Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The recent rocket attacks from Gaza have wreaked havoc for tens of communities close to Gaza—causing injuries, anxiety and panic attacks for many residents and disrupting the lives of many thousands of families that live in these communities. While there is no question that the communities of the South are on the “front lines” of these battles each year, and for that we owe them tremendous hakarat hatov, at the same time, what sometimes goes unnoticed is the impact that these rockets have on the daily lives of tens of thousands of other families—those of us who don’t live on the periphery but are within range of the rockets from Gaza. In order to be able to put into perspective the full impact of these rocket attacks on Israeli society, it’s important to realize the impact that this reality has on these families as well.

In order to share a glimpse of this impact, below are reflections (in the form of my daily timeline) from last Tuesday, the first day of such attacks.

Tuesday, November 12


6:45 a.m.—Shifra and I go to wake up our children to get ready for school. I check my phone for important news from throughout the night. As menahel of Midreshet Torat Chessed, a gap year midrasha in Israel, I am responsible for the safety and security of my students—and I receive special text messages with important security updates and information. I had received at 5 a.m. a message about the assassination of al-Ata, a major leader of Islamic Jihad—and had already received follow-up messages regarding closings down south in anticipation of the expected rocket response from Gaza.

My immediate reaction is mixed—while I fully support the actions taken by the IDF to do what is necessary to send a message to the leaders of our enemies, the expected response—and the impact it will have on our lives—is as of yet unknown. A regular day has suddenly become anything but.

7:20 a.m.—As we go through our morning routine of trying to get our sleepy kids up, dressed, eating breakfast, and their lunches and snacks made, there is a flurry of information and speculation going around. Reports of sirens around Ashdod, and many communities—every minute or two, updates of more rockets. Many are stopped by Iron Dome, others are not. Now we hear that there are rockets over Rishon Letzion, getting closer to our community of Shaalvim. How far will they shoot? Will my kids have school today?

As my wife and I try to balance our pre-school preparations with all of these questions and concerns, our four older children (Temima, 11; Chaim, 9; Yehudit, 7; Dovi, 4) notice something is off and they ask what’s going on. As a parent in these situations, you have to find the right balance of what to tell your children and in the right way. We explain to them the situation—my older two children remember the last war in 2014 so for them it is more “normal,” but our 7-year-old, Yehudit, gets nervous and scared—we do our best to calm her down and explain that, b’ezrat Hashem, everything will be okay. Dovi asks lots of questions as he tries to assimilate this information into his 4-year-old mind as best he can.

7:45 a.m.—We receive word that school is closed for our area. What should I do? The seminary I work at in Netanya is further from Gaza and therefore is having a “regular” day, and I also feel a responsibility towards my students who will also need reassurances. Do I leave Shifra with all five kids? What if there is a siren and she needs to get all five children into the miklat (saferoom) by herself? My wife and I discuss—thankfully Shifra is a very calm and capable person, and she encourages me to go to the seminary.

Before I leave to daven, Shifra and I get our miklat ready just in case—we put food, drinks, an emergency light and phone and games for the kids. I say goodbye to my kids, and Yehudit comes running over crying—she doesn’t want me to leave because she is scared. What do you respond to that?

8:50 a.m.—Davening is over, and I am driving to Netanya. I replace my usual music or shiurim with the news. I remind myself the instructions if there is a siren while driving—one should pull over to the side, get out of the car, go down on the ground with your hands over your head. But what if there is no place to pull over? If I am on a highway with many cars driving fast, is it safe to just pull over and assume that everyone else will do the same? I am reminded of many people who are injured during these attacks not simply from the rockets themselves but on their way towards the various safe rooms.

9:50 a.m.—I arrive in Netanya, where it is peaceful and quiet and feels as if nothing is going on. I teach at 10 a.m., and of course we spend the first 15 minutes of class discussing the situation. The students have so many question and concerns—and it is important to me to do my best to allay their fears.

11a.m.—Class ends, and I go back to my office to check my phone for updates. My heart skips a beat when I see that at 10:15 a.m. there was a rocket fired over the Modiin area and intercepted by the Iron Dome. I then see that I had a missed call from home. I call home, and Shifra explains that she was down in the basement, but our son Chaim was playing outside when the siren went off, and he ran in to tell everyone to get to the miklat. Our 1-year-old was napping, so Shif had to wake him and get everyone in. She said the kids were great overall—except Yehudit, who was crying and said she wants to move to America, to get away from this.

I am concerned for the impact this reality has on my children. Its not normal for a 9-year-old playing outside to hear a siren and run in to tell everyone to get into the miklat. It is not normal for my 7-year-old to have to deal with these fears. It is not normal for us to have to explain to our 4-year-old about the “enemies” that want to hurt us. I pray that the lasting impact will not be great.

I ask Shifra if she wants me to come home—I was meant to be at work all day today, and to actually stay late and stop off to play hockey in Tel Aviv tonight, my weekly exercise. Should I just forget it all and come home? She says that right now she and the kids are fine, so I should stay—and lets see how the day continues.

5 p.m.—It looks like I will be able to keep my original plan of staying late at work and playing hockey in Tel Aviv before coming home. I get a call from Yehudit, asking when I am coming home. I tell her I will be back late, after she is sleeping. Are you going to play hockey? Yes. She starts to cry—I don’t want you to, I want you to come home.

As I hang up, I begin to question my decision—maybe I should go home to help calm her down? Am I being a bad parent by feeding into her fears? Is she maybe correct, that it isn’t safe for me to be playing hockey out in the open in a park in Tel Aviv?

10:30 p.m.—Driving home from Tel Aviv, I allow myself to listen to some music instead of the news. As I get closer to home, for the first time today a sense of calmness comes over me, as I reflect upon the fact that despite all the decisions, questions and tension, fundamentally I truly feel a sense of safety. I feel safe knowing that our country’s leaders are working day and night to protect us even as they carry out whatever necessary operations must be carried out, that the level of intelligence that the IDF has is beyond more than I can imagine and that the incredible protective shield called Iron Dome will continue to do its job. And most of all, I know that our Father in Heaven is watching over us, whatever may come. It’s a distinctly comforting feeling.

11:10 p.m.—I finally get home, check on the kids and sit with Shifra to discuss the day. We talk about how the kids are doing, and what we can do to help them through this. School was cancelled again for tomorrow, and as I am off on Wednesdays, we decide to make it a family day together.

11:45 p.m.—Before we got to sleep, we open a window in our bedroom to hear the siren, and we make a plan of action should a siren go off during the night—she gets the baby, and I wake up the other kids and get them down the miklat. Hopefully it will not be needed.

As I doze off to sleep, I think about the hectic day. A day that started out normal but was anything but. I think about the thousands of other families who live on the border of Gaza and therefore have to deal with a situation far more intense and scary than mine. I also think about the tens of thousands of families that had a day similar to mine—who mostly went about their regular day, but there was so much more to think about, wonder and consider. I think about the question that Yehudit asked Shifra when they were in the miklat—why can’t we move to America so that this won’t happen to us? And I remind myself that while the day certainly had its challenges, these are the “yissurim” that come with living in the Holy Land, and defending the Holy country. I am home—and the greatest thing we can show our enemies is that we won’t leave. We aren’t going anywhere.

R’ Yossi Goldin is the menahel of Midreshet Torat Chessed. He can be reached at [email protected]