My youngest daughter is 16 months old. She is in that phase between babyhood and toddlerhood when she is just learning so much each day. She can identify everyone in our family when you ask her to point so and so out–and in our family it’s quite an accomplishment–she adds to her vocabulary every day, and she knows that when the sirens sound she has to go with the adult in charge of her into a shelter, that there will be a loud boom and then she can play again.
Last week I was at her nursery school to pick her up when the sirens sounded. Her teachers immediately grabbed as many of the kids as they could–about half of the kids there don’t walk yet–and ran for shelter, herding the rest of the kids, while trying to remain calm and cheerful in their voice.
We live in the Tel Aviv area, we have about a minute to make it to safety. But closer to the Gaza Strip residents have about 15 seconds. Can you imagine being a nursery teacher with 6 kids under 2 years in your care, trying to make sure they are all safe when the alarms sound? Kids my daughters’ age are spending their summer camp in shelters, because it’s an impossible task. But can you just imagine being a young mother or father with three kids strapped into car seats when the air raid alerts come on? How do you decide which one of your kids to unbuckle and take to safety in those 15, 30, 45 seconds? How do you make a decision like that?
Yesterday a rocket actually hit the Tel Aviv area. Yesterday we lost even more soldiers, and yesterday more civilians lost their lives in Gaza. Yesterday was the day when I made the decision that I don’t ever want to have to choose between my kids, and sent those, who I was allowed, to safety with family abroad. I had that possibility, because I have family who can do that for us, I can afford plane tickets (even if it wiped my savings out) and my kids have passports and citizenships that make it possible. Not everyone is this lucky. I worry every day about my friends in the South, who have nowhere to go with their children. And yes, my heart aches for those tens of thousands of people who are now displaced in Gaza.
As I was writing this post, I was interrupted by rocket alerts three times. Each time coming back I needed a cool down period, not to let hate take over. As I type this now Israel has been rocket free for 21 minutes. You can keep track of how long we have been rocket free here.
My youngest daughter is still here, in Israel, with her mother and I taking turns taking care of her, relying on the nursery school as little as possible. She is not afraid of the sirens. She just knows what she needs to do, and she does it well. She is learning songs and riddles about the alerts, and she is looking forward to playing with a few special toys that she only gets to play with in the shelter. This is her childhood. There are more photos in her baby book for this month of her taken in shelters than taken outside, in the middle of the summer. When in ten, fifteen years we look through that book I hope she will be living in a peaceful Israel.
For now, she is living through our Israeli reality.