Normal life has been suspended in Israel as we entered the fourth day of the war against Hamas. Funerals, shiva announcements and official lists of the dead marked the day.
Instead of the usual hustle and bustle of the post-holiday period, when kids return to school, universities kick off the academic year and the cultural season launches, on Tuesday, Jerusalem was subdued, as people absorbed the extent of the barbarity unleashed on our people.
While some did manage to get to work, no one could concentrate on anything but the savage reality of 1,000 dead Israelis, thousands of wounded and dozens held hostage.
Stomach-churning stories of those who witnessed the atrocities and somehow survived emerged on Israeli media. We listened with one ear cocked for the wail of the siren that precedes the run for shelters.
Those who live in buildings built in the last 30 years have a protected room in their apartments. These are heavily reinforced, with steel doors and windows designed to provide the best possible protection from missiles.
In Jerusalem, many of us live in older buildings with no such room. If you’re lucky, you get to run down three flights of stairs to a dank shelter in the basement where your neighbors have stashed their old plastic chairs and sukkah equipment. Some people don’t even have that, and to them the best advice IDF Home Command can offer is to shelter in the stairwell one floor up from the ground.
On Tuesday morning, there was much evidence of shelters being cleaned out next to every garbage bin in the neighborhood. Old building material, broken chairs, bookshelves and all manner of junk suddenly appeared in front of every older building.
The other main activity of the day was crowding the supermarkets, after the Home Front Command issued a directive that everyone’s protected space should be equipped with enough food and water for 72 hours. And don’t forget to take your medicines, hygiene products, important papers and some cash, as well. What the Command failed to note until several hours after their initial announcement was that this is standard advice they have recommended for years, mostly in case of earthquake.
Many people heard only the initial announcement and rushed to the stores to stock up. Canned tuna, bottled water and energy bars flew off the shelves. Many supermarkets had no fresh chicken and limited meat available, since the poultry and meat industry largely relies on Arab labor. As the butcher at my local market told me when I asked about the shortage, “it comes from the other side.”
We live very close to that “other side” of Jerusalem, which explains why our newspaper hadn’t been delivered for the past three days. “Our delivery people are scared to go to your neighborhood,” the customer service person at Haaretz told me on Tuesday morning. No big loss, I replied, since I was about to cancel my subscription after reading online just now that they described Hamas as “militants.”
Despite the depths of their grief, Israelis, have quickly manifested the values of mutual responsibility and caring that have stood out in every crisis the country has ever experienced. Countless initiatives to bring supplies to the traumatized families evacuated from their homes in the south. Hours-long lines at blood banks; volunteers offering to clean out the shelters of elderly residents; taking the place of nursing home workers who’ve been called up for reserve duty; making hundreds of sandwiches to be delivered to soldiers, etc., etc.
Yes, 360,000 reservists need a lot of food. Enter more volunteers are commandeering the kitchens of closed restaurants to prepare hundreds of meals. Volunteer drivers deliver the goods into the grateful hands of the soldiers.
By the end of the day, the kibbutzim and towns near Gaza had been emptied of residents, their new inhabitants IDF soldiers, there for the long haul.
The survivors from those communities were evacuated to hotels or to relatives and friends in safer parts of the country. One commentator on Reshet Bet noted that it would be almost impossible to rehabilitate many of the kibbutzim that had sustained the worst carnage.
Back in Jerusalem, on a different existential level, the National Library of Israel announced that it had postponed the grand opening of its spectacular new facility, that had been scheduled to take place next week.
Several days of celebration of Israeli and Jewish culture rescheduled to a time when we will have mourned, healed and rebuilt, and the forces of good and light in our part of the world will have vanquished the evil and darkness of our neighbors and their Iranian masters.