A woman runs to take cover in the Israeli city of Ashdod on July 10, 2014 during a rocket attack by Palestinian militants from the nearby Gaza Strip. (DAVID BUIMOVITCH/AFP/Getty Images)
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An American Mother Visits Israel on a Mission

Sirens blare as we fill out paperwork for my daughter to volunteer with the IDF

Annette Gendler
July 10, 2014
A woman runs to take cover in the Israeli city of Ashdod on July 10, 2014 during a rocket attack by Palestinian militants from the nearby Gaza Strip. (DAVID BUIMOVITCH/AFP/Getty Images)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sirens wail at 7:19 p.m. I grab my keys and phone, and text my husband in Chicago: “Sirens over Tel Aviv.” My 18-year-old daughter yanks the stubborn apartment door and urges, “Come on, Mom!”

Just yesterday I reassured a friend in Germany that, in Tel Aviv, we weren’t feeling the violence she was seeing on TV.

We’re in Tel Aviv because my daughter, who just graduated high school in Chicago, is doing the paperwork to begin volunteering in the Israel Defense Forces. As the sirens howl, we clamber down the stairs to the second-floor landing of the building where we’re renting a vacation apartment. Being a Bauhaus building from the 1930s, it has no bomb shelter. According to the “conventional threat prevention” our landlord emailed us, we have 90 seconds to get to a secure spot like this landing.

Neighbors are gathering there. Some speak English and we chat. Everybody is tapping a cell phone. Boom! People look up. Does this mean the Iron Dome intercepted the rocket? Eventually people disperse. As we climb back upstairs, my daughter says, “Well, at least we met the neighbors.”

Over dinner we marvel that this actually happening. I post on Facebook, and concern from Jewish and non-Jewish friends around the world pours out: “Be safe!”

Israeli relatives call to see if we are freaked out. Does my daughter have second thoughts now about volunteering for the IDF? Does she want to fly home? That hadn’t occurred to either of us.

American Jewish friends are envious that we’re here. Even so, I’m not sure my scrambling to the second-floor landing actually constitutes supporting Israel. Is presence support? Service is definitely support, and dealing with these air raids feels like a validation of my daughter’s decision to not only support Israel, but to serve.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

When the sirens wail again at 8:30 a.m., I’m in my bra, my mouth full of toothpaste, rushing to make another 9:00 a.m. appointment with the Israeli bureaucracy. I struggle into a t-shirt, and we gather on the landing with our neighbors. Everybody is in pajamas, lounge wear, or bath robes. One guy even brings his coffee along.

All-clear sirens don’t sound in Tel Aviv; rather, the neighbors shuffle off after the boom. Later, as we hurry along the streets, I scan shops and buildings. Where to find shelter if the sirens wail now? My grandparents lived through World War II in Czechoslovakia and endured years of sirens. Is this what it means to fit war into your life? Being aware of where to find cover, having a phone app showing public shelters, educating myself on what to do if I’m on a bus, in a car, or in an open area? Keeping my pajamas on at night?

That evening, another Israeli friend calls: “You are not worried about the situation?”

“No,” I say.

Not that it’s not serious. People farther south have only 15 seconds to find cover and have suffered years of these types of assaults. I wonder how they ever take a shower.

A young Israeli friend messages me: “How’s your bomb experience? Not a good time to come visit Israel!”

Perhaps I am too stoic, but I think it’s a good time to be in Israel. As my husband said on the phone after the first air attack, “Now you know, and she knows, what the reality is.”

Thursday, July 10, 2014

While I review a draft of this article, sirens interrupt at 7:55 a.m. This morning the booms sound closer than before. One neighbor jokes, “This is to make sure we get up in the morning.”

As my daughter leaves to get her visa extended, I ask, “Do you know what to do when sirens sound again?”

She nods and is off.

Annette Gendler is the author of Jumping Over Shadows, the true story of a German-Jewish love that overcame the burden of the Holocaust.

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