MEMORABLE MEMORIAL DAY
Yesterday was Memorial Day in the United States, and, because our children's school in Israel respects American holidays, the kids were home, and I thought about everyone in America going to parades. I couldn't help but shiver at the thought of the attack in Kabul the day before, and of friends' husbands posted there who spent some frightening hours holed up in safe rooms.
But in Israel, yesterday was a day like any other for us, with busy traffic, populated beaches and surfers gliding along waves. Here, in Tel Aviv, sipping a cappuccino next to an Israeli teeanger outfitted in army fatigues is as common as chugging an espresso next to a cloaked priest in Rome.
Every day in Israel reminds you of those who honor their country through their military service. Public bus stops are always populated by fatigued soldiers on their way back home from a day of work at the barracks, their rifles slung over their shoulders. At a dinner which I attended last night, an Israeli couple told me with great relief that both of their children had just finished their required military service.
"One of them was a fighter on the frontlines," the mother said. "We had a few sleepless nights." Now both kids are traveling the world for four months, she said, in celebration of their freedom. Their parents are less worried about them now that they are traveling the world on their own than they were while they were doing military service in their own country.
Yesterday was typical for all but two moments -- one at noon and one in the early evening -- when a nationwide siren issued by the Home Front Command Center. sounded for about a minute. Everyone had to spend this minute in a bunker as is typical when the country orchestrates these drills.
It's not easy living next door to Syria and shutting an eye on the horror of its atrocious, daily genocide. It's not easy living just an hour's drive away from an area of maddening conflict that requires outside help in negotiating from State leaders of various countries. It's not easy explaining to our children why their meals must be interrupted to rehearse war drills that require us to hang out in our basement's safe room. It's a long way from the fire drills I walked through as a child in Upstate New York.
When my husband and I were looking at houses when we were about to move to Israel three years ago, the real estate agent took us to a basement room with a door that resembled a bank vault's. She opened it and beamed.
"This is the top of the line," she said.
"How great," I chirped, as I eyed the vessel's contents of duffel bags and stacked-up carry-ons. "Storage for our suitcases!"
"Not exactly," mumbled my husband. "Sorry, I forgot to tell you that every house and office in Israel is required by law to have a war bunker."
That was my first wake-up call that showed me where we'd be living for the next four years. But, in truth, aside from occasional, nationwide drills, like yesterday's, and, an unpleasant week in November 2012, my bunker looks just like those I admired almost four years ago on my real estate tour. Suitcases, suitcases, suitcases. Empty, not packed, just being stored there for my next trip.
Yesterday, while the alarm blared outside, my son, Luca, about to turn seven, reclined on a beaten-up LL-Bean wheelie while he started listing the food he would like served at his birthday party this weekend. My daughter Sofia found a musical birthday card which was poking out of a toy chest and started dancing to its festive jingle. Our dog Brie waved her tail nervously, her beady brown eyes asking me to explain the noisy siren we could hear beyond the walls of our bellicose bank vault. Our kids are as used to war drills now as I was fire drills.
In November, however, our bunker was rid of its suitcases, and filled with bottles of water, I-phone chargers, a mattress, a few pillows, and a bag of dried food. A few children's books and board games were also strewn about, in anticipation of the time we feared we might have to spend inside it. Our Thanksgiving dinner, at the end of the nerve-wrecking week and at the start of the cease-fire, celebrated the friends who have become our family overseas, and the return of an Israeli friend from the front who volunteers in the reserves. It was one of the few moments in life where I remember waiting impatiently for an important politician -- in this case, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- to step foot in Israel and wave a magic wand.
Yesterday's sirens were a reminder of all that is constantly pulsing underground or next door but that can easily be overlooked as we all go about our daily lives. A memorable Memorial Day which reminded me where I live. As I write this, military helicopters are flying up and down the coastline, just a five-minute drive from our house. At first I used to question the sound of the menacing flapping of their wings. Instead now, like my children, I barely bat an eye. We're in Israel, after all.