by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
Life Blogging – Blogging about my family life events during Gaza Conflict XXXIV in Israel. This is not a live blog of war events (though some are mixed in), it’s a live blog of my life in Israel with jets down the road and missiles overhead.
3:30 PM Friday – Preparing for the holy Shabbat (the sabbath). As I take a shower there’s no hot water. I start to get upset (that my children have used up all the hot water) but then catch myself. I’m worried about hot water??? People 15 miles down the road are worried about being killed by missile fire!
4:20 PM Friday – The holy Shabbat enters (the sabbath). A time of peace, to be with family and loved ones, to go to synagogue and pray with the community… Be’er Sheva, MISSILE ALERT! Mevetzeret Tyion, ALERT! JERUSALEM, ALERT! Oh my G-d!
We’re listening to the “silent radio”, only announcements of missile alerts (in case you don’t hear your local siren). No news, no details, but one alert per missile. Tens of thousands of religious Jews are walking to synagogue. We don’t know what happened, we won’t know until the end of Shabbos (the sabbath), Saturday after sundown.
My hometown is BEFORE Jerusalem, meaning those missiles PAST OVER OUR HEADS. We’re in range, they just haven’t chosen to target us yet.
4:25 PM Friday – My younger daughters are scared for me to go to synagogue. The walk to synagogue is under 5 minutes, what happens if there’s an alert and I’m not under cover? I have responsibilities as part of our congregation, off I go.
4:30 PM Friday – Our synagogue is a shared facility. During the week it functions as a pre-school. I check the “protected room” – a heavily reinforced mini-bomb shelter required in all new construction in Israel – does it have the capacity for our congregation if we have to run for our lives? It has the capacity, but the protective steel window covers are open AND it’s overloaded with school supplies. I start hauling boxes and shoving things out of the way to make room for enough adults if we have to run. The pre-school teacher is going to kill me on Sunday (though why she didn’t do it for her charges on Thursday or Friday, I don’t know – probably because it’s thought we were out of range), but that’s a figure of speech. The Arabs of Gaza may try to kill me and my congregation literally tonight or tomorrow.
5:15 PM Friday – I make an announcement during Friday Night Shabbos Services, one I never thought to hear in my life…
“Dear friends, silent radio reported missile alerts for Jerusalem and Mevetzeret Tzion a short time ago. Both are past us, meaning missiles past over our town. G-d forbid, should we need it the protected room is located down the hallway next to the kitchen, the door is open. We’ll have 45-90 seconds to get in if there is an alert. Please take this with all seriousness.
For new immigrants in our congregation, here’s some additional instructions. If you’re on the street and an alert happens, run to the nearest building stairwell. I’ve been asked about gas masks (Israel distributes gas masks to all it’s citizens due to the threat of chemical attack in the past), we have not been told by Home Front Command to do anything with them. Do not open the boxes or put them on unless we hear otherwise, as far as we know there’s no threat of chemical attack.
Following services and the Shabbos meal, we’ll be returning to synagogue to say Tehillim (Psalms). Tehillim neged Tilim. (A play on words in Hebrew, “Psalms to counter Missiles”.)
5:35 PM Friday – I’m standing in the front of the synagogue praying. I hear a screeching sound, like the start of an air raid siren. I start to jump, adrenalin shoots through my body. Then I realize it’s some of the children of the congregations running around and yelling behind the building. Just a child, not a missile. I’m sick to my stomach.
We finish services, singing loudly and enthusiastically to overcome our nervousness.
“Do not fear sudden terror nor the destruction of the wicked when it comes. Contrive a scheme but it will be foiled, conspire a plot but it will not materialize, for G-d is with us…” That’s the ending prayer of services (not in all Jewish prayer books, but in ours). I try to hold it in mind.
6:30 PM Friday – I sit with my family for the Friday night Shabbos meal. We sing, we invite the angles in. Nachal Oz, ALERT! Yad Mordechai, ALERT! Ashkelon, ALERT! How many families are dropping their forks and running for their lives???
Tens or hundreds of missiles are being fired at civilians, children. People want to pretend there’s a political cause of this??? They’re firing to KILL CHILDREN, not for military effect. This is the pure desire for BLOOD, Jewish blood. This is pure evil.
