Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Thirty-six rockets were fired at Israel on Friday night, disturbing the Sabbath peace of Israeli civilians living in the south of Israel. Three more rockets were shot into Southern Israel on Saturday night, with a further three rockets launched at Israel on Sunday night. Where I live, in Efrat, rockets are so rare as to be almost nonexistent. But where my grandchildren live, in the South, rockets are the norm. What does it feel like to be targeted, to live with sirens and explosions, ruined homes and death?

I put the same five questions to each of three women in Southern Israel, all of them native English speakers, and all of them teachers of English as a foreign language (EFL), to see how they cope under fire. 

First, a bit about the women:

Adele Raemer

Born in the United States, Adele Raemer has lived on Nirim, a kibbutz on the border with Gaza, since 1975. A mother and grandmother, Raemer founded and moderates Life on the Border, a Facebook group active since 2011, depicting life in that region. A teacher of EFL, Raemer is also an EFL teacher trainer and counselor for the Israeli Ministry of Education and a Tech Integration Coach.

Aside from all these qualifications and the rest of her busy life, Adele is a blogger and dedicated YouTuber on the subject of all things digital, and other things, too. You might, for instance, hear her talk about her side-gig as a trained medical clown. Raemer spends a lot of time with the kids in the pediatric ward in the hospital in Ashkelon. Then again, there are her diplomatic activities. An independent investigative committee invited her to address the UN in November 2018 to bear witness to the border situation, and in December 2019, Raemer addressed the UN Security Council at the request of the US ambassador to the UN.

Miriam Goodman

Miriam Goodman is from Montreal and Hamilton, Ontario. Along with her husband Avraham, Miriam lives in Ma'agalim. The couple have lived in Israel for 27 years. 

Prior to making Aliyah, Miriam was a preschool teacher. In Israel she tutored children in EFL for many years, until her retirement. She adores her dog, Patches.

Esther Revivo

Esther Revivo made aliya in 1977 straight after college. Revivo married an Israeli of Moroccan extraction and after a year of study for Esther at the Michlala Seminary in Jerusalem, the couple moved to Netivot. Esther taught EFL, first for 19 years in a comprehensive high school and then for 22 years in a local religious high school in Netivot. Revivo remarks that so many years later, she is still “in love” with Netivot, where today she runs a bridal gemach (free loan society) collecting and distributing dowry items to poor brides of all backgrounds who live in her city. Esther’s gemach is recognized by Israeli nonprofit Yad Eliezer.

Now our Q&A:

Varda Epstein: Can you describe how you feel, including any physical manifestations you experience when the siren goes off?

Adele Raemer: You go into fight or flight mode and of course, this isn’t a question of “fight.” It is flight. Your heart rate goes from zero to two hundred in a nanosecond. I personally grab my phone and run. During times of escalation I’m always careful to have my phone near me so that I can be in touch in case anything happens when I’m in the safe room or in case family are worried and I want to tell them how I am. Your heart will go from zero to two hundred in a nanosecond but getting it back down after you hear the explosion, after it’s over, that takes a while, and if that wakes you up in the middle of the night it’s not easy getting back to sleep. But during times of escalation you are in a period of being super-aware, super-sensitive . . . tension . . . every little sound, you think it’s the start of a red alert siren or something exploding nearby. It’s tense.

Miriam Goodman: Varda, my first thoughts are Oh no! Hamas is firing rockets again. I say a prayer, “Hashem, may no one be injured,” and I go and check my messages to see where the rocket was sent.

"I Say tehillim"

Esther Revivo: My heart stops for a moment and I rush to the safest place in my home (as we have no mamad [safe room, V.E.]) and wait to hear the boom. I say tehillim [psalms, V.E.] while waiting. 

When the Iron Dome takes a rocket down that's one heck of a loud boom. I am then filled with such anger I can't express it adequately, for although I do stress over little things, the rockets don't faze me—not me or my husband. However, my heart bleeds for the many pupils at my high school who are terrified and have heard sirens in such areas as Moshav Shokeda and in Sderot, since they were born. 

Additionally, many of the old buildings like ours in Netivot lack a mamad and that is awful for anyone who panics when the sirens go off. They've nowhere to go!

Varda Epstein: How does rocket fire—even when it’s not daily—change your daily life and routine?

Adele Raemer: It’s sort of like [coronavirus] in that you get messages all of a sudden that you didn’t expect and I didn’t know if I was going to be going into school this morning until I woke up this morning and saw that there were no messages canceling and just saying that school is on as usual which is kind of difficult to swallow, because you can go from zero to two hundred, but as I said, going back to feeling safe and normal and calm is not easy, and you can certainly feel it in the students as well. 

During periods of escalation when I’m walking around, I constantly have in mind: "If there’s a red alert, now where I would run to?"

The Other Shoe

Miriam Goodman: It doesn’t. I continue doing whatever I was doing. If we have to go out, we follow the instructions of the IDF. If they say, “Don’t go out,” we don’t. The only exception is in the middle of the night. If the siren wails, I stay awake, waiting for the other (next) shoe to drop.

