This is an article by Rabbi Rachel Smookler. Her two teenage children completed a5-week program in Israel and returned last week.
There it goes. I rummage through my purse, frantic, until I feel the smooth, hard, rectangular shape of my phone. Red Alert. The App goes off. My nine year old daughter Mayim, screams, “WHERE IS IT?” “The South,” I say, with a release of breath. Still feeling terrible about the Israelis in the South… But my 16 year old twins, Mayim’s brother and sister, Talia and Zach are in the North. They are constantly on the move with group of 35 teens from the States.
The night before, my daughter called us. She was in tears. Missiles had been fired from Lebanon, rockets were pouring in from Gaza and the 25-year-old Israeli tour guide assigned to their group had been called up for reserve duty. The group leader had just announced that for safety, they would have to change their itinerary.
“Why am I here when it isn’t safe?” she cried.
In the middle of the night, it’s not easy to answer that question. Especially when, as I am talking to her, my Red Alert App emits a continuous stream of alarms: Ashkelon, Sderot, Moatza Ezorit Eshkol, Ashdod.
I wanted to tell her that she is there to learn about her homeland. To experience what Israeli life is like. My greatest fear was that she would forever feel a disconnect with Israel. And yet, there was a part of me that knew that this trip in Israel would forever change her life. I wanted to tell her that I was glad that she was there to see firsthand what Israelis, her people, have to deal with in a day in the life of Israel. All I could say was “We didn’t know that it would be like this.” And to be honest, at that moment, I was nervous too. What were we doing keeping our kids in a war zone?
Every single day for the next four weeks, I am attached to my phone. The Red Alert never rests. My phone is never more than 5 feet away from me. Once the Red Alert goes off, I touch my app that I have added to my screen that shows where, on the map of Israel, the missle is headed. I then compare this to the kids’ itinerary. They are safe this time.
My Red Alert goes off. Ding Ding Ding Ding Ding Ding-Ding-Ding-Ding-Ding.
“As I rummage through my purse, we are in a refurbished home goods store. People around us are not familiar with this eerie ring tone. My little one screams, “Where is it??” I look at the screen. Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv, it repeats, mimicking the speed and the frequency of the rockets… Mayim sees the look on my face. “Is it in the South?” she asks, holding her hands over her heart. “No,” I say. “Tel Aviv.”
A few hours later my daughter texts me picture of a beautiful ring with the words of the Shema. I reply how beautiful it is. She texts me back. “As I was buying this ring, the sirens went off in Tel Aviv and we ran to a bomb shelter. Every time I look at this ring, I will think of that experience.”
My phone wakes me up in the middle of the night. But this time it isn’t from the Red Alert App. My daughter Talia, now with a host family in Modi’in, texts me a picture of herself and a female IDF officer at an Iron Dome site. I think this is the most amazing thing I have ever seen! A picture of her at Masada, or the Western Wall would not generate the pride I felt seeing my daughter witness yet another incredible Israeli landmark.
They are safe.
Rachel Smookler is the Rabbi at Temple Beth david in Rochester, NY. She recently moved to Rochester from Tokyo where she and her family lived for 6 six years. She grew up in Minneapolis and graduated from The Blake Schools.