A second encounter with Tel Aviv rockets

Life goes on in the White City, but the white trails of smoke left in the rockets’ wake are on everybody’s minds.

Beach-goers play paddleball in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Beach-goers play paddleball in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When the first siren went off last week, Tel Aviv residents weren’t the least bit surprised.
Most of us remembered, not long ago in 2012, the ringing of the sirens in our ears and the moment of rushing out the door to stand in the stairwell (as those without shelters are supposed to do), with neighbors or another group of strangers, to a protected area.
My upstairs neighbor, two-year-old Michael, is carried down the stairs by his mother as the first siren rings out.
She parks him in front of my door and rushes back up to assist her older daughter, Mila, four, down the stairs.
Her husband is still at work.
Michael stands with me for a moment, then looks up and says in Hebrew – referring to the sirens – “I can hear the wind!” Most Tel Aviv apartment buildings are filled with a variety of tenants. In my building near Rabin Square especially, the variety showcases the city’s citizens perfectly. After three years in the two-bedroom unrenovated apartment, I feel I am just as much a part of the building as the other residents, who have surely lived through more than just two escalations in violence here.
Always a comforting figure during times of crisis is the 70-year-old nosy but gentle lady named Yoela, who lives upstairs; she is the unofficial “keeper” of the building. During the second siren go-around, she brings out a chair and sits in the hallway until it is safe to go inside. Before she gets up she tells me this is nothing for her, because she grew up this way. “I’ve been doing this since I was her age!” she says, pointing to four-year-old Mila.
“I suppose you just get used to it.Surely it’s harder for you girls who don’t know what its like,” she says, referring to my roommate and me.
Said roommate and I are the resident olim of the building; I am certain every building in Tel Aviv has a pair like us. I am from the US, my roommate is from Austria. All of the neighbors look at us sympathetically during the sirens, knowing that to us this is far more foreign than to them.
Downstairs, a group of boys from the apartment below us gather.
During Operation Pillar of Defense, there was a group of young students who came out in their boxers for all four sirens. Operation Protective Edge has brought out another handful of them in their boxers. They all sleepily stand in the hallway until the sirens are finished singing, check their phones, and head inside.
Underneath their apartment is a sweet elderly lady who lives with her caretaker. Together they stand during each siren, retreating inside the second its over, not waiting the recommended six minutes.
Two of last week’s sirens are early in the morning. After waiting approximately half of the recommended wait time, I check my phone for the headlines and then head back inside to my window, to photograph the streak of white in the sky where the Iron Dome missile defense system met Hamas’s rocket.
It is early enough in the morning that my parents on the West Coast are still awake, so I text them the photo and tell them I am fine. They are impressed but terrified.
The photo shows no relative location, just the sky, so I feel confident I’m permitted to send it, and that Hamas won’t be able to gauge the rocket’s accuracy if it were to come across the photo.
“Are you sure you are safe?” my mother asks. “It looks like that was pretty close to you. Did you run to a shelter, or just stand in the stairwell again?” she questions. I reminded her that the stairwell is also supposed to be a safe place.
The next day at work, my boss announces he has been called up by the army. He leaves immediately. Afterward, a chain email is sent around wishing him luck and safety. I think of his wife, and wonder if she is OK.
The next morning, Friday, a siren goes off while I’m on the treadmill at the gym, and no one stops exercising.
The complex is underground and the sirens are silenced, but the TV screens are all on the news channels and blaring, flashing red words across the screen say, “Color Red alert in Tel Aviv.”
When I return, my roommate reports what I missed this time in the stairwell.
“I just feel so bad for the little kids upstairs,” she tells me. “They were sitting on the stairs, and Mila asked her mother if she was afraid. So her mother said no and then asked her if she was afraid, and Mila shook her head and said no as well.”
The rest of Friday, the beginning of the weekend – when most people are usually seaside or biking around or at a cafe – feels eerily normal, with an undertone of uncertainty in the air. I sit with friends at a streetside cafe on Dizengoff Street and we speak of our disbelief that the situation has escalated so quickly, and to such a violent level.
We compare stories of who we know who has been called up for reserve duty, and discuss the articles we’ve read about the situation that have been shared on Facebook.
I ask the waitress if cafe business has been as usual, given the circumstances.
She smiles and nods. “Perhaps a little quieter, but not noticeably. Tel Avivians are not afraid,” she says.
Another siren sounds in the evening, and I meet my neighbors yet again.
By Saturday evening, as Shabbat is ending, Hamas announces that within an hour it will launch long-range missiles toward us. An hour is not enough time to panic, but is enough time to process the threat and plan your move.
The streets have a heavy feeling as people cling close to buildings, in running distance to the closest protected area.
No one stops what they are doing until the sirens blare, but the tension in the air prior to the threat is thick enough to feel.
Again, we gather in the stairwell, waiting to hear the booms of the Iron Dome, check our phones, and head back to our own spaces.
Tel Aviv, as resilient as it may be, echoes sadness and fear during the first weekend of Operation Protective Edge.
Life goes on as it should, and as best it could, but the situation is undeniably on everyone’s mind during the chunks of time between the sirens.
The IDF has continued the military operation in Gaza into the week, and the sirens continue to blare. Tel Aviv residents, for the most part, are sitting around, wishing it was over, wishing it had never begun, wishing it wasn’t necessary; praying for the soldiers and the innocent civilians, meeting their neighbors and giggling at their pajamas, and checking their phones for the latest news.