The reality of sirens for children in Israel
May 17, 2019
(JNS)—It’s been a surreal few days. On Thursday, I grappled with how to explain the Holocaust Remembrance Day siren to my 4-year-old. We were in a coffee shop when it blared. I decided I would leave explanations about dead Jews and the people who want them that way for when she’s older. I only warned her in advance what the siren would sound like and told her that we had to stand very still.
Today, we were in Ashdod, visiting her grandmother. Three sirens blared. The first sounded when we were in the playground outside the synagogue. She stood stock-still, just like I taught her. But this time, I yelled: “Run!” There wasn’t a bomb shelter nearby, so I scooped up the baby and we huddled by a wall. My 4-year-old’s eyes darted wildly from side to side. We heard a boom. Smoke snaked through the sky as the Iron Dome interceptor hit its target. I decided not to tell her about dead Jews and the people who want them that way.
Later on, we went to nap after lunch. Just as I was about to fall asleep, the sky shrieked open as fighter jets tore through it. When the planes get over south Ashdod—where we were— they open their afterburners for the run into the Gaza Strip, and the sound is nothing short of terrifying. And then, a dull thudding in the distance as they reach their target in Gaza, only 17 miles away.
My eyes droop again, but this time it’s another siren that pulls me out of bed. I run to get my daughter. Then run to wake the baby. I vaguely wonder how people living in Sderot with multiple kids make decisions on a daily basis about who to run to first. We cram into the stairwell. There are other families there. They have their phones out. It is Shabbat, so we don’t. But I don’t need a phone to tell me what’s happening. All of us have been here before.
My baby is wide-eyed, but calm. My 4-year-old doesn’t look panicked this time. Far from it. This time, she laughs and makes a throwaway comment about fireworks in the sky. Then she says, “It’s over, let’s go back inside.” And I marvel at how quickly they adapt.
Deborah Danan is a journalist and communications consultant who works with the Israeli government. Her work as an investigative journalist has taken her across the Mideast, from the Ramallah to Jerusalem to Cairo to Amman. She lives in Jaffa.