More letters from the home front

Pictures of homes being hit, smoke rising from houses and trees and bushes aflame. When will we stop hearing alarms, booms and flying planes?

'Northern border - live' Pictures of homes being hit, smoke rising from houses and trees and bushes aflame. When will we stop hearing alarms, booms and flying planes? I talked to my friends in Nahariya on the phone and we had to hang up in the middle because sirens went off and they had to enter the bomb shelters. We just want it to stop. It's too hard to deal with. We want to go back to our normal lives that have been disrupted for almost a month. I feel sick to my stomach when I see the ruined towns. That's my home. That's my life… One thing that makes Israel incredible is the amount of support, help and organization provided in such a short amount of time. While driving down the highway I see signs that say "Israel is strong"; "The North - we are with you." That is what makes me smile, knowing that Israel is strong and that the bond among people is so strong that they won't let anything happen to you. Another thing that eases the pain that northern citizens feel and helps them keep living their lives is seeing phone numbers for psychological support, dental support, day camps, and more than 300 families offering their homes to the people of the North. You feel that you're not alone. - Becca Baer Nahariya A forced vacation After three weeks at home in our kibbutz on the coast between Nahariya and the Lebanese border, ours was a weary non-routine of aimless days succeeding restless nights. Half-hourly radio news updates were juxtaposed against the irregular rhythm of outgoing artillery punctuated by the occasional rocket barrage. Among the loud, sharp cracks of the nearby incomings were the very nearest, whose approach and passing made a hissing, sizzling sound that provoked a long, frozen moment of unbearable suspense. With the growing realization that this wouldn't be "over soon," the occasional risks and overall restrictions of our situation were nowhere near as bad as what others were facing. As we're basically homebodies who go nowhere except family visits to the US, leaving seemed frivolous and we ruled that option out. Then came the time for our younger daughter to start her two weeks of chamber music courses, this year relocated from their traditional northern venues. Lacking the usual options of carpooling or public transportation, we faced a drive on either of the two roads south, the first three-quarters of an hour being within rocket range. The prospect of turning back seemed downright foolish. So on Day 20 we grabbed our bags packed with a few changes of clothes, my laptop computer, and set out during the quiet hours long before dawn: two edgy adults, an excited teenager eager to resume her studies and rejoin her friends, and a housebound dog whining at the strangeness of the journey. Our destination: the home of a quiltmaker friend and her husband in a small residential community in the Sharon. That first day out involved a redeployment of our family members. Dropping the violist off in Kfar Saba entangled us in the snarl of weekday morning traffic. We checked the dog in at a kennel on a nearby moshav. Then we were southbound again, off to collect our elder daughter, freshly graduated from high school and since Day Two in phone contact with us from Kvutsat Schiller near Rehovot, which was hosting teens and families from her boyfriend's kibbutz just east of ours. As she'd been telling us over the phone, all she really wanted was "for this to be over" - and no matter how peaceful a refuge we could offer, it couldn't console her for long. My intention to help with household chores and otherwise interfere as little as possible with our hosts' daily lives quickly gave way to their style of home hospitality. We were indulged with unaccustomed luxuries, with gourmet home-cooked meals and pleasant decor. Between guided tours of specialty shops and hours of conversation, I immersed myself in the sewing room and library. The one thing I lacked was concentration, causing me to abandon my usual long hours of Internet activity and correspondence. This was, it seems, a vacation. Our aberrations were considerately excused, though our hostess expressed wonder at adults sleeping with the lights on. (I didn't reveal how habituated I'd become to sleeping fully clothed.) Our most peculiar behavior was undoubtedly the seemingly choreographed response when our mobile phones signaled an SMS from the kibbutz, those same messages we'd been getting back home: of alerts and attacks, the limited hours when the mini-market or clinic would be open, activities and performances scheduled and rescheduled or canceled, calls for volunteers and announcements of meetings. While we all shared a vigil around the broadcast news, our hosts had another preoccupation: Their son, married with young children, had been called up for reserve duty. Telephone contact being only sporadic, this tacit vigil would be constant in thousands of homes throughout Israel. Then Friday night came the strange yet familiar sound: a missile exploded in Hadera, far south of Haifa and near us. Whatever tranquility we can maintain in our immediate surroundings, this is war. - Deborah S. Jacobs Western Galilee Why? I'm back at work after a weekend of warning sirens and rockets falling by the hundreds over northern Israel. Almost no one at work today, but I opened five new cases myself this morning, so I guess life goes on regardless. I thought about Thursday's staff meeting with Jews, Christians and Muslims sharing their concerns. It put me in a more optimistic frame of mind. Also, the Tisha Be'Av fast was Thursday and I immersed myself in reading lots of historical material on the many blows my people have sustained throughout history, and by the grace of God, still survive. It strengthened my commitment to living in the Holy Land. At this point the stress is so prolonged that it leads to some confusion for many of us. Do we stand in the firing line and be counted or do we duck for personal cover and save our own skins? How much of what is common among us is put into the balance, and how much that separates us from one another? On what perspective do we put the emphasis: our individual lives, our families, our communities, our country, our region, our planet? Is this crazy, violent