Guest Voice: Sarah Lubelski, Birthright Israel Alumnus
It can be difficult for a North American to understand living under potential threat. I always knew that Yonatan’s family home had a bomb shelter, but I had preferred to classify it as an element of architectural whimsy, now doubling as a storage space. But when I first arrived in Israel and stayed with his family, his Dad asked me if I knew where the shelter was in case of a siren. My response was something between a horrified glare and a nervous, twittering laugh. I had hoped he was kidding. He wasn’t.
Months later, living in Tel Aviv, there was an air-raid siren test.
Residents were told to locate their nearest bomb shelter for the siren. Yonatan pointed out that since part of our apartment was underground, the hallway between our living room and bedroom would be as structurally sound as a bomb shelter. The lazy person inside me rejoiced. Bring on the air-raid, I thought to myself, for my apartment is structurally sound! When the siren rang at 11:00, I glanced smugly in the direction of my hallway, secure against what I thought was an imaginary threat.
Of course, I had not yet spotted the flaw in my otherwise foolproof plan. Walking home from the market days later, I was shocked to hear the siren go off again, loud, clear and alarming. I stopped in my tracks and looked up at the sky. I was indignant at the invasion into my day – impossible, I thought. I wasn’t warned about this!I looked around me, searching for clues of what I should do.
Some people were looking around as nervously as I was. Tourists, probably. Some were ducking into building doorways. Others were taking no notice, and going on with their day. After weighing my options I pulled out my cell phone and called Yonatan. “The siren is going off again,” I said to him accusingly. As a native Israeli, I felt that he must have had something to do with this plot. I imagined him drinking a beer with his fellow Israelis, laughing about this prank, was sure to confuse his silly Canadian girlfriend. “Yes, I can hear that,” he replied. “Well, I’m outside. What should I do?” He told me to keep walking, and that the siren was just being retested. I shuffled home quickly, still wondering whether a bomb would fall from the sky any moment.
The fact is, I had never accounted for the possibility of NOT being at home when a bombing happened. Until that moment, it never occurred to me that hostile forces would have the audacity to strike when I was away from home, and my wonderful, safe hallway. That they would not be picking up the phone to kindly warn Israeli military officials that Israel would be bombed at 2 pm tomorrow afternoon.
That’s when I finally acknowledged that sirens could sound without a comfortable advanced warning. And that they could be real. As a North American, danger can be a hypothetical, in Israel, it belongs in the framework of life, on any given day, perhaps on your way home from the market.