On the day after the FAA implemented its flight ban to Israel, it was business as usual at Isaac B Salon on Second Avenue, near the United Nations in New York. The thirty-one-year-old Israeli owner, Isaac Buskila, was helping a handyman install two new mirrors and chairs, and trying to placate a customer who wanted a discount for the shampoo she brought from home to use in the salon.
Two days before, as he was cutting my hair, Buskila's American-born wife, Stacey, and their children, Lian, 5, and Eli, 3, were flying El Al Airlines to Tel Aviv. His father picked them up and drove them the 45 minutes to Buskila's hometown of Sderot, the Israeli town nearest to Gaza and the one infamously known as the "bomb shelter capital of the world." Buskila plans to join his family in Sderot before the Sept. 2nd wedding of his sister, Shira. A cousin's wedding, slated for July 30, was canceled due to the war.
"I show you a text message [Stacey] sent me," Buskila said, pulling out his cellphone. "I'm freaking out. Sick to my stomach. I can't go through this shit. My whole body's shaking. There was 'tzeva adom.' That's the sirens. It means red color."
Buskila said they had postponed the flight a week before Stacey decided to fly to Israel on July 21st.
"I was scared to push her," he said. "I gave her the choice. The first time we said, 'Let's wait, see what's going on--a ceasefire or something.' The second time, she said, 'I'm going to go,' and at least she can support my family over there. It's scary."
Today, Buskila's entire family is hunkered down in Sderot, hoping the newest ceasefire holds. His father, Shupan, also a hairdresser, is the owner of Shupan Salon, and his mother, Shula, is a nurse at nearby Barzily hospital.
"It's all ironic because [one] sister is in the army and my mother is a nurse in the hospital that they bring all the injured people. ... They can't leave the place because it's their business. It's their life."
It wasn't always like this. When Buskila was a boy, he and his family used to go to the beach at Erez in Gaza. And for years his father traveled freely in and out of the strip.
"He'd drive inside, fix his car, buy fish, all this stuff. He used to have a lot of friends over there--Arab friends. You go in and out very easy. ... Nobody wants to fight. Everybody wants to be living in peace because it's getting tired. Business is not good in Israel. People are terrified. The kids; the atmosphere they're growing in is crazy."
In the salon in New York, Hebrew is spoken almost as frequently as English. Many Israelis get their haircuts here and speak their native language. Buskila cuts Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor's hair, along with members of the country's delegation when they're in town for the U.N. General Assembly each September. When he was in the army (from 2001 to 2004), Buskila never saw combat, but he cut important hair then, too.
"All the commanders. I see them on TV now."
In his salon in Sderot, Buskila's father styles the hair of the Minister of Environmental Protection, Amir Peretz. "He's cutting the hair of the guy who supports the Iron Dome."
Buskila supported the construction of the dome, too, but says Israel should get out of Gaza.
"I don't think [the army] should stay there, because we don't want to control Gaza. Give them their own country. Give them their own power, their own air force. But with control of the U.N. or someone that really can control the money they get from other countries. ... It's really sad to see their kids over there, laying down in the street the whole day, doing nothing ... I feel bad for those kids. I have kids. Sometimes from one side you want to say, Kill all of them--they send bombs to my city. They risk my parents. From the other side, it's not really the civilians. It's actually one group, doing all this mess."
Last year, even though Jewish law forbids tattoos, Buskila got one on his right forearm, spelling out in script the words, "Family First."
"I felt bad when I was doing it," he admitted. "I still go to synagogue on Saturdays. But I still feel that whatever is on my body or whatever it says, it still doesn't influence whatever is inside. You can't tell me I'm not Jewish or whatever I feel inside. Whatever I do, I know they're going to burn it when I die."
Later this month, Buskila plans to fly to Israel, to join his family and attend his sister's wedding. Until then, he has to wait and watch from midtown Manhattan and hope the new ceasefire holds.
"It's very frustrating," he said before heading off to greet a customer. "My wife is all day texting me, 'I hear the sirens. The bombs is so hard.' Even the bombs from the army that they're blowing [into] Gaza. It's very hard. Very strong. Three in the morning. Four in the morning. You can't sleep."