Yesterday, at 6 p.m. in the evening, my husband, daughter, and I were in the kitchen discussing plans for our upcoming simcha while eating dinner, when we suddenly heard a siren. We each looked at the other, in an attempt to confirm that we were actually hearing what we thought we were hearing. We had been aware of the security tensions in Yerushalayim in recent days, and of the rockets raining down on the communities surrounding Gaza, but it had been years since the last siren had sounded in Beit Shemesh. There had been no warning about this whatsoever. We usually feel protected in the center of the country and didn’t see it coming. We headed up the stairs and went straight into the mamad (the secure room), shut the special metal doors that cover the window and secure the room, and then, a few seconds later, heard the boom of the interception of a missile by the Iron Dome. There were five interceptions over the Beit Shemesh area. We waited the requisite time and left the room.
We reassured all our friends and relatives who called to check in that we were okay, Baruch Hashem. But I have to admit, these are tense times. We had been cautiously optimistic that corona was going to soon be a thing of the past and life seemed to be well on the way to returning to normal. But truthfully, it feels like we are dodging bullets once again. Hamas threatens us all day long and, on this particular point, it seems that they keep their word. It’s unsettling.
Last night, as I tried to get a head start on my simcha cooking, I silently hoped that I would get my kneidlach up before the next siren. My neighbors’ daughter got engaged and the family planned a l’chaim for this evening. Of course, I baked for them and cleared out my extra fridge for their drinks and desserts. But in addition to the standard fare, I also told them that in the event of a siren during their party, they can direct their guests into our garage for safety. Regrettably, one has to think about these things these days. The people of Sderot and other southern communities unfortunately deal with this all the time. But we are not used to this.
My daughter and I had planned to go to Modiin in the evening, but after the siren I was a bit wary. I did not want to get caught in a barrage of rockets while on the highway. The thought of pulling over to the side of the road, leaving the vehicle, bending down below the line of windows, and covering my head with my hands held little appeal. Modiin was off the schedule. I still considered taking my daughter-in-law to a local seamstress until I got a message on my phone that the Home Front Command instructed all Beit Shemesh residents to stay a one-minute distance from a bomb shelter at all times. No seamstress. But, thank G-d, by this morning, Beit Shemesh was back to its regular routine
But what is going on in the country is not routine at all. Sirens sounded all night in the southern region. Hundreds of missiles were launched towards the south. Buildings in Ashkelon suffered direct hits, with two deaths and more injured. This evening, the area of Tel Aviv was hit with a barrage of rockets killing one. The IDF has been attacking targets in Gaza, hitting terrorist operative tunnels, a Hamas central intelligence unit in the southern Gaza Strip, self-production sites, weapons depots, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad outposts next to training bases. The IDF destroyed a Gaza high-rise used by Hamas. The commander of the Hamas anti-tank unit was killed. Hamas continues their threats. The mayor of Beit Shemesh, in conjunction with the Home Front Command, has asked residents to check their private and shared bomb shelters and prepare them for immediate use. Public shelters have been assessed to be in good working condition. Schools will be closed tomorrow and there will be no after-school programs. All studies will be in long-distance learning format, as we have become accustomed to over the past year. As I write this article, my husband is chatting with our friends who were scheduled to travel to Israel today but may be unable to come, since Ben Gurion Airport closed down due to the security situation.
As is typical during crisis situations in this country, there are many who are reaching out to help others. Kedem Arava, a Yishuv in the Bika’a, is planning to host families from the Gaza area and give them a fun day away from all their stresses. Ein Fashkha, the lowest nature reserve in the world, located in the Judean Desert alongside the shores of the Dead Sea, has agreed to free entry for the southern residents. The yishuv will provide the meals. There is another initiative for families in the center of the country to host families from Sderot and Ashkelon, who have been hardest hit in this round of fighting.
The combat unit of our neighbor’s son, who is currently serving in the army, was just deployed to the south. Some of the reserves have been called up. Shuls are being torched in Lod, a city with a large Arab population. Times are tense, but we are hopeful and praying for better times soon.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.