Safe space

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - OBSERVATIO­NS - BAR­BARA SOFER The writer is the Is­rael di­rec­tor of pub­lic re­la­tions at Hadas­sah, the Women’s Zion­ist Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­ica. Her lat­est book is A Daugh­ter of Many Moth­ers.

She con­sid­ered mak­ing a cloud room, with white puffy cu­mu­lus clouds fill­ing cerulean walls, and beds cov­ered with fluffy white pil­lows. But in­stead Reena Bar­nett Tas­gal opted for cobalt walls, and du­vet cov­ers with plan­ets and gal­ax­ies. She added glow-in-the-dark stars and taped up posters of the so­lar sys­tem. The Tas­gal Space Room.

Tas­gal’s ap­peal­ing post on Face­book made me smile. At first you might think this mother of four is shar­ing tips for ed­u­ca­tional and whim­si­cal home dec­o­rat­ing. Not ex­actly. Reena Bar­nett Tas­gal, and her hus­band, Richard Tas­gal, are try­ing to re­duce the trauma of their safe room, called ma­mad in He­brew – the place they run to when the bombs fall.

The Tas­gals live in Beer­sheba, a city of 200,000 res­i­dents, which is in the sec­ond or­bit of the rocket range from Gaza. Beer­sheba isn’t as close as the western Negev towns in the “Gaza en­ve­lope,” the Gaza bor­der area. Still, when the rock­ets launched from Gaza are pum­mel­ing Is­rael, Beer­she­baites are vul­ner­a­ble.

A month ago, Miri Ta­mano, who also lives in Beer­sheba, was asleep when the Color Red rocket-warn­ing siren woke her at 3:43 in the morn­ing. She had to wake her three chil­dren and pull them into the safe room. Sec­onds later a Grad rocket tore through the roof and landed in a bed­room, de­stroy­ing her home.

That night, Rena and Richard didn’t suc­ceed in get­ting their own four chil­dren to safety. Re­calls Reena, “When the siren sounded last month, I herded the kids and the sleep­ing hus­band down the flights of stairs to the safe room. Two kids made it into the room be­fore the boom, but the rest of us were only near the en­trance. Our safe room has thick walls and is lo­cated in the base­ment, which is safer than a reg­u­lar apart­ment. But we were out of prac­tice and didn’t all make it in time. We heard the boom and as­sumed that the Iron Dome shot down the mis­sile, but it turns out that the Iron Dome wasn’t in our neigh­bor­hood. Across town, a mother dragged her three sleep­ing kids into their safe room and per­haps had time to ex­hale be­fore a rocket hit her house. A di­rect hit.”

When the most re­cent round of rocket fire be­gan, she and Richard put the three older kids to sleep in the dec­o­rated Space Room, try­ing to re­duce the stress by mak­ing it seem like fun. The baby, says Reena, is eas­ier to carry when the rocket warn­ing sounds and can sleep up­stairs with them.

Four hun­dred sixty rock­ets crashed onto south­ern Is­rael last week. As it turned out, none fell on Beer­sheba.

When I first saw Reena’s Face­book post, I thought, wow, look how cre­atively this fam­ily is try­ing to sweeten the bit­ter pill of hav­ing their chil­dren sleep in a safe room. But as the week went on, I thought how sad it is that we have be­come used to per­son­al­ized bomb shel­ters as per­ma­nent fea­tures in our homes. That’s still part of Is­raeli par­ent­ing, decades af­ter the kib­butzim near Lake Kin­neret were be­ing bom­barded from Syr­ian heights.

The lat­est at­tacks on Is­rael were in the South, but in the North, 100,000 Hezbol­lah rock­ets in Le­banon are pointed at the cit­i­zens of Is­rael. That’s the threat we live with 24/7. STILL, IN a world newly awak­ened to hate crimes, are the rocket at­tacks con­sid­ered an ex­pres­sion of an­tisemitism?

Not if you look up “an­ti­semitic at­tacks” on the In­ter­net en­cy­clo­pe­dia Wikipedia. The ed­i­tors have added a note to clar­ify. “This cat­e­gory should not be used for ar­ti­cles about events in­side of Is­rael, or for at­tacks on Is­raeli em­bassies or of­fi­cials. Such ar­ti­cles should be placed in other cat­e­gories deemed ap­pro­pri­ate.”

An­tisemitism, it seems, hap­pens only out­side of Is­rael.

Reena and Richard Tas­gal are Amer­i­can-born. She went to Yale, he to Columbia. They could have lived any­where. In Is­rael, she trans­formed her lib­eral arts de­gree to be­com­ing a nurse and then a mid­wife. He went into physics. Richard is from New­ton, Mas­sachusetts, and she’s from the Bronx. One of Reena’s fel­low Is­raeli mid­wives I spoke to last week is from Squir­rel Hill in Pitts­burgh. She was fran­ti­cally wor­ried about her par­ents in Pitts­burgh af­ter the re­cent mas­sacre there. And although her par­ents worry about her, too, the threat to the Jewish state isn’t con­sid­ered a re­sult of an­tisemitism.

Or take France, for in­stance, the largest Jewish com­mu­nity in Europe. Who isn’t de­lighted by the new plethora of French bak­eries in Is­rael? Mac­arons and madeleines, but­ter crois­sants and choco­late éclairs. The sil­ver lin­ing, the pro­lif­er­a­tion of French patis­serie, re­flects the ar­rival of French Jews, many of whom are flee­ing an­tisemitism.

There, physi­cian Sarah Hal­imi was mur­dered by a neigh­bor who re­cited verses of the Ko­ran and threw her out the win­dow. Holo­caust sur­vivor Mireille Knoll was stabbed 11 times and left in her burn­ing Paris apart­ment. The French govern­ment fi­nally clas­si­fied those mur­ders as an­ti­semitic at­tacks. But if French Jews move to Is­rael, the rocket at­tacks or street ter­ror­ism no longer count as hate crimes.

“There’s so much hate,” said Reena. “I’m just a tired, frus­trated mother. I’m grate­ful that I have a safe room and a pantry of food sup­plies. I do think of moth­ers in Gaza. The ba­bies I’ve de­liv­ered in Beer­sheba come from all eth­nic groups. I have no idea what the so­lu­tion should be. As much as I try not to tell my kids, there are peo­ple who just want us dead. And even if they don’t want us dead, they don’t want us liv­ing where we live. I know we have a right to live, and to live here. I don’t want the Gazans dead. I get re­ally frus­trated with any­one who thinks there is an easy so­lu­tion. Ev­ery night, when I crawl into bed, I pull up the cov­ers, leav­ing the win­dow open so I can hear the siren bet­ter, if it sounds. I al­ways hope that to­mor­row will be a bor­ing day.”

[At first] I thought, wow, look how cre­atively this fam­ily is try­ing the sweeten the bit­ter pill of hav­ing their chil­dren sleep in a safe room. But as the week went on, I thought how sad it is that we have be­come used to per­son­al­ized bomb shel­ters as per­ma­nent fea­tures in our homes


SE­CU­RITY PER­SON­NEL check a dam­aged house in Ashkelon fol­low­ing a rocket at­tack on Novem­ber 12.

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