People want to say that these missiles don’t kill??? Tell that to the dead family, a rabbi and his pregnant wife, from Friday morning.
We eat our traditional soup and chicken, trying to sing songs and stay upbeat about the holy Shabbos. Announcements of town after town being hit by missile after missile drone on in the background, we pause at each announcement to make sure it’s not for our town (meaning we would need to run for cover), they’re not.
I struggle to maintain a calm and brave face for my children.
7:30 PM Friday – We finish our family meal and say blessings after the meal.
Our town has a raging (religious) teen social scene on Friday nights. Young men and ladies meet up with groups of friends and do whatever groups of teens do. (Talk about this and that, laugh and joke with friends, walk around and see and be seen.)
My teens go to head out, I start to try to stop them. They give me a bit of a look (you parents know the one that says you’re uncool and babying them) and say “we know, we know what to do if there is an alert, bye”. Ah, bye. How do you deal with teens in a missile alert zone? I have no idea.
I hear the normal teen noises from the streets, guess I’m in the parenting majority (letting them go).
8:30 PM Friday – Nervousness, adrenalin, calming down, it’s taken all my energy out of me. I collapse in bed, dead to the world. Wait, bad expression at such a time.
Yad Binyamin is a community that’s over 50% U.S. Jewish immigrants to Israel, a pretty suburban town of individual homes, parks and synagogues. We have several friends from New Jersey who live there, and one of my boys has a classmate from there. I pray they are safe.
6:00 AM Saturday – Everyone’s awake, we’re never all awake at 6am. We hear jets overhead, wishing them success in stopping these murderous attacks. We sit quietly and say our morning blessings. We get some hot drinks and try to learn and say some words of Torah, to think of G-d on the holy Shabbos. Nachal Oz, ALERT! Be’er Sheva, ALERT! Be’er Tuvia, ALERT! It’s not easy to stay calm, keeping the silent radio on may have been a mistake.
9:00 AM Saturday – Synagogue, morning services. I’m worried that we shouldn’t get a crowd, with the pre-school supplies in the protected room I’m afraid I won’t be able to fit more than 20 people in there if there’s a missile alert.
One of my friends arrives, his brother in law is with him. Their family evacuated from Kiryat Gat (in much closer missile range and a frequent target area). My friend has a big family and his brother in law has a big family, must be 15 children in his apartment. For now it’s an adventure.
Synagogue fills up. Many guests, probably refugees from southern towns under frequent missile attack. A few regulars ask me to give a synagogue honor to their guests which I’m glad to do.
10:30 AM Saturday – Synagogue is crowded and a number of people have brought their young children who are playing around the building and on the grounds. I’m seriously worried, if there’s an alert we’ll be hard pressed to get everyone under cover and there’s no way a parent with 2 or 3 little children running around the yard is going to get them and get back under cover in 45-90 seconds.
Torah reading. I call up several of the guests for an honor. After they finish I give them and all the honorees a full “Mi Shebarach” blessing…
May He who blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob bless … because he has come up for the honor of G-d, for the honor of the Torah and for the honor of the Shabbat. In this merit may the Holy One, Blessed Be He, PROTECT and DELIVER him from all trouble and distress, from all affliction and illness, and may He send blessing and success to all his endeavors together with all Israel his brethren, and let us say Amein.
I start to choke up as I say PROTECT and DELIVER him and success to all his endeavors together with all Israel. I have to take a deep breath and compose myself. We’re always in need of G-d’s protection and blessings, but today we realize it directly.
11:30 AM Saturday – Services finish, no alerts for us (thank G-d). We follow up with a farbrengen, a chassidic gathering. We wish each other blessings, wish the soldiers blessings and success, share stories of the Rebbe and other tzaddikim and words of the holy Torah, and share a few small l’chaim’s (a bit of vodka in this case). Nobody takes more than a touch of l’chaim, everyone wants their full wits about them in case of emergency.
One of the men starts speaking quietly, his son is part of Home Front Command. He was part of the response team to the Jewish family murdered by missile on Friday. Oh my G-d.
