It is erev Tisha B’av as I sit reflecting on this day spent doing parties for children in the shelters of Tiberius and embracing the feelings of when our beit mikdash was destroyed. It was a day of renewed fighting in Lebanon and the north was under intense fire. Unlike my visit to Segev last week, I met the fear, heard the constant sirens and booms, and witnessed the damage of the Katyushot. It has been quiet for the past two days, which gave us all a false sense of safety.
Again, just as I arrived at the first shelter, the sirens sounded. We grabbed the equipment out of the trunk of the car and ran into the shelter with the wires of the tape deck and speaker dragging behind on the ground.
One of the mothers scrambled over the heap of mattresses to shut the window with a makeshift wire that would repel bullets in the rocket heads.
Scenes from birthday parties held in the shelters of Tiberius by Birthday Angels, a charitable project.
She then told me that just yesterday she was on Dizengoff. I asked if she had been in Tel Aviv. She said, "No, but there were no Katyushot so we walked to friends two blocks away and we felt like we had been to Dizengoff.
"And when we went up to their high story apartment we felt like we were at Azrieli," the major Tel Aviv shopping mall.
We were celebrating the birthday of one-year-old Gal, whose mother wept with thanks for our making a party for this child, who came after years of infertility treatments. The room was tiny, hot, and cluttered. The four families from the building have been forced to live in there for almost three weeks.
Throughout the hour and a half that I spent there we heard incessant booming. But we managed to forget ourselves for a time and everyone was laughing and smiling despite the surrealistic circumstances of our gathering.
The car that was supposed to pick me up didn’t show up, so the father of the birthday girl, Gal, offered generously to take me to my next shelter. I hesitated, not wanting to endanger him. But he insisted. He is the eighth generation of his family in Tiberius.
As we drove, he told me that he would never leave the city. He is a youth coordinator and spends all his days volunteering for the Matnas (community center), driving and doing tasks for the community. He wasn’t scared at all. He was filled with love for his family, his city, and his country.
The next shelter was quite large and served the ‘0 families from that building. It was air-conditioned, and when I arrived, a pair of jugglers was just leaving.
A little girl was lying on her mother’s lap and she looked sick. But her mother said she was just afraid.
The kids all ran up to their apartments to get a breath of air like birds from a cage. It took a while to round them all up again for the next activity.
While I set up the decorations and games the mothers listened to the radio on the tape deck I brought in. The broadcasts made us all anxious.
I managed to pull them away from it inviting them to forget themselves for a while. We were safe and sound in the shelter anyway.
The children ranged in ages from 4 to 1′. The birthday boy, Shai, was particularly sweet, and thrilled to be celebrating his birthday despite the circumstances.
We played amid the booms and sirens in the background, for almost two hours. They got lost in the games and didn’t think about anything. We lit the candles and lifted Shai up on a chair 13 times and ate delicious birthday cake, donated to us for the party.
I had just packed up my stuff when we heard a huge boom. We practically jumped out of our skins. The ground felt like it shook. It was loud and shocking.
After a few minutes we went outside and saw the damage from the Katyusha that had fallen on the house across the street. It was devastating. The smoke, smells, and ambulance sirens left us breathless. Thank God no one was in the building and a true tragedy was averted.
I collected my things and waited anxiously for my ride to pick me up and drive me back to the Matnas, where I would be meeting up with the other volunteers with whom I drove up early this morning.
When we met, we hugged each other, happy that we were all okay.
As we drove away from Tiberius, past the Golani Junction, we sighed with relief that we were entering the "safe zone." I found out only later that Kfar Yehoshua had been hit, south of Haifa, just past Tivon, where we had just driven. If we had known I doubt we would have stopped to buy olive oil in Dalyat al Carmel from the old Druze standing on the side of the road. As he handed me the two-liter water bottle refilled with the dark green oil, he blessed me and said "Chalas, Sheh-yigamer kvar" ("Enough, it should just end already"). When I answered "Amen," it was a prayer.