December 4, 2023
December 4, 2023

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Parenting in Wartime Israel



“Ema, we’ve been here in our house a lot of days.” It’s like COVID, and it’s not. It’s like COVID, with food shortages and no school and no structure for kids and a lot of uncertainty and fear.  It’s like COVID, but with sirens. It’s not like COVID, because you can be with other people, but make sure you are going somewhere with a safe room, and make sure you have a plan of where you can stop along the way if needed. Before I go out of the house, I clearly note for Ari which kids are home, which are out with friends, which friends are at our house.  Everyone needs to be accounted for.  Just in case. It’s like COVID, but with a war in the background. In the foreground.

My brain doesn’t work anymore. I’ve lost our broom (a necessity in Israeli homes).  How does one lose a broom? Apparently, when you’ve lost your mind, you can also lose a broom. 

Bumped into a friend at the makolet yesterday who also seemed lost in brain fog. Should I buy eggs? Do you need eggs? No…  Should I buy chicken to make schnitzel? Do you make schnitzel?  No… Should I buy bread? Do your kids eat sandwiches? No… There’s a lack of direction, a sense of wanting to do something, but having no idea what to do. Nothing had prepared us to parent during a pandemic, and nothing has prepared us to parent in wartime like this.

As I walk through the makolet, I’m looking at the shelves, wondering what food items I can add to our already stocked safe room. Crackers…but they are salty…well, we have a lot of water… but if we drink a lot…where will we go to the bathroom? It feels imminent, the need to be in the mamad for a while.  Not like an if, but a when. 

This makolet made me cry three times yesterday. I walked in and “shir lamaalot esah einai el heharim” was playing on the radio. I lost it. I saw boys stocking the shelves with their fathers, helping the makolet keep up with demand for food through the worker shortage. I lost it. I saw a friend, who was devastated by the loss of a coworker, who I had been meaning to check in on.  I went over to give her a hug and lost it.

“I hope no chayalim die.  I hope.”  I hope so too.  And yet.  I’m going to funerals where a chayal’s father… grandfather… great grandfather (!) are watching their family’s precious young life cut short.  Hopes, dreams, plans, goals buried. A family and a life destroyed.

“I can’t go to sleep when our chayalim are out there fighting for us.”  I can’t sleep either.  I hate the nighttime, without the hustle and bustle of making meals for chayalim and delivering care packages for chayalim’s families and buying tons of ice cream for a bar mitzvah being thrown for a boy from Sderot whose family relocated here for now. These are the things that fuel me, that give me life, that get me through my day. That distract me. But at night, there is quiet and there is dark, and I hate it. And yet, I can’t bring myself to go to sleep. It’s midnight. It’s 1 am. You need to function tomorrow!  Get yourself to bed! But first. Lock the doors.  They’re locked, you know they are, but check again just in case.  Make sure everyone has a clear path to the mamad. Turn off the AC.  Open the windows. You need to make sure you can hear well even while you’re sleeping.  Just in case…

I sleep somewhat soundly, for a few hours.  Then wake up, wondering how my kids will do today.  What do they understand?  What do we understand?  How do we protect them from the news of what’s going on?  We think they don’t know but… “I’m sad if my chayalim will die.”  Your chayalim? “They came to my gan and gave me candy and did a project with me.  I’m sad if they will die.”

So many faces.  So many pictures.  So much heartbreak.  Each of these lives, a whole world.  Destroyed with such evil, such heartlessness, such brutality.  We cannot stop thinking about you and feeling completely sick and nauseous at the tremendous loss that we are facing.  The women.  The babies.  The men, who are really just babies, out there fighting to protect us.  The kidnapped children… How can I think about it all without my heart literally splitting in two?

When I look at my own children’s faces, and how beautiful they are, I feel hopeful, but I also feel devastated. Because how could something like that be destroyed by a person?  How can I bear their sweetness, their innocence?  Cuddling in bed with them at night is both relieving and all I want to do, and also, so hard.  Because it’s painful now to look at a child’s bed, knowing what it could look like.  Because the what ifs are always on my mind.  And my six-year-old’s, too: “Is there going to be a siren in the middle of the night?”  There might be, but don’t worry, Abba and I have a plan for getting everyone to the mamad.  You’ll be safe.  And my four-year-old:  “I’m going to have nightmares and there will be fireworks and the fireworks are going to kill me.” Please Hashem, save our bodies and save our hearts and save our souls.

Shira Gontownik, originally from Fair Lawn, NJ, is currently living in Efrat with her husband Ari, and five kids after making aliyah three years ago. She recommends the following chesed opportunity: Rav Rimon has established a fund in coordination with the government to provide real-time financial, material, and mental-health support for soldiers and families who are impacted by the devastating situation:

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