My first time was on a Thursday afternoon. I wasn’t expecting it. Nobody did. We thought we were in a safe bubble and they couldn’t reach us. But actually they could. And they did.
My first siren in Tel Aviv found me completely unprepared. What do you do when you only have one minute and a half to get into a shelter? It wasn’t about finding a shelter – all new houses in Israel have one – but about thinking how to get there. You try to focus, to be fast but you can’t do it because of the sound of the siren that drills in your head. So breathe in, breathe out, try to be cool, try to keep calm. You have one minute left.
What they didn’t tell me is that you can never be ready for this. That no matter if you expect it or not, you would still be mortified, that no matter how cool you are you would still be afraid.
So I was at home, watching TV while my husband was having an afternoon nap. Suddenly I heard a sharp sound that was unfamiliar, but still I knew that it wasn’t good. I thought maybe it was an ambulance siren but it was too loud and too scary. “Come on baby, we have to go to the shelter” my husband said. We ran to the underground garage – our apartment is located at the last floor. I wanted to take the elevator but there was no time. Who’s even taking the elevator in such a time?! You have to run. Run for your life. Literally. So we ran downstairs and a few seconds after we arrived, we’ve heard two deafening noises and the walls of the building started to shake, much like in an earthquake. After that, we found out that the two missiles fell in the sea, very close to our house and that was why we felt the impact so strongly.
I just couldn’t believe what was happening to me, I was completely shocked. I was talking to myself, out loud: “no, no, it can’t happen to me, it couldn’t happen to me.”
I could hear my heartbeat in my ears. I just couldn’t believe it was happening to ME. I wasn’t born here, I wasn’t an Israeli, I didn’t know how to deal with this. The last time there was a bomb in Romania it was in the Second World War!! How the hell am I supposed to act right now?
To me, the shelter did not feel like a nice place where you feel safe; it felt like a claustrophobic prison where you wait for the next ear-popping sound. If ever someone would have his last thoughts in a shelter, these will certainly be: “Please God, make the siren stop”, because you can’t actually think. We were there only for 5 minutes, when the screaming noise came to an end. But forever left in the back of my mind a humming sound, that is now part of my new life.
I thought it was a one-time siren, but no, there was a second one and a third one and then you start to get used to it. You run, you hide, you wait, and you come out. And then you continue your life. Till the next siren.
Suddenly I understood what Solly Dreman, clinical psychologist in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev meant by: “It can be more difficult to cope with terrorism than with war. War is limited to geographical and time boundaries.”
I remember walking on the streets and “scanning” the buildings. Where can I hide if the siren starts when I’m outside, on the streets? Which are buildings that they don’t have a code and I can open the door? The scariest time was when I was driving on the highway. What should I do? Continue driving? Stop and “hide” on the side?
And then other signs of war made it real and not just a headline in the news. I ran into busses with 18 year-old soldiers going to war. I met them in a gas station and it broke my heart. They were signing songs; they were encouraging themselves and wishing to each other good luck. For sure, not all of them came back home.
This is what Israel is all about. About ordinary people trying to live during abnormal times. On the wall, an Army poster says: “Gas Masks are part of Life”. Despite all the problems, they fill symphony halls, dance in the clubs and argue in cafes. They have a normal life. And yes, they consider a normal life going to the army for two or three years (depending if you are boy or a girl), going to war to protect their country and dying for their country.
What was for me the impact of living in here?
How did it change me? I’m more aware of abandoned packages on the street, I always look who’s around me, especially in the airport and yes, I disembarked from a flight because I saw a group of people holding suspicious packages. Eventually, they brought me back and they assured me there is nothing on board but it was a very scary moment. Also, since the moment I moved here, I have never used public transportation; I don’t have any problem admitting that I’m afraid of exploding busses.
I’ve also gain something. I’ve learnt to enjoy life more, to be grateful for what I have and to be thankful for every little new thing. I’m not afraid anymore to leave the things that don’t bring me joy and start brand new. I remember how shocked was everybody back home when I quit my job not a while ago. I guess I have started to live the Israeli motto: “Life is uncertain, so eat your dessert first.”
As much as I would like to say that I got used to the situation and that my life is normal, I realize how hard I try at times to disconnect from reality. I think that in end, in order to emotionally survive, all people living in Israel have, what somebody called “a national Alzheimer’s disease – no one wants to remember the morning’s news”.