In Bnei Brak, drill highlights residents' lack of preparedness, knowledge

Downtown Bnei Brak barely noticed the siren that wailed through the bustling streets at 11 a.m. on Tuesday morning, marking the signal for all Israelis to rush to their designated bomb shelters as part of the weeklong national drill meant to prepare the Israeli home front for expected future missile barrages from Iran, Hizbullah or Hamas. Despite the minute-long siren, nobody left the streets for the nearest bomb shelter, as per government instructions. Nobody even stopped talking. One driver stuck in traffic on the corner of Rehov Akiva and Rehov Tarfon honked harder so his exasperation could be heard over the siren. Everyone seemed oblivious to the drill, which is being touted by authorities as critical for Israel's preparedness for the massive assault its cities are expected to absorb in any new round of fighting. Israelis were notified of the drill through television and radio ads, newspaper announcements and even SMS messages sent from the IDF's Home Front Command. But most haredi communities such as Bnei Brak shun televisions, disable SMSs on their cellphones and read only the haredi press to avoid the immodesty they see as permeating the secular media. So did they even know about the drill? "Sure we did," said a young, black-clad woman moments after the siren. "It was on the radio - everybody listens to the radio. And they put little magnets on all the front doors of all the apartments in my building warning us about it." The trouble was that she didn't know where the nearest bomb shelter was. "I have one in my apartment building, but at 11 a.m., I'm at work," she said, stacking candy in an aisle of her convenience store on Rehov Tarfon. "Everybody knows about it," confirmed an old man standing in the street outside a nearby yeshiva. "But like any other Israelis, we won't run around for the practice. If it's ever for real - God forbid - then we'll go to the shelters." But others were not so optimistic. "My building's shelter is full of old furniture, and it's rusted shut," said an old woman from Rehov Jabotinsky, a thoroughfare that cuts through the Ramat Gan-Bnei Brak urban sprawl. "My shelter isn't ready yet," added another old woman, who would identify herself only as Pesia. "I just hope we never need them in real life." In a hat store across the street from one of the ubiquitous neighborhood yeshivas, 20-something Itzik Azoulay was quietly reading Yediot Aharonot. "I know about the drill from the papers and the radio," he says, "but I don't know what I'm supposed to do. Do you see signs to the nearest shelter? I don't even know who to call to find out."