11:45 AM Saturday – Some of the children run in to tell us an army transport has pulled up in front of a local synagogue! Apparently they’ve called up reserves, and since there’s no public transport on Shabbos (sabbath / Friday night through Saturday night), they’ve sent an army transport to pick up the local men who’ve been called into emergency army reserve service.
A group of men, wearing their Shabbos best, board the bus. A few protest they can’t board on Shabbos, a very respected local (charedi) rabbi is called over who says “it’s clearly pikuach nefesh, risk to life, and the need overrides the restrictions of Shabbos (restrictions such as not working, not traveling, etc), any actions needed by the army in this situation are permitted”. The men board, wearing their long black coats and black hats, a few even wearing shtreimals (fur hats).
12:30 PM Saturday – We invite a guest home from synagogue. We sit down for the daytime Shabbos meal with the family and guest. We make the blessing over wine and sit down for some of my wife’s excellent challah (home made bread, Jewish style). This week she made it with whole spelt flour, and dusted it with zatar. Yum.
My wife is an excellent cook and she didn’t let the pressure of a war deter her from preparing a meal worthy of the holy Shabbos. We enjoy a traditional cholent, a hot thick meat stew slow cooked from before Shabbos (Friday afternoon) until now. Double yum.
Eshkol, ALERT! S’derot, ALERT! Sha’ar HaNegev, ALERT!
1:30 PM Saturday – We continue our meal, pausing as alerts go out every 10 minutes or so. Air Force Daughter (my older daughter who served in the IDF air force) talks army service with our guest, an American immigrant to Israel who pushed his way into IDF army service (completed a year ago). Pushed in because they generally don’t want anyone over 25, and he arrived older than that.
We normally talk about Torah topics, what the children are learning in school (what Torah they’re learning), and topics about the Torah portion of the week. My little girl runs over, “the neighbor (children) say they’re going into Gaza, did the army go in yet?” I don’t know, and we don’t worry about such things on Shabbos. We worry about Torah and G-d… and where to run in case of a missile alert? I’ve never had a Shabbos like this before… and we (thank G-d) haven’t had an alert!
4:00 PM Saturday – Shabbos is coming to an end. We haven’t heard any alerts (on the silent radio) in 2 hours or so, nor any jets overhead. Is it over? Have they made peace? Or at least a ceasefire? Did people die in Jerusalem on the Holy Shabbos?
I don’t know, it’s Shabbos. I’m not listening to the news or touching a computer, not turning anything on – we set ourselves apart from the world for Shabbos, but this week the worries, life and death worries, have intruded again and again.
5:20 PM Saturday – We complete our end-of-Shabbos prayers. We normally stay around and chat afterwards, talk about plans for the week. This time we all run home, to see what’s been and what will be…
6:00 PM Saturday – Missiles at Jerusalem, missiles at Tel Aviv, missiles at Modi’in (that’s the next major town over!!!) All targeting civilians.
Yet the G-d of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. Amazingly almost 1,000 missiles have been shot at us and “only” 1 family was directly hit. Apartments have been hit, cars have been hit, schools have been hit, but thank G-d, injuries have been “not so many” and deaths… “only” 3 (plus an 8 month old unborn child).
It’s an open miracle in front of our faces. Oh, we can ignore it because of statistics, aiming, interceptor fire, etc. Yet we see clearly, 1 missile can kill a family or 1,000 missiles can hurt no one. It’s all in the hand of Hashem (G-d).
As I write this the Israeli army has doubled their call up of reserves. Israeli army forces are massing for a ground attack against Hamas in Gaza. Parts of the world shout about Israel’s actions while the Arabs of Gaza continue to target Jewish civilians every hour.
See on the news. The reporters who are reporting from Gaza are watching missiles be fired literally from behind them, the next building over, one street away, and continue to report WITHOUT FEAR. Why? Because they know the Israeli army TARGETS MILITARY INFRASTRUCTURE, not civilians, even successfully doing so – as much as humanly possible – when that military infrastructure has been put in the middle of a civilian neighborhood (another war crime).
These people are literally barbarians violating every international law and civilized norm. It’s a modern definition of evil and one that has the potential to damage and destroy all of modern civilization.
The Jews are the first target, but never the last.
From the Holy Land under fire…