When the Siren Sounds

by Florence Broder

Four days of rockets on Tel Aviv have taken their toll on me. I have become a Pavlovian dog; any sound makes me jump as I think a rocket is headed my way – and I pull myself together to get ready to run. It takes me a moment to realize it’s not a siren this time, just a random sound outside. This time I can breathe a sigh of relief.

I can’t sleep because I am afraid the siren will go off in the middle of the night. My sneakers and my bag are at the door so I can be ready if an alarm goes off. My phone and computer are always charging as I am also armed with the latest technology: an iPhone app broadcasting the warning sirens.  Even radio stations in Israel announce the sirens and the location around the country.

The people of Sderot have been suffering for more than 10 years with continuous rocket fire, and I am traumatized after five days. They have 15 seconds to get to shelter, and I count my blessings because we in Tel Aviv have 90. As we say in New York, “Those people have chops.” And given what I went through, I now believe that the Israeli government has exercised extreme restraint in not invading Gaza in the past.

I live in an older building that doesn’t have a mamad, or safe room. It didn’t become an architectural requirement to build safe rooms in new structures until after the Gulf War. The nearest bomb shelter is a five-minute walk from my apartment. With the 90-second lead time following the siren, there is no way I can get there in time. When the siren goes off, all the residents in my apartment building pour into the stairwell. It’s the safest place to be since there are no windows. The good news is that Hamas is helping me get to know my neighbors.

We anxiously wait there for the sound, and then it comes … BOOM. Then we know the rocket has landed or blown up. We wait five minutes longer to know that the coast is clear before we move about. Immediately after the blast the phones don’t work, but we are all thankful for Facebook which allows us to tell our loved ones we are okay. Then life goes on . . .

On Friday, hours before the beginning of Shabbat, the siren went off, and luckily this time a friend was there with me. It helped not to be alone. But still my heart was pumping as we exited my apartment. Once again the neighbors frantically emerged. One girl had been in the shower and threw on clothes and ran out barefooted. She was visibly shaking because she didn’t think she would make it out in time. We tried to keep her calm even though we were nervous ourselves.

The boom came and we knew it was over. Of course later we heard about the other now-infamous boom when Hamas took aim at the holy city of Jerusalem. It was a shadow that clouded the Shabbat dinner table with my nine guests. We tried to find the lighter side, the funny moments in this situation, anything to keep us all a bit saner.

Saturday afternoon was my third siren. By then it had become routine, though the boom was louder than ever. It sounded like the rocket landed in my backyard.

The Israeli work week begins on Sunday. Given my anxiety, I didn’t want to commute. I didn’t want to be on a bus to work when a siren sounded. It would mean crouching down on the highway taking cover. My boss, of course empathizing with me, allowed me to work from home. I finished breakfast, started working, and then the siren sounded, the app rang, and I ran out the door. And once again my heart was pounding. Finally the booms came.

I write this all from Raanana, a city a bit north of Tel Aviv. I’ve decided to take refuge with my cousins rather than be alone. It was the right decision because while I was here a fifth siren blared in Tel Aviv, and this time I didn’t have to run. I checked Facebook to make sure my friends were safe.

My parents are still pressuring me to come back to New York. They are nervous because the media is reporting an all-out war is about to break out in the region. The Israel Defense Forces are now calling an unprecedented 75,000 reserve soldiers for a possible ground incursion. Among those called are my friends, colleagues, and family members. I have convinced my parents that I’ll wait to see if there is a ceasefire in the next 48 hours before buying my ticket. This bought me some time, but not much.

Frankly, after experiencing five days of rockets, it’s enough! No mother, father, or child should crouch in fear anymore. Every rocket they fire on Tel Aviv incites me more. Every time I see the app siren go off around the country I understand what they are going through. It has to end. It’s time to stop the rockets. And I am sad to say that I think there is only one way to do it …

Florence Broder was formerly employed at both UJA-Federation New York and The Jewish Agency and is now an independent consultant living in Tel Aviv. You can follow her on Twitter @flogolightly.

This post first appeared on The IFCJ Blog.