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Ilana Teitelbaum Headshot

In the Shadow of Airstrikes in Jerusalem

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Hanukkah is one of my favorite holidays, and I was looking forward to it this year. I was even looking forward to Christmas Eve, and the chance to observe how it is celebrated in the Holy City, something I avoided when I was a more pious Jewish girl.

But so much for the holidays.

Christmas Day, we awoke to discover that in the course of the night, Hamas had fired 60 rockets into Israeli towns. And then came the news last night of Israeli airstrikes on Hamas targets in Gaza.

Moments after getting the news, I had to run to the family Hanukkah party that my mother had been planning for months. It's rare for everyone in my family to get together at the same time, especially now that two of my sisters are married with babies.

And with the coming war and intifada on my mind, it was no comfort last night to see babies. As my father held my six month-old nephew and two year-old niece together in his arms, looking happier than I had ever seen him, their little moon faces and identical huge blue eyes open wide, I realized that babies take a piece of your heart, and keep it with them. I can travel half around the world, I can forget I have Israeli citizenship (God knows, sometimes I've wanted to) but those pieces will be forever lost to me for as long as I am not here.

Thousands of rockets have been fired into Israel in recent years, yet because we in Jerusalem don't get them, it has always seemed somehow removed from us. And now it occurs to me how absurd it is that in Jerusalem we should feel distance from these events, when in fact these places are only a short drive away. Israel is roughly the size of the state of New Jersey. If rockets were dropping on Trenton, New Jersey, it's hard to imagine that the residents of Patterson would not be nervous. Yet so it is in Israel, that if the rockets are just several miles away and not actually aimed at you, you can sleep at night.

That is, unless your spouse or sibling or child is somewhere out there.

The airstrikes brought it close. No longer is Israel divided into passive bystander and passive victim: We are all involved in the outcome. Especially now that Hamas has declared a Third Intifada, and we all know what that means, because we've seen it twice before. Bombs, shrapnel, bullets, and bulldozers run wild -- all on the streets of Jerusalem.

In the car with my sister and her husband after the party, she told me she had been planning to take her daughter to the center of town for the day today, since it is her day off. "But now I won't, because Hamas is threatening attacks," she said. "I would go alone to meet a friend -- but take the baby? I couldn't live with the guilt."

I thought of a woman who was crushed to death on a bus in one of this year's bulldozer attacks. At the last moment, knowing her fate, she succeeded in handing her baby out the bus window into the arms of a stranger. And the baby was saved.

Meanwhile my sister's husband, who has plenty of army experience -- and who may get called in for reserve duty any day now -- was talking about the rockets. He said, "Whenever people report that there was a rocket, they say 'it went down.' People think it just falls. What they don't mention is that when it falls, it explodes."

A lot of things are not reported as explicitly as you might expect. When the victims of attacks are reported as "wounded," it can mean anything from shrapnel in the lungs to missing legs. I learned this in high school, which was my first experience with terrorist attacks.

Now I learned about the amount of time people have to take shelter when a rocket attack is launched. Apparently in Sderot, residents have 15 seconds to find a bomb shelter. In Netivot they are lucky -- they have a whopping 30 seconds after the siren sounds.

"A man in Netivot was killed in his house," my sister was saying. "There's a video you can see about it on the news."

I didn't want to see about it on the news. But it did hit me full force that my husband's younger brother is in school in Netivot.

My niece dozed in the car seat next to me, her lashes brushing her cheeks. I stroked one of her curly pigtails, but gently, careful not to wake her. Pieces of your heart.

"Everyone in Sderot will be sleeping in bomb shelters tonight," said my sister's husband.

Tonight. The word settled heavily in the air. A night of terror, of explosions in the dark, and loss. Tonight, and for who knows how many more nights to come.