Monday, December 4, 2017


It was Shabbat night, a little before nine in the evening when the sirens sounded. First they came from the village two kilometers to the east of us. Seconds later the Shilo sirens joined the wailing.

For me the alarm brought back deep-rooted memories from my childhood. Every Monday at noon sirens sounded all over Wichita. I was taught that the system was being tested to make sure it was ready for any alert, be it Cold War or climate related. As long as there were no threats of war and the weather was nice I could ignore the weekly sound.

Although we did have a couple of bomb drills in my grammar school, war was never a realistic fear for me. Tornado warnings were a different matter. Never in my recollection did we have one on a Monday noon. In fact, I don’t remember any during the daylight, though there surely were some. In my memories the tornado sirens always sounded at night when I was already in my bedclothes. Running with my parents-and our dog- was always more exciting than threatening and I was never scared until the time we were really hkit by a tornado.*

For my daughter visiting with her family this past Shabbat, the sirens held a totally different connotation. She hasn’t forgotten, and probably never will, the almost daily runs she made to her apartment building’s stairwell when she was living near Tel Aviv three summers ago during the Protective Edge War. There was no time to run to the bomb shelter so she, her family, and neighbors huddled together and prayed the missiles from Gaza would not hit them or anyone else.

Friday night I was more than certain that we were not under a tornado watch. The threat of missiles falling on our sparsely populated area seemed most unlikely also. No, the sirens seemed to be telling us that there was a terrorist infiltrator in our midst. The doors were locked and the protective pistols made accessible. 

Looking out the window we were able to see all sorts of security vehicles making their way to a village about six kilometers away. Thankfully we saw no ambulances and surmised that no one had been seriously injured. Indeed, the following day we were told that a family had heard someone trying to break into their home. Security could find no one and either it had been a false alarm or the would-be terrorist made his escape without doing any harm. 

Whether that family really heard a person or was just frightened by the wind or an animal doesn’t matter. What matters is that terrorists entering the sanctuary of someone’s home and murdering one’s family is a reality for us here in Israel. Running for our lives from bombs is not some scary movie scene but real life. Sending our children to war is an unfortunate part of routine.

Recently Deputy Foreign Minister, Tzippi Hotovely stirred unbelievable, for me, controversy when in an interview** on i24 News she stated that American Jews cannot understand the lives of Israelis. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a diplomat that I fail to understand what she said that was so wrong.

None of my Israeli neighbors can fathom the devastation a tornado can do.  There is no way they can comprehend the fear a tornado siren can stir in one’s heart. Do those two statements mean I have no respect for Israelis? Of course not! It just means I recognize the differences between life in Kansas and life in Israel.

The Cold War, blessedly, is over and the Wichita sirens are now only tested for tornados. Sadly, the war in Israel is ongoing with no end in sight. Those of us living here can barely understand the complexity of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Those who have not spent a protracted amount of time here shouldn’t even try.

*To read more about that go to The Lessons of the Tornado, August 8th, 2012

** The controversial statement: another issue (referring to the schism between Israel and American Jewry) is not understanding the complexity of the region. People that never send their children to fight for their country, most of the Jews don’t have children serving as soldiers going to the Marines and going to Afghanistan and Iraq. Most of them are having quite a convenient life. They don’t know how it feels to be attacked by rockets. And I think part of it is to up the experience what Israel is dealing with on a daily basis and still creating an amazing place. 
Tzippi Hotovely courtesy of JPost

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