Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Air Raid Sirens and Six Degrees (not even) of Separation

When I last left off, Elliot was about to begin school.  I am thrilled to report that he absolutely loves it!  There are 23 children, ages 3.5 through 4.5 in a small three room building with a tiny playground.  His teacher, Tzviah, is loving, patient, kind and, notably, speaks some English. Elliot has jumped right in and is very comfortable and happy.  I feel very lucky that it is working out as well as it is.


Things have been fairly uneventful until today, at 1pm, when the air raid sirens went off in Jerusalem. It was a false alarm here triggered by the very real rockets fired into Beersheba this afternoon. It was apparently the first time the sirens have gone off in Jerusalem other than for pre-announced testing since early in the Gulf War. We were not all together when it happened, so we all had different experiences. 


Jim was just outside the locked gate of the preschool, waiting to pick up Elliot when the sirens went off.  He was standing with a pregnant woman who, as he describes, became hysterical when the sirens went off.  When they were finally buzzed into the school house, it became apparent that Tzviah (the teacher, aka the Ganenet) had not heard the sirens.  When Jim and the other parent told her, she calmly and efficiently got all of the 23 children under tables until it was all over.  Wow!  Baruch Hashem it was apparently an accident, but the city is now buzzing.  I cannot help but compare this to Bennett’s first day at the Gan – September 11, 2001 – which was far too real.  I could not believe what had become of the world then, much as it is hard today to comprehend what has become of the world.  Although at the time I could not fully appreciate just how safe Bennett was in the Puppy Room with Doris in control, I came to appreciate it with time.  Those of you who sent your children to the Gan at Adas Israel know what I am talking about.  Tzviah is much like Doris (and all the other teachers at the Gan)– I feel with 100% certainty that she will make sure my child is ok.  It is because of that feeling,that I can calmly continue to send Elliot to school.  (That said, much as I did not cross any bridges for two years after 9/11 if my children were not with me, I won’t be going far from the neighborhood while the kids are in school.)


While Elliot took then whole thing in stride (all the pre-school kids got a piece of chocolate when they were allowed to come out from under the tables, which seemed to satisfy them), Sabrina, my supposed “bull in a china shop”, did not do quite as well.  Sabrina was at a playground with her friend Nomi and their Ulpan teacher when the siren went off.  Apparently the girls were oblivious at the time. When they returned to the Ulpan building, they could not avoid overhearing all the conversations.  I had to muster all my strength to explain to Sabrina that while yes, there are bombs falling on Israel as we speak and while yes she will experience “bomb drills” (think 15 seconds to get your butt into a bomb shelter or lie flat on the ground if no shelter is available to you), she is safe.  I promised her that I would never knowingly put her well-being at risk.  That is one tough conversation to have with a very sheltered (some might say over-protected) 7 year old.  She was shaken enough that she could not resume her studies for the day.  Then, in typical Sabrina fashion, after she seemingly digested it all, she went running off with her friend for a play date.  I am sure that I have not heard the last of it, but, at least right now, I really do believe that I am NOT putting my children at risk.


Bennett actually heard the sirens and knew what they were.  He was in the waiting room with some of the Ulpan staff when they went off.  He did not seem terribly fazed by the whole thing.  His only real concern was that he did not know what he should do if he is not near a shelter when sirens go off.  In case you are curious, the answer is throw yourself flat on the ground and just lie there. In typical Bennett fashion, he could not just accept the answer. He had to question why that is a good idea and how that gives you any kind of protection.  I couldn’t really explain much at the time, other than to assure him that this is the advice from the experts so we should follow it.  He seems to have moved on. (I subsequently learned that the rockets propel shrapnel in a cone-shaped, upward blast so being close to the ground is better than being above ground.)


Interestingly, I was so immersed in my Hebrew studies that I did not even hear the siren.  When I came out of my classroom, heard what happened and had to talk to the kids I was fine.  It was not until I spoke to Jim and he described the little children hiding under tables that I got shaken. Nonetheless, I held it together, because, as I said before, I truly believe that we are NOT in danger here in Jerusalem.  I hope that this was a one-time experience, although something in my gut tells me it is going to happen again.  Only time will tell…


On a lighter note, I have discovered that you can travel half way around the world and in less than two weeks you will meet people who are somehow connected to you.  First, we met our neighbor, an 82 year old woman named Jane Haber, who made Aliyah in 1992 from Bethlehem, PA – the town next to my home town!  It gets better – when she was fifteen, she “dated” my Uncle Milton.  How is that for coincidence?!  The night after we met Jane, one of Bennett’s new friends came over with a friend of his named Moshe Chaim Cohen.  Moshe Chaim told us that he is here for a year from Seattle.  Naturally Bennett asked if he knows Sam Amiel (a boy who used to go to JPDS with Bennett but moved to Seattle) and he said they go to school together in Seattle.  The connections definitely make us feel even more at home than we already do.


Tomorrow is our final day of Ulpan.  We are all a bit sad for it to end, as it has become quite familiar and fun for us.  But alas, all good things must end (especially at the prices they are charging).  Yesterday I went to look at the school for Bennett and Sabrina. It looks great – overcrowded but great.  In the last few days, Bennett has become quite friendly with a Canadian boy, Daniel Potter, here for a year and in the fourth grade at our chosen school.  I know that will help him adjust.  Sabrina is excited because she knows a girl in the 6th grade, Dalia Kahn (Donna Rudolph’s friend’s daughter) and Dalia reminds Sabrina of Samantha Knapp, one of her (and our) favorite people.  They will start next week or the week after.


I will tell you all about the Canadians in my next entry.  Now I have to run to prepare for our bonfire with the Arbels (the doctor neighbors).  Our Ulpan friends, Jonathan, Ellen, Timna and Nomi will be joining us as well.  (They are from Woodstock, NY where he is the Reconstructionist Rabbi.  For my Allentown readers, going back to the 6 degrees of separation, he of course knows Henry Shribeman.)


Before closing out, I’d like to take a moment to remember Lisa Flaxman, an incredible, strong, wonderful, beautiful, talented, motivated, caring, strong, inspirational mother, wife, individual and friend, who died this morning in DC following a valiant battle with breast cancer.  I know that I speak for those of us who had the privilege of knowing her in saying that the world lost a special soul today.  She will be missed.  May she rest in peace and may her family find comfort in each other and from the many people who cared for her and continue to care for them.  (If anyone wants more information, please contact Debbie Lehrich.)

1 comment:

Diane and John said...

Dear Nanci, we are so glad to catch up with your adventures via your blog. You write so well. I have a vivid identification with your experiences of taking shelter. When I was in school, it was the height of the cold war and "we" were afraid of attacks by Russia. We'd have air raid drills in school when we had to duck under our desks or crouch in the school hallways for protection. We didn't ask how that would protect us from an atom bomb attack. At least Bennett asks.

We've had a lovely visit with Julia and the children. They go home tomorrow. But, Jason arrives for the weekend and we will see him on Sunday.

We are so glad you are already making friends and feeling comfortable.

Our love to all of you.

Mom and John