Esther Revivo: It doesn't change my daily routine at all, except that I can't invite my children and grandchildren during a tense period like the present. Not only because we lack a mamad, but because even with a mamad, many of their children get hysterical when a siren goes off. 

My daughter who lives locally, flees Netivot when things get tense, as she lives in a rented apartment on the top floor. Last year, a bunch of balloons with a grenade attached to them landed on a tree outside of her building and in Tzuk Eitan [Operation Protective Edge, 2014, V.E.], their living room windows were blown out when a rocket landed nearby.

Varda Epstein: Can you talk about how your children or grandchildren are affected by rocket fire?

Adele Raemer: My daughter lives here on the kibbutz. She has children of her own. It is very, very, very difficult for her and I was actually very surprised a few years back when I realized that she did plan on settling here and building her house here. Her children are very young and they hadn’t experienced a red alert in quite a while, but you know, they talk about it in the children’s houses and at home and they know what to do. I don’t know how my three-year-old granddaughter reacted when there was a red alert here last night on the kibbutz. That’s probably the first time there was a red alert that she heard, the first red alert that she remembers, because before that she was a little baby.

First sound: Boom, Boom!

Miriam Goodman: Seven of my grandchildren have lived with terror all their lives. Our youngest grandson was born during a terror attack when a rocket was fired at Beersheva and exploded outside of Soroka Hospital. His first sound on this side of the world was “Boom, Boom!”

Usually, the kids will sleep in the bomb shelter if there are more than a couple of rockets.

Esther Revivo: My local grandchildren are used to being packed into a car and zoomed up to Central Israel. My other daughter, who used to live in Netivot, now lives in Ofakim, which has not, during the past 2 years, had any rockets. When she lived here they had a mamad. However, when they visited us once during a siren her children were terribly scared. We adults were calm, so they didn't become hysterical, but they were clearly very, very scared.

Varda Epstein: Would you move if you could? Why/Why not?

Adele Raemer: No! No. This is my home. I had my children here. I raised my family here. My parents are buried here. My husband is buried here. There’s no reason for me to move. And if you’re in Israel, where is it safe? 

You go to Ashkelon, there’s rockets. You go to Beersheva, they have rockets, too. Tel Aviv has had periods with buses exploding, and Jerusalem certainly isn’t the quietest place, either. Where in the world isn’t there terror, these days? 

So, no. I wouldn’t move because this is my home and I love it and it’s 95 percent heaven (and five percent hell.)

"My Homeland"

Miriam Goodman: Never! Israel is my homeland. I live in the biblical area known as Gerar. This is where Avraham Avinu (Abraham the Patriarch) set up his tents, where his animals grazed, and where he conducted his business affairs. Arabs will never throw me off my land.

Esther Revivo: No, NEVER! Because I adore Netivot! This town has a unique character or “nature” if you will. Netivot lacks the polarization one might find elsewhere. Folks whom others might label according to sector: secular; National Religious; Haredi; Ethiopian; or Russian; and etc. coexist in our town in harmony. A dear Ethiopian friend of mine told me once that Netivot is Gan Eden for precisely this reason.

Varda Epstein: What’s the solution to these attacks from Gaza?

Adele Raemer: I don’t know what the solution is. I’m just an English teacher. You need to ask the politicians who aren’t quite doing their job now because they’re so busy trying to figure out who’s in charge and who has what position and it’s not a very good opportunity for getting things done.

In fact there are a NUMBER of possible solutions, and they run the gamut between all out war to diplomacy, including to recognizing Hamas as the de-facto government and talking to them..... and other options in between. All options have high prices to pay. 

The danger with all out war is that you know how it begins, but you can't know where it will end. When you go into a war, you need to be willing and ready to go ALL THE WAY. That would mean being willing to totally flatten Gaza into a parking lot, (which we have the capability of doing, but I do not believe is something any of us want). 

Unfortunately, our government is not doing anything now - we had a year of #CORONAQuiet when the issue was easily swept under the table, pushed aside for more "urgent" issues. It's time the Western Negev got back ON the table, and in a BIG way. To finally deal with it seriously, thoroughly, in one way or another. Of course, personally, I believe diplomacy will get us much farther than warfare, and I don’t believe that route has ever really been seriously, thoroughly, attempted.

Miriam Goodman: Hit them hard by air and by sea. No boots on the ground, unless absolutely necessary. Forget the world and their condemnation. Place serious sanctions on Gaza. Close all the checkpoints and crossings. Give them no humanitarian aid: nothing goes in. Right now all we do is give a little slap on the hand and say “Nu, nu, nu!”

"Ho Hum. What’s for Dinner?"

Esther Revivo: I have no idea. What I will say is that I am totally fed up at being ignored by our government. It's as though, "Ho hum, rockets in Sderot. What's for dinner?"

Rockets in Netivot, Sderot, Ashkelon, and the Gaza Envelope are considered A-OK. Only if Beersheva is rocketed or somebody dies, chalila [Heaven forbid, V.E.], will the government do something, but even then—it is only a stopgap measure.


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