Eyewitness: The Sheinkin test

Sirens wailed - audible over sounds of Pink Floyd in one caf?, and loud techno in a clothing store.

Rehov Sheinkin Tel Aviv 248.88 (photo credit: Amir Mizroch)
Rehov Sheinkin Tel Aviv 248.88
(photo credit: Amir Mizroch)
Maybe if they'd posted billboards showing Iranian missiles on parade with the headline "Coming to your neighborhood soon. Do you know where your shelter is?" someone here would have paid attention to the siren. Maybe if the IDF Home Front Command opened a shiny new store, placed naked mannequins wearing only gas masks behind its windows, and handed out flyers advertising a party-in-a-bomb-shelter, it might have gotten people to ask directions to it. Had it said that the party in the shelter, to be held on Tuesday, June 2, at 11 a.m. sharp, would kick off with a specially arranged nationwide siren, followed immediately by the internationally renowned DJ Kid Koala, the IDF would have passed the Rehov Sheinkin test. But as it happened, almost nobody on Rehov Sheinkin paid any attention to Tuesday's siren marking the highlight of Operation Turning Point 3. Eleven o'clock came, and then it went. The siren wailed - audible faintly over the sounds of Pink Floyd in one café, and loud, hard techno in the adjacent clothing store. For the duration of the siren, café customers continued sipping cappuccinos, and window-shoppers continued staring at windows while inside, others were trying on new shirts. One store owner did go outside and stood bizarrely at attention, perhaps thinking for a moment that it was Remembrance Day, or some other solemn day, and shooting puzzled looks at passersby who obviously had no respect for such things. Why is the Rehov Sheinkin test important? It's important because people in the North and people in the South know very well that the threat is real; it's the people in the Center of the country who need to be reminded. Seeing as the stated purpose of Tuesday's nationwide drill was to get the entire populace to practice taking cover in shelters when the siren went off - or, at the least, to identify where the shelters were - the Home Front Command failed miserably. If the army could get people on Rehov Sheinkin to stop for a few minutes and seriously consider the threats this country faces, the rest of the nation would take it seriously, too. If "Sheinkina'im" could put aside all the distractions the street had to offer and prepare themselves for a future attack, the IDF could be confident that it had everybody's attention, that its means of communicating to the public was effective. But the information that there was an important drill coming up simply didn't get through to most people here. And if it did, they didn't seem to care. The very real and growing threat posed by Iran's Shihabs, Syria's Scuds, Hizbullah's Fajars and even Hamas's Katyushas was simply not effectively communicated to the residents of this neighborhood, this bubble of bubbles in Tel Aviv. For some Sheinkina'im, the drill was really just a nuisance, not different from any other - a fatalistic attitude not uncommon in other parts of the country, but distinctly pronounced in this laid-back neighborhood. The gulf between how seriously the Home Front Command and Rehov Sheinkin took this drill couldn't have been wider. 'Post' staff makes its way to the bomb shelter as sirens wail - amtuer video by Ben Spier To be fair to the army and the Defense Ministry, this neighborhood is probably the hardest nut to crack in terms of preparing residents for war. The story of the menacing Middle East simply doesn't sell well here. Drawing attention to bad news of looming war has little or no chance of a captive audience on a street packed tight with designer clothing outlets, accessory stores, book stores, electronics stores, music stores, tattoo parlors, organic supermarkets, chic restaurants, food stands, fruit shake stands and trendy cafés. Who's got time to look for a bomb shelter when Camper's is having a sale? In between the stores and cafés, the walls of Rehov Sheinkin are covered with large posters heralding musicals, concerts, dance performances, plays, yoga classes, lost-cat notices, and, of course, the upcoming tour of DJ Kid Koala. Competing for the attention of people who live on this street - flooded as they are with the brightest colors, latest sounds, and exotic tastes - is no easy task. Small, old-style IDF pamphlets with font designs harking back to the '80s, or even the '90s, stuck in between large colorful posters of international DJs is just not going to do it. Not that there were any pamphlets or signs pointing out bomb shelters. If you live in the neighborhood, you might know that the school on Balfour Street has a bomb shelter. On the other hand, you might not. Charley Cohen, owner of Sheinkin's Siah (Discourse) Café puts it this way: "When a new store opens, everyone hears about it. The message gets out loudly and in many different ways. You see pamphlets, people talk about it - you can't escape it. When Yoplait [yogurt] has a new flavor, it's all over the TV, radio and in the newspapers - you can't escape it, they go all out. But for this drill, we didn't even get a little pamphlet stuck to our window." Cohen is being disingenuous, of course, as all newspapers and TV stations have carried stories about the drill for weeks. But to catch people's attention on this street, and there are always many people on this street, one has to come up with creative and effective communication, with new messages that hit the mark. Cohen's customers, before, during and after Tuesday's drill, said they were simply not interested in the exercise. It just wasn't exciting or important enough to get them to find a nearby bomb shelter, or even consider moving to the back of the café, away from the windows. On Rehov Sheinkin, you can't be seen taking this sort of thing seriously - it's just not cool. And speaking of bomb shelters, several people in cafés and on the street pointed this reporter to about three different bomb shelters in the neighborhood, only one of which actually existed. Some people gave different directions to the same nonexistent shelter. Others had heard there was a public bomb shelter in Sheinkin Park, entirely convinced that was where they would run if the real thing happened. On closer inspection, one finds there is no public bomb shelter in Sheinkin Park. There are public toilets, but no bomb shelter. There is one inside Beit Tami, a city-run community center straddling the small park, but almost nobody on Rehov Sheinkin knew that. If it wants to breach this bubble in the future, to get through to the people living on this street and the thousands who visit it daily, the Home Front Command is going to have to put up some billboards pointing out where the bomb shelters are. Tuesday morning's drill caught Rehov Sheinkin unprepared, but also during a relatively quiet time. On Fridays, Sheinkin is flooded with tens of thousands of people. If a real emergency were to happen on a Friday afternoon, pandemonium would surely ensue. For more of Amir's articles and posts, visit his personal blog Forecast Highs