6.02.2009

Iran Preparedness Training

There was a national air-raid siren drill this morning. I knew it was going to happen and I wasn't looking forward to it. 

I was so dreading it that the actual thing wasn't so bad. I threw my pear core into the compost bin (all my roommate's doing; I am mentally supportive but physically unable to deal with the rotting fruit and veggie scraps, which stink to high heaven, especially in the summer months), grabbed my backpack and hat (since I was leaving for the day), walked rapidly down to the ground floor from the third floor (fourth floor American) which suddenly seemed much further up than it ever had before (with the exception of times I've had to drag multiple heavy suitcases up the stairs), and watched my roommate struggle to quickly open the two locks on the miklat [shelter] door. 

Once inside, it was clear that everyone in the building would not fit if there was, chas v'shalom, Hashem yishmor, lo aleinu [Heaven forfend, Lord protect us, not on us], an actual impending air attack. It was full of mattresses, stacks of plastic chairs, and adult-sized bikes. There was room for maybe five people to stand comfortably in there, in a building with six apartment units, at least half of which have three bedrooms. (I think they all must.) This is, of course, illegal and, also of course, extremely common. Miklatim (miklatot?) are supposed to be 100% empty, all of the time.

The siren lasted 90 seconds, I think, and when we came out, an elderly woman (70-80 years old) wearing a nightgown and a bathrobe peered down the stairwell and asked us what was going on. We told her it was a drill. She kept saying that she hadn't known about the drill, and she was scared out of her mind, and she almost died, and my roommate kept saying that it was a drill. A neighbor of hers came out, and kind of yelled at her for not knowing about the drill (they've apparently been announcing it for two months), but then kindly asked her to come into her apartment to rest up. (This neighbor who knew did not come into the miklat with us.)

Someone, from an institution that shall remain unnamed, sent out an e-mail informing us of the impending drill, which was great, since I otherwise would not have known. Thanks! But she referred to it as an "exotic" way to end off a year in Israel, a sentiment that made me ill. Would that I and the rest of the world could avoid such exoticism. I naively wish with all my heart that I could live in a world where air-raid sirens didn't exist. It made me feel horrible for all the people all over the world who grew up with air-raid sirens, or, God help us all, were attacked by missiles without benefit of that high-pitched, eerie warning.

I do not like living in a country within easy striking distance of nations (or people/organizations) with high-range missiles who want us dead. This was true when bombs or whatever they were were streaming in from Gaza, but I was too scared about the whole thing to articulate. Being so close to Lebabon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and, well, Gaza, just does not sit well with me. 

Neither does the reality of a country where young children go to Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) commemorative ceremonies (how do you say "tekes" in English? not exactly ceremony, I don't think). I found these images and realities from Yom HaZikaron to be very sad, and somewhat surprising. 




These were children at the local elementary school ceremony last month, which was half Yom HaZikaron (talking about the loss of soldiers cut down in the prime of their lives, reading names of dead soldiers, reading poetry, dancing sad dances, singing sad songs) and half Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day, happy, marching, flag waving, singing happy songs). It wasn't very graphic or as somberly horrifying (to me) as the Yom HaZikaron tekes for the community that I went to the night before, at a local community center, where a man who had lost three sons in Israeli wars said Kaddish for the community. But, still. One and two year olds listening to talk about dead soldiers while snacking on Bamba? They clearly don't understand. Do five and six year olds learn about it in school? They were in attendance as students in the elementary school where the tekes took place. Were those eight and nine year olds reading names of dead soldiers at the school ceremony, or were they all ten or older (I can't tell)? How does anyone teach this stuff? Do they glorify the dead for sacrificing for their country? Talk about how sad it is that anyone has to die in war? Wish for peace and minimize death talk? I am both intensely curious and don't want to know.

The only equivalent I can really dredge up from my own experiences as a child are being taught about the Holocaust, since Yom HaZikaron, while commemorated at my religious Zionist day school, felt very distant and mostly associated with old-school, sad Israeli folk songs. I don't remember learning about the Holocaust for the first time. It feels like something I must have always known about, although that clearly isn't the case. I started having Holocaust nightmares, which I think a lot of Jewish kids have, when I was around nine. I was definitely reading kids' chapter books about the Holocaust by the time I was nine or ten.

The first person I knew who died, who I remember hearing about, was my great-grandmother who died in the summer of 1985, when I was six years old. I had scary dreams involving death after that, too. I don't know if I really understood what death was when I was six, except that I knew that it was bad and scary. The nightmares indicate that I may have also understood that it was somewhat out of my control. I also had scary dreams about being kidnapped and about robbers trying to get me, so it wasn't purely death and Nazis who appeared in my nightmares. (Tip: Do not take your four-year-old to see Follow That Bird. Worst idea ever. I distinctly remember being four when it was the first movie I ever saw in a theater, but IMDB says that it didn't come out until I was six, so I guess my memory is faulty.)

Enough about death for today. In summary: I am glad that the air-raid siren was only a drill and sad that we live in a world where it usually isn't.

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