I’m not okay

Please excuse my writing, I’m a bit rattled and raw and this piece I have in my head might be too far-reaching or too disconnected, but I feel the need to let it all out.

I’m writing because I’m not okay. There, I said it. So many friends and acquaintances are checking in on me, which feels comforting on one hand, but also makes me wonder what this situation must look like from far away, where all you see are battle cries and rockets launched, displaced people who have lost loved ones – war scenes.

I’m writing to you from my mother-in-law’s kitchen in Modiin, where we have come for some refuge from our home in Be’er Sheva. We ordered pizza last night, my older son Yoav played with his cousins, and everyone else was ogling my baby boy, Asher. Because that is what life looks like between rocket fall – it’s pretty normal.

I’m writing to you because of the mental toll that this takes on a person. I’m writing because I am not okay.

In years past, we’ve had to stay in our shelter, sometimes run to it, sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes in the middle of the day. It didn’t feel like this. I felt safe, I felt certain that the Iron Dome would be able to intercept the rocket fire, that it would end swiftly, that a cease-fire would be called and we would go back to “normal.”

This time, the amount of rockets coming out of Gaza is extraordinary. There’s a joke going around that it’s as if Hamas spent the pandemic preparing rockets instead of baking banana bread.

Also, this time I am the mother of two. And we moved earlier this year to an older house, built in the 1960’s, with no safe room. Which means, the other night, when Shie and I awoke to the siren alerting us to rocket fire over Beer Sheva at 3AM, we hopped out of the bed, each grabbed a kid from their beds, and huddled with them in what we thought would be the “safest” part of the house. But the sirens kept coming and the booms were loud, and we decided we needed to head to the community shelter, located in the park next to our house.

When the sky quieted, we put shoes on, each grabbed a kid and a water bottle, and left the house. I was out of our front gate with Asher in my arms when the siren started up again. I yelled to Shie, “I’m running.” And I ran, with Asher in my arms, like I was running for my life. We all got to the shelter in time, and ran down the stairs, sweaty, breathing heavily, but we made it. And for the third and fourth barrage of rockets we were in the shelter. Safe.

I can’t explain exactly why or what this did to me mentally, but I feel traumatized. Running outside in the middle of the night holding my 5-month old like a football, praying that I don’t trip, praying that I’m not harming my baby boy, praying so hard that our feet carry us to shelter in time. Writing this after the fact, I feel like I’m being dramatic. But it was dramatic. It was the worst.

We spent the rest of the night sleeping at an elderly neighbor’s house, in her safe room, with her. She opened her house and welcomed us at 4AM, and into the next morning. By the time I woke up, Shie had transferred the bulk of our savings into a checking account so that we could purchase a mini shelter – a little thing that looks like an igloo and fits in our yard. This will keep us safe, we said. It arrived the next morning at 7AM.

We stayed with our neighbor, drank coffee, and waited for more sirens. We are always waiting. They didn’t come, so we made our way home. The walk across the street felt like the zombie apocalypse. Streets were so quiet, so eerie. We made breakfast, ate breakfast, cleaned the dishes, and I took nap. I woke up 2 hours later to more sirens – this time we sheltered in our bathroom, which is surrounded by walls and felt somewhat secure.

The sirens end but they replay in our heads, over and over again. We are ready for them. We make eggs and think about how fast we would have to move and turn off the flame if a siren started. We make toast and jump at the sound of the toaster bell. We put our shoes near the door, neatly, so we can find them if we need to run.

We tell our children that when they hear the siren, they should know the siren is protecting us – it’s telling us it’s time to find our moms and dads, and listen carefully to what they say.

Yoav is a musical kid, he hears things and imitates them. Yesterday he began mimicking the sirens so exactly, that my heart skipped a beat and we almost ran outside. I had to yell at him to stop – asking him multiple times wasn’t working. I had to show him how scary it was for me. Only then did he stop.

Circles of friends check in with each other. We try to lift each other’s spirits – to a point. After a night like that, we are just low together. We are hanging on by a thread. We’re not sleeping well, we’re grieving the lives lost on all sides of this conflict. We are not okay.

Many, many of my friends in Israel are working towards building bridges. Toward a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians. The people living in this land do not want war.

I’m writing what I lived, I’m not including all the facts and all the events and all the historical context. You can find other resources for that. I wasn’t at the riots on the Temple Mount or Al-Aqsa. I wasn’t in Acco or Haifa or Lod or any of the other places where cars burned and people became animals. I’m writing about my family’s life.

I’m writing because too many times I’ve seen people comparing Israel’s death toll to the death toll in Gaza. Should we apologize that Israel is doing what it can to stop its citizens (its citizens of all faiths, of all backgrounds) from being killed?

We are sad and horrified that Hamas does not protect its citizens, that they would rather kill people they’ve never met than bolster education, healthcare, employment, infrastructure for their own people. But we also want to protect ourselves. We need to protect ourselves. All of these thoughts live together in our minds.

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