My Word: The neighbor's grass is not greener

As Jerusalem, along with the rest of the country, prepares for a drill in the event of a missile attack, residents still have reasons to sing out loud.

liat collins 88 (photo credit: )
liat collins 88
(photo credit: )
"Jerusalem, for all the reasons in the world," is one of the slogans used by the municipality in the capital. Some of the reasons are not immediately obvious. With rather perverse timing, as Remembrance Day was being commemorated last month, the Home Front Command distributed to every household in my neighborhood instructions on how to prepare for missile attacks and a colorful map dividing the country into zones according to how long residents have to reach shelter after the siren has sounded. According to this map, people living in places up North like Kiryat Shmona have no time at all; residents of Karmiel - capital of Galilee - have 30 seconds; those in the South adjacent to Gaza have 15 seconds (and unfortunately lots of practice). Those of us lucky enough to live in Jerusalem can count our blessings - and count three minutes, the amount of time we have to reach the nearest protected area (reinforced room, bomb shelter or, in the worst-case scenario, stairwell). Three minutes, which seem like ages when you're waiting for something to heat up in the microwave, can pass very slowly when you're expecting to be zapped by a rocket landing in your living room. Or very fast if you're dashing to a public shelter. The information and chart came handily with a magnet attached and the recommendation to put it on your fridge. In an effort to make it child friendly, the good folks of the Home Front suggest that after choosing a safe area, families take a photo of themselves in it, and stick it on the card. This led to one slight hitch. The card is illustrated with a drawing of a cat and fishbowl, which reminded my seven-year-old son that going into the communal shelter, conveniently sited at the bottom of the stairwell, is out of the question. Even if we clean out the old bikes and junk. We live in a building blessed with pets, and, as Yossi pointed out, our cats and our neighbors' felines do not get on; neither do our dogs; and how are we meant to get the two fish tanks and the hamster cage down three flights in three minutes? We settled, therefore, on sitting on the stairs with the family (and friends) who live opposite us. We passed on the photo opportunity. I'm pleased he's taking it seriously (the Home Front soldiers have also visited his school to give them a lecture). In fact, I'm pleased that the Home Front is taking the matter so seriously - there is a nationwide drill planned for the beginning of next month. Neighboring countries are complaining that the exercise is a sign Israel is preparing for war. But I prefer that the country be prepared for war than the alternative. Just ask any Israeli who lived through Yom Kippur 1973. It did seem incongruous, however, to be preparing for a possible missile assault as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama talked about peace and the subject of Jerusalem's unity seems again destined for the negotiating table. But as they talked, a Kassam fell on Sderot (zero warning. OK, 15 seconds). I also have my doubts about the value of the information which I dutifully stuck to my fridge. We might have three minutes to prepare from missiles coming from the north and south, but when rockets were fired from the Palestinian-controlled town of Beit Jala on Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood during the "second intifada," we could clearly hear them. We didn't hear a siren. Handing any more neighborhoods over to Palestinian control in return for a promise of peace sounds at best risky (and at worst, suicidal). THE CAPITAL spent a week celebrating Jerusalem Day, marking the reunification of the city in the Six Day War - the war launched before there were "settlements" and "occupation." One of the pleasantest events I attended was a sing-along in the local "community garden," the initiative of the International Cultural & Community Council. Just as no other country gives out fridge magnets telling you how to prepare for a missile attack, so, too, is "shira betzibur," public sing-alongs as a way of life, peculiar in both senses of the word. There was a large turnout for the event, one of several sponsored by the Jerusalem Foundation and the Forum for Jerusalem Community Green Sites (Forum Itek) among others. The garden itself is special, gradually being converted from a neglected patch of land into a tiny pleasant park dotted with the Seven Species, vegetable patches and the fruits of the hard labor of the locals from schoolchildren to the residents of the old-age home that overlooks it. (For the older folk, there are raised flower beds, placed in stacks of tires, so they don't have to bend down to work.) The multigenerational weekly gardening circle is gaining popularity for good reason. Community gardens exist elsewhere but only in Israel do they observe shnat shmita, the agricultural sabbatical year. Last year the amateur gardeners put their energy into building an irrigation system, stone benches, compost heaps and so on. The sing-along attracted more than the usual gardening enthusiasts. People from apartments all around popped by. There were religious and secular. Toddlers and pensioners. Spontaneously, some people started dancing. One woman came late, after her nighttime jog. We might worry about missiles but at least women can go for a late run on their own without fear. Some neighbors, it turned out, are amateur musicians, but this was not a talent show. The event was harmonious, the music wasn't. The singing was off-key. This was part of the charm. No need for inhibitions. Or to worry about what the neighbors would say. There we all were belting out a repertoire ranging from Jerusalem Day favorites (Me'al Pisgat Har Hatzofim - From the Peak of Mount Scopus) to Danny Sanderson's summertime hit about surfing "from Herzliya to Bat Yam beaches" (in the two-minute warning zone, by the way). The words were shown on a screen just in front of the entrance to the public shelter. I pray we'll never need it; trust that if we do we'll have adequate warning; and feel strangely certain that no matter what, somehow we will continue to sing together. Being able to sing Hebrew songs without fear late at night in the public park is definitely a good reason to live here.