells me she has family in Ashdod. "They''re scared and so am I, for them," she says.
After the lesson, I go back to the teacher''s room. The news only gets worse.
Be''er Sheba, southern Israel''s largest city has also been struck. This time two Grad rockets exploded, one in a residential neighborhood, damaging a synagogue and several other buildings while a piece of shrapnel has penetrated an apartment and wounded a man. Countless people were sent into shock. Gaza''s Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Be''er Sheba''s mayor also decides to close the city''s schools for the day.
We Jerusalem teachers continue on regularly with lessons, as terror continues to strike at southern Israel. It is hard to believe that following a massive 50-rocket strike from Gaza on Israeli border communities this past weekend, the rocket terror continues to reach deeper into Israel, harming more civilians.
It is only after 3:00 p.m. when we first hear that tragedy has also struck our city.
"There was an attack," a teacher, Tali, tells me. "Where now?" I ask. "Near the Jerusalem central bus station," she answers. I get a sinking feeling in my stomach.
The location of the explosion is about a 10-minute walk from our school, and it took place during the time of day when many students and teachers travel back home. A few minutes later, another fellow teacher receives a text message informing him that his tenth grade student has been injured and hospitalized. There is a small gathering outside the teachers'' room. Several tenth grade students, friends of this injured boy, stand tense and fearful, looking for a teacher''s reassurance. One stocky boy breaks downs into tears.
We find out later that their classmate was lightly injured in the foot by shrapnel from the explosion and thankfully suffered no heavier injuries. Close to 40 Israelis were injured in the attack and one woman was killed.
All this 10 minutes away from a school of 1,200 students.
It is surreal the way in which this Wednesday has ended. As I answer phone calls from frantic friends and my parents back in the US, calling to check if I''m OK, I can only reply that I''m fine and not to worry. I can''t stop thinking about my own students, hoping and praying that they were out of harm''s way.
Only a week and half ago, I was at the Fogel family''s funeral, the five family members who were brutally killed in a terrorist attack carried out by Fatah''s Al Aqsa Brigades on Friday night, March 13. The Israeli family, who was killed in their home in Itamar near Nabulus, had over 20,000 people come to pay their respects at their funeral.
The transition from relative quiet to unrest, from life to death, from joy to tears, can engulf cities in different parts of this country within a day.
One thing for sure is clear. Israel will have to respond to this wave of terror. Over 70 missile attacks, 45 people injured, a family murdered and hundreds of civilians in shock, cannot be ignored or silently accepted. When Israel does react, the international community and mainstream media will be quick to condemn the state as cruel and unreasonably aggressive. This is really the only consistent response that we can expect from the world, while we attempt to maintain a normal semblance of life, teaching and educating a future generation in Israel to love and not to fear.
Anav Silverman, originally from Maine, works as an educator at HebrewUniversity''s Secondary School of Education in Jerusalem and as a free-lance writer.