situation against Jews, against Israel, against Western culture, against America, against democracy and equal rights? My friend Beth forwarded an article about the recent discovery of an ancient Bible in an Irish bog that was open on the 83rd Psalm. When I read it, it seemed like Armageddon type stuff with the forces arrayed in the North against the Jewish people and their God. Do any of us really know what's going on? I do know rockets are really falling, killing, wounding and terrorizing innocent people and, in retaliation, many more are falling on the other side of the border. What's the real cause and where it's leading seems to be beyond everyone. - David Eshkol Haifa Biding time Living on the Carmel, I am relieved to say that here we have not suffered any rockets or damage in our area (so far), though the wailing of the sirens several hours in the day gives me a shiver and reminds me of World War II in Liverpool during the German blitz with their V2 rockets whizzing overhead. I watch the TV, listen to the news, and grieve with bereaved families who have lost loved ones. I make many phone calls or e-mail replies to friends in the North or abroad and to those here who may be alone in their homes. I know I shouldn't complain, but life seems so boring without a proper routine. My best friend is away, the swimming pools and concert hall closed, so I just go out for short walks, shop near home or read the papers and the many books that I have never read or forgotten what stories they told. Now is the chance, I tell myself, to listen to some of the many classical music CDs I have bought over the years; to sew or alter clothes; to write my memoirs, as I am over 80 and there are a lot of stories to tell. But here is not the place to write about these. - Pauline Chinn Haifa Thankful to be here Exactly 10 years after my husband was shot in the back by a car-jacker while I stared down the barrel of his accomplice's gun, we finally plucked up the courage to realize a dream and made aliya. I say "we," as my husband miraculously survived this attack when the bullet that was heading straight for his heart hit one of his ribs and was deflected through his lung. In South Africa, a punctured lung is considered "lucky" just as someone who is left a paraplegic after being shot in the spine is told he is lucky that he isn't a quadriplegic, and a woman who is raped is reassured that she is lucky she wasn't killed. But I digress. I had expected to spend our first few weeks in Israel teaching my children how to look the other way when crossing a street and instructing them in the fine art of eating felafel without tahina dribbling onto their chin. Instead, I've had to spend this time schooling them on where to find the nearest bomb shelter and how to recognize the sound of the warning siren. Do I regret choosing now to make aliya? Not for a minute. While my heart breaks for the loss of innocent lives and I pray for a speedy and permanent end to the bloodshed, I am at the same time so grateful to live in a country that is willing to take whatever steps are necessary to protect its citizens from terror, even if this results in world condemnation. I am also awed by the sense of unity in Israel and the way people open their homes, their hearts and their wallets to help our soldiers and families in need. It's true I could have chosen a quieter time to make aliya, but I couldn't have chosen a better time. - Lisa Brink Ra'anana absorption center For the sake of the children I know it is very challenging not to take sides in this crazy aggression, not to judge who is right or wrong. Massive destruction in Lebanon cannot diminish the pain of the destruction in Israel, children getting killed on both sides is forbidden to be the answer! It is not the solution. Wars are not the way out, as history has already taught us. And again sirens tear the air, frightening loud noises of aircraft carrying bombs, horrifying blasts and weaseling rockets falling all over without distinguishing, spreading grief and devastation, sowing fear and anger, increasing revenge and ignorance. People cry for help; Lebanese, Palestinians and Israelis mourning, wounded, refugees, left with nothing. Children - the same children I believed would not have to suffer the trauma of war again, this generation I was praying would be spared the experience of useless hostility. Nevertheless in such times, when emotions fog any clarity, I spend more time with children sitting for the fourth week in shelters. I never know if I help them or they help me - it must be both. That is my self-healing. So little in such a huge ocean of pain. If I could only also visit the children in the Gaza Strip and those in Lebanon… children are children. Any drop of hope that can be offered might change, if only a bit. That is what I have to offer - hope and trust in the goodness within humanity. Meanwhile, I can spend time only with Israeli children in the northern part of Israel, Jews, Muslims, Druse, Christians. I tell them the story of Sadako Sasaki, the Japanese girl who was born in Hiroshima during World War II. The poisoning effect of the atomic bomb thrown on her hometown appeared 12 years later when she was diagnosed with leukemia. Shortly before succumbing to her illness, she committed herself to making 1,000 origami paper cranes. According to ancient Japanese tradition, if one makes a wish while doing so, it will come true. As I share this story with the children more than 60 years later, I tell them that Sadako's wish also referred to them, as she had wished that all the children of the world would never be part of the adults' conflicts. Then, when I tell them she was too sick to complete the task and that they could help make her wish come true by folding 1,000 paper cranes, you should see the sparkle in their eyes. "Yes!" they shout instantly. "We are committed to folding 1,000 paper cranes. We are ready to make it happen for all the children of the world!" Those little fingers folding small colored pieces of paper in the shape of cranes, then closing their eyes, praying silently together for peace on earth, imbue the spirit of the prayer into the paper birds, wishing it to spread the message all over Mother Earth, for all her children. And the younger ones, not yet able to do the folding, paint colorful pictures they call peace drawings. What a sight! - Hagit Ra'anan Kiryat Ono