Moth­ers on the Front Lines

In Jerusalem Bomb Shel­ter, ‘Our Eyes Ex­press Silently How Scared We Are for Our Chil­dren.’

Forward Magazine - - Front Page - By Deb­o­rah Megh­nagi Bai­ley

Here’s a scene from my life last week: It’s 9:30 pm. I’m ly­ing on my bed, fully dressed, talk­ing to my hus­band, who is ready for bed. We weren’t sup­posed to be here tonight; we were sup­posed to be in the Galilee, in a beau­ti­ful cabin with its own pri­vate pool and Jacuzzi, with a mas­sage chair in the bed­room and a ham­mock rock­ing gen­tly in the gar­den out­side. We es­cape there once a year, with­out the kids. It’s an oa­sis of calm and re­lax­ation and peace­ful­ness.

We’ve been look­ing for­ward to our get­away for a year. We were sup­posed to leave this morn­ing, but last night rock­ets were fired to­ward Tel Aviv. We live in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, and we haven’t yet been

at­tacked, but there’s al­ways a first time, so how can we leave our boys? What if it hap­pens while we’re away? My mother-in-law is baby-sit­ting, and com­pe­tent as she is, she’s never lived here through sirens. The build­ing’s shel­ter is not far, just eight steps down, and across the hall­way, but still.

We kept on plan­ning our trip through the wait­ing and pray­ing to find out if Eyal Yifrah, Gi­lad Shaar and Naf­tali Fraenkel — the three teens kid­napped in the West Bank — were alive, and through the griev­ing when we found out that they were mur­dered. We kept on plan­ning af­ter Mo­hammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Pales­tinian, was bru­tally mur­dered, in an al­leged re­venge at­tack by Is­raelis. We kept plan­ning even as ri­ots spread through our city.

But once the rock­ets started fall­ing, we had to can­cel. It’s not just the ac­tual dan­ger; it’s the trauma. We can’t leave our 5-year-old to process hav­ing to run to a shel­ter with­out us around. So we’re ly­ing here, talk­ing.

I’m on edge. We know what the plan is: I’ll grab the baby; my hus­band will grab our 5-year-old. I’m des­per­ately tired — our lit­tle one has been teething, and our big one has been hav­ing night­mares and we’ve had quite a few in­ter­rupted nights of sleep — but I’m scared to go to sleep, be­cause I worry I might not hear the siren. Usu­ally we keep our win­dow closed against the din from noisy neigh­bors, but now we have it open so that we can hear bet­ter.

A siren wails. We fall silent, look at each other and spring into ac­tion. My hus­band re­minds me not to worry — we have 90 sec­onds. I run to the baby’s room, open the door softly and gen­tly pick him up. He stirs, wakes. I soothe him while hur­ry­ing for the front door. My hus­band is car­ry­ing our groggy 5-year-old, re­as­sur­ing him. We grab our phones and head for the shel­ter. The last time I had to do this, I was seven months preg­nant with the tod­dler I am now car­ry­ing in my arms.

We’re not the first fam­ily into the shel­ter; one neighbor is there al­ready. I sit down on a couch, still hold­ing my son, who is calm. I’m shak­ing. I’m also glad I’m still dressed. More neigh­bors turn up. I hear a dis­tant boom. I don’t rec­og­nize one of the fam­i­lies en­ter­ing the shel­ter. It turns out they are stay­ing in their friends’ rental apart­ment up­stairs. The mom is Fin­nish, a den­tist, vol­un­teer­ing here for a week. The dad speaks and I hear a fa­mil­iar ac­cent. It turns out he’s a fel­low Brit. Their three blond kids seem calm, sit­ting on chairs in their un­der­wear, clearly hav­ing been roused from their beds. Not quite the va­ca­tion they had been ex­pect­ing. The mom and I ex­change re­as­sur­ing words, while our eyes ex­press, silently, how scared we are for our chil­dren.

Once I stop shak­ing, the ca­ma­raderie is re­as­sur­ing, en­joy­able. I’m ac­tu­ally sort of glad there was a siren, so I can know I was right not to go on our va­ca­tion.

When we go back up­stairs af­ter the req­ui­site 10 min­utes, the baby goes back to sleep al­most im­me­di­ately, but our 5-year-old takes longer. I have to ex­plain to him why we went down­stairs — be­cause the walls there are stronger. My ever-cu­ri­ous son wants to know why they are stronger. I start de­scrib­ing en­gi­neer­ing de­tails I’m re­ally not clear about. I sing him an­other round of our good­night song, in which Ja­cob, our fore­fa­ther, prays that the an­gels who watch over him and guard him from evil also watch over his chil­dren and bless them. Please, please, I think.

It is af­ter mid­night be­fore I can al­low my­self to sleep. I have on more cloth­ing than I’d nor­mally wear in this heat, and I keep a lamp on so that we can see our way around the apart­ment if an­other siren goes off and we have to move fast while drowsy. I sleep fit­fully, toss­ing and turn­ing. I am awake be­fore 6 a.m.

There are lit­tle things that change. I’m a free­lancer who works from home. Most days my hus­band drops both kids at kinder­garten and day care so that I don’t have to leave the house. I am of­ten at the com­puter, work­ing, still wear­ing my pa­ja­mas. Not now; now I need to be dressed in case I have to go to the shel­ter. I won’t take a shower if I’m the only adult in the house; some­one has to be around to hear the siren. My older son is in a kinder­garten that has a shel­ter, so he’s okay, but my younger son is in a day care at some­one’s house; I doubt his

his care­taker, could get him and five other tod­dlers down three flights of stairs to the shel­ter in time. She tells me her adult son is home on va­ca­tion; be­tween that and the fact that I’m ir­ra­tionally con­vinced that they won’t send rock­ets to Jerusalem dur­ing the day, I de­cide to keep send­ing my son. I have to keep work­ing, af­ter all, or I won’t meet dead­lines, won’t get paid.

There is a con­stant low-grade anx­i­ety thrum­ming through me that spikes when I hear some­thing I think is a siren, or read some opin­ion piece on where the war is headed, on where Is­rael is headed. Dur­ing the in­tifada, I sur­vived psy­cho­log­i­cally by dis­en­gag­ing, by not read­ing the news, not lis­ten­ing to the ra­dio. I need to do that now, but it’s harder when the dan­ger is in our homes, when I have to re­main alert to pro­tect not just my­self, but also my chil­dren. When I have so much more to lose.



Is­raeli Par­ents on Red Alert:

A mother and son head for shel­ter in Ashkelon, in South­ern Is­rael.

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