There is something unnerving about a town without Jews

Like Noah's first dove, a nearby family returned, but soon found Nahariya still unripe for rehabitation.

nahariya damage 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
nahariya damage 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
It is now more than four weeks since the onset of the Katyusha war. What was an unimaginable disruption of our normal lives and routines has itself become something of a routine. One adjusts. The ritual of getting the morning papers is a good case in point. I used to stumble out into the side yard and then begin searching for the newspapers where they had landed among the potted plants. I might get distracted along the way and stop to look at the plants by the door. They sit in the hot sun all day and are often in need of water. But now my ritual is one of care and discipline. I stand at the door (a steel security door, I now notice) and bring myself to full wakefulness. I think about what I am about to do: Get the paper and get back inside. I open the door, stop and listen. I never hear the sea anymore - not because the sea is particularly quiet, but more likely because I have simply stopped hearing it. I am listening for other sounds these days. We now have warning sirens in Nahariya, which was not the case in the first few weeks of Katyushas. They are a help, but sometimes there are sirens and no hits, and, more worrisome, sometimes there are hits and no sirens. So one must be alert. Not all sounds, not even all booming sounds, are a threat - at least to me - as I bring in the papers. One must filter out the sounds of artillery and tank fire. The Katyushas sound different, depending on the point of impact - a house, a street, a field - and their relative distance. Those that fall far away may sound very much like the report of an artillery piece. Those that fall nearby produce a discernible thud on impact and, for good measure, they may cause the windows to rattle. But the most telltale sounds and the most frightening are the ones emitted by a Katyusha overhead. You hope it is on its way to an empty lot nearby and not about to descend on top of you, but it is hard to know where it will land. Once, in the early days of this war, when I still watered my garden before sunset (we have had no nighttime attacks in Nahariya, at least as far as I know), I was forced to drop everything and make a break for the house. My wife shouted for me from inside. We both could hear the Katyusha overhead, a sharp screeching sound like metal on metal. If you are outside when a rocket comes along, you have little time and few options. I stand at the door and spy out the papers (which have been faithfully delivered every day, without fail, and this at a time when we have had mail delivery only once in four weeks). Then I make my move and quickly snatch them and return to the house. I wonder if it will feel strange when I no longer have to go through this little ritual in the morning. It has become routine, and routines have a way of perpetuating themselves. One of the families who left the street where we live soon after the rockets began to fall returned a few days ago. They were unloading their car when the sirens began. They left the car open where it was and rushed into their house. There were no hits that I could hear, and about half an hour later, our neighbors were again outside unloading their car. They had not accomplished much when the sirens wailed again. They stopped and went indoors. Half an hour later they confessed that the situation in Nahariya was impossible and said they were leaving - and they did. Perhaps this family was like the first of the doves that Noah sent out to see whether the land was dry enough to allow the inhabitants of the ark to reinhabit it. Their message to those perhaps fearfully waiting in more secure places was certainly that the time was not ripe to return to Nahariya. So the war continues here. We pad around our dark and shuttered house, sticking close to the security room. We keep a mental count of how many times the siren went off and how many Katyushas we could positively affirm as having fallen in our area. In the last several hours, there have been three soundings of the siren, one announcement issued from a police car asking all residents to go into their shelters and four hits, two of which I would judge to be "close." For all that, there is not much damage in Nahariya. It does not look like London during the Blitz, or like I imagine parts of Beirut must now look. The most stunning aspect of the situation here is the emptiness of the town. It's empty for good reason, of course. It is difficult to see how those with children could manage. The public shelters are uncomfortable and cannot accommodate people for long periods. I do not tell people to stay, and I do not judge those who have left. But the town is deserted - that is a fact. It is the emptiness of the place, rather than the evidence of physical damage, that is so striking. A whole population has been displaced here. I must say that I find that very disquieting. There is something ghostly and unnerving about this town without its Jews. It sets off an alarm in my Jewish historical consciousness. It fulfills our enemies' dreams for the future of this place. True, the people who have left are safe, and they will return to Nahariya in good time. Of that I am certain. But when I walk up the empty lane late at night, I have a sense of unease that I find difficult to shake.