How many booms today?

How many booms today?

My daily phone conversations with my daughter in Tel Aviv when she is on her way home from work have been starting with a new question over the past week: How many booms were there today?

This is the absurd reality of living through a war that has half of Israel scrambling for safety whenever an air-raid siren begins to wail.

Where I live, northeast of Jerusalem, we’ve had just two as of this writing. But in Tel Aviv, and certainly in more at-risk places such as Ashdod, the sirens and the inevitable booms that follow it are much more frequent. In the stairwells of apartment buildings, in bomb shelters or safe rooms, it’s impossible to tell if the booms indicate missiles falling or missiles being intercepted successfully by Iron Dome. That you only find out later from the news reports.

Last week we went to a wedding in Ness Ziona, one of the cities newly in rocket range of Gaza. The bride’s family is involved in interfaith dialogue with Israeli Arabs in Ramle. When an air-raid siren sounded during the salad course (most guests, including me, did not hear it due to the music and the conversation and the clinking of dishes) the father of the bride reportedly remarked with a smile, “I wonder if Hamas knows how to differentiate between the Jews and Arabs in this room.”

The past week has been filled with summer weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other happy occasions throughout Israel. Even if guests from overseas cancel their reservations due to “the situation,” the show goes on and the joy will not be denied.

Because summertime marks most immigrants’ aliyah anniversaries, several English-speaking families in our neighborhood long have been planning a celebratory event headlined by the standup comic Benji Lovitt, who made aliyah in 2006. With the horrific kidnapping-murders, and the increasing attacks from Gaza, organizers agonized over whether to cancel the evening but decided to forge ahead. Benji’s hilarious routine – preceded by words of encouragement and Psalms by local community leaders – proved to be a happy distraction that the crowd sorely needed.

Quite a few members of the audience, originally from England, South Africa, Australia, Canada, or the United States, told me over refreshments that their sons, sons-in-law, or husbands are among the 40,000 reserve soldiers and countless ground troops heading into the fray. Etched into their worried eyes are the words that don’t have to be spoken to be understood loud and clear: It will take a miracle to avoid casualties in the battles ahead.

I write this on Tuesday morning, on the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, which begins a three-week period of traditional mourning associated with the cataclysmic destructions of our two Holy Temples and the consequent exiles – one lasting about 70 years and the other still very much a reality despite the relative ease with which Jews anywhere now can come home to live.

The Three Weeks, culminating in the fast of the ninth of Av, historically have been dangerous times for Jews. In recent years, we have seen many a tragedy during this period, especially the expulsion from Gaza nine years ago that theoretically could have led to a thriving Palestinian state in the strip and instead – as many warned, unheeded – led to the terror we now face.

Many of us feel that the Three Weeks seem to have arrived early this year, specifically on June 12, when Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrach were kidnapped and murdered. We shudder to think what else may be in store, God forbid.

Yet having said all that, I must emphasize that most of us outside the direct line of fire are not panicked and have not curtailed work or leisure activities. I appreciate that Jewish and gentile friends abroad have let us know they are praying for us or thinking of us, but I don’t want them to imagine we are cowering in fear.

The residents of Gaza border communities are experiencing much more serious interruptions to daily life than are we in the Jerusalem area, yet most of them are struggling despite their trauma to use music, prayer, relaxation exercises, counseling sessions, and any other helpful tool to remain steadfast as they await better times.

Some friends have asked whether I yearn to escape to New Jersey until the situation stabilizes. I have no such desire. It’s not just that the daily news about random shootings in the States, riots in Europe, and massacres in Africa and our neighboring countries remind me that there is no such thing as a truly safe place. It is simply clear to me that this is where I belong, no matter how many booms we may hear in the sky.

A gas station in Tel Aviv opened soon after shrapnel from a Gaza rocket landed at the site on July 10.
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