Today, it hit me. We are a country at war and one of the battle fronts is right here in my home town of Bnei Brak. I have lived through quite a few wars in Israel, starting with the Yom Kippur war in 1973. We were in the shelter for a brief few hours on Yom Kippur afternoon and later, a strict blackout was enforced so that if the enemy flew overhead, he would not know where to drop the bombs.
I remember when a tiny crack showed through my shutters and my neighbor banged furiously on my door. Her husband had been called up and was at the front. How could I neglect my share in the war effort? You bet, after that I double checked my shutters every night. Since then, we never used our air raid shelters but of course, there are vivid memories of the gas masks and sealed rooms of the Gulf War.
War remains part of our calendar. Israel is always fighting for its survival and Israelis are always arguing about the best way to do it. Every inch of our borders needs to be defended. Millions of Arabs want us wiped off the map. Until this war, I knew that our vulnerable country was a sheep and that thousands of wolves were waiting to pounce on us. Now, I feel it. This war is part of my life and the lives of all of us in Bnei Brak.
The wail of the siren arouses us at all hours. (Shofar blowing?) It does not respect times of rest, family meals or children’s play time. My ear is super sensitive and picks up any sound – an ambulance, a screeching car, a child’s whistle. I tense up. Is it a siren? Yes or no? I am on guard all day (as a conscientious Jew should be!).
We don’t have an air raid shelter or fortified room so every time I hear the siren I rush down two flights and stand next to an inner wall fervently reciting Tehillim. My neighbor is unable to move her large family of small children and through her closed door, I hear her praying with the children. Usually I am alone but in those intense moments I know that I am not alone. “Hashem li, lo Iro” – G-d is with me. I do not fear. As I wait after the thump of the missile, I like to recite these moving words of Adon Olam. Is there a more eloquent expression of Jewish faith? Today, I really felt how Bnei Brak is on the front line.
Knowing that most mothers are gong out of their minds struggling to keep their children occupied, I was concerned how my married kids would cope after tisha be’av when the young boys would also be home. So, I rang up my out-of-town daughter and invited her to spend a day or two in Bnei Brak. The kids would have a ball splashing in the swimming pool on the roof. To my utter amazement, she flatly refused. “Not Bnei Brak” she declared. “The children are terrified of the sirens”. I called another out-of-town child and got the same reaction. I tried my son in Jerusalem, confident that he would welcome an invitation,. But the response was the same. Bnei Brak – no thank you.
So, Bnei Brak is on the front line. It is also the front line for a different kind of battle field. Every Shul, every beit midrash, every tefillah, every word of Torah that is spoken, thought, studied or pondered – every good intention, brachot recited with concentration, awareness of interpersonal relationships – all that can sway the balance in Gaza. We are on the front line. Let us be worthy of the responsibility!