I'm at the beach when the first siren goes off. My instinct is to ignore it -- I'm in Tel Aviv, which Hamas' rockets cannot reach, as I've spent the week reassuring my friends and family. But then the lifeguard starts to yell over the loudspeaker, "Grab your children and head for shelter!" There's a mass exodus from the complacent Mediterranean toward the lone -- and very small -- building on the sand. There is no way the structure can hold us all, but it is just as well because I'm barely out of the water when the rocket is intercepted and explodes a few blocks from where I am. It is close enough that the ground shakes; I see the light from the explosion, the boom feels loud enough to swallow all the silence I've never heard.
My heart rate speeds up and I feel the rest of my body switch into fight or flight mode. The beach is deserted almost immediately after we are given the all clear. But I don't dwell. I assume the rocket attack is a one-time thing; I convince myself it's just Hamas letting us know they can reach us here.
The second siren is so loud it could be flowing through my veins: shrill, distressing notes mixed in with my red and white blood cells. This time, I'm lucky to be in close proximity to a shelter. I know what to do and I know where to go, but since when is the question of whether or not I put on a bra synonymous with whether I'll probably live or possibly die?
In the morning I'm woken by a third siren. It's a very odd sensation -- the progression from waking up and wondering what's going on to panicking as your body reacts and starts to move before your brain processes the situation.
There's a fourth siren, a fifth siren... And then I stop counting. Later that day the Iron Dome intercepts a rocket right above my head in central Tel Aviv. The explosion is louder than anything I've heard before. It reverberates through my body; I wonder if my chest is going to explode and it takes a few minutes to know that it isn't and that I'm okay. My bus arrives and I hesitate to get on -- I wish I wasn't alone -- but I board the bus and as I move to sit down, I realize I'm not alone at all. There are no strangers here in Israel. A man across the aisle catches my eye and nods, "It's okay;" the woman sitting next to me places a reassuring hand on my shoulder and asks if I'm alright.
I nod that I am okay. I focus on the excitement of seeing the Iron Dome in action, but a disturbing chill has settled across my body and I can't seem to shake it. It occurs to me that I've finally internalized what's going on: every siren that goes off is a rocket that was shot with the intention of killing me, my friends, my family, as well as the civilians in Israel who do not fit into those categories. For the first time I understand the horrific sentiment behind Hamas' tagline, "We love death more than you (Israel) love life."
Hamas' "value" system is the reason why when I see bright lights in the sky at night I think rockets and not stars. It's the reason why I have to mute the scenes on Fringe that feature sirens and the reason why, when I forget to hit the mute button, I have an incessant need to pause the show and check to be sure the sirens are fictional and not indicative of rockets coming my way. It's the reason so many of us have trouble sleeping at night; it's the reason one of my friends hasn't left her safe room in days. It's the reason that as we walk down the street we seek out the safest hiding places instead of appreciating the scenery. Hamas is the reason my friends and family abroad are concerned not just for my safety, but for my life -- and validly so.
But in the midst of the sirens and rockets, the anxiety and edginess, we create moments of peace. One night it's a ridiculous circle game that leaves everyone in fits of giggles. Another time it's an absurd game of telephone while we wait in a shelter to hear the boom. Sometimes a group hug is enough to get us through the next minute, the next hour, the next day... It's also sometimes not enough, but right now, we take what we can get.