As a small boy, I was fascinated by fallout shelters. I wanted my dad to bury one in the backyard. It was the Cold War then, Soviet missiles were pointed toward New York, and I scoured Popular Science and Mechanix Illustrated for plans to Build Your Own Shelter. I wasn't thinking nuclear holocaust. I was thinking an underground playhouse with a cool vertical escape hatch, part kids' fort, part mockup space capsule.
The memory came back to me this weekend, watching with growing horror as Hurricane Gustav locked onto a storm track bound for New Orleans. Our family just visited New Orleans. We were enchanted, of course. But we were also fascinated, and not a little bewildered, by the extent to which the place felt like home. Like Israel.
What was it, I kept wondering, that felt so familiar?
My first thoughts, watching the mammoth fireball radar image of Gustav as it neared the coast, were about the terror and the dread and the hardships and upheavals of the evacuees in New Orleans, only recently having begun to reclaim their lives from the devastation of Katrina.
Then I began to think about our own disaster plans. Back here in Israel. About making sure that the suitcase of family photo albums was ready in case we suddenly need to evacuate. About making sure that the bomb shelter in the basement was ready and freshly stocked in case we needed abruptly to take cover.
On paper, how could two places be any more different? But after speaking with people who lived there, it started to make sense.
At root, in Israel as in New Orleans, there is a palpable sense of simchat hayim, a profound joy in being alive, alongside a constant and no less palpable knowledge that serial, unimaginable catastrophe is not only possible, but inevitable.
There is, regarding government in both places, an assumption of corruption, a habituation to ineptitude, a feeling that the very officials whose job is to serve you and protect you, will, when the chips are down, fail you.
There is also the sense, in New Orleans vis a vis the rest of the United States, and in Israel, vis a vis the rest of the Jewish world, that while your people elsewhere truly love you, when push comes to shove, you're on your own.
True, we have no hurricanes here. But we have Iran. And that's more than enough.
The Iran of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has become Israel's hurricane threat, the serial menace who orders his vassals in the West Bank to send us suicide bombers, his vassals in the Gaza Strip to send us Qassams, his vassals in Lebanon to send us Katyushas, his vassals over the next ridge from our house to try to burn us out in an arson fire.
In the back of our minds is Hurricane Mahmoud at Category 5: drawing strength from the warm waters of radical Islam and western inaction and covert western complicity and demonstrated western weakness, the Iranian regime unleashes ballistic missiles tipped with nuclear warheads.
In the back of our minds, shadowing our future, is the threat that Hurricane Mahmoud has made explicit: erasure from this earth.
In the back of our minds is the knowledge and the half-security, half-fear, that when it comes down to it, your friends and family are the only people you can really count on.
The sense, is, of course, exaggerated by isolation and accustomed threat, two elements which make the culture, the history, the very language of New Orleans - and, no less, that of Israel - unique in all the world.
But exaggerated it certainly is, because the feeling is offset, in the end, by great numbers of people of good will, without whose help, both places would long ago have been lost.
In that regard, I would like to take this opportunity to compliment John McCain on an entirely appropriate and morally courageous declaration which put the energy and resources of the Republican Party in the service of aiding the residents of the four-state area at the center of the storm track.
"We have to go from a party event to a call to the nation for action, action to help our fellow citizens in this time of tragedy and disaster, action in the form of volunteering, donations, reaching out our hands and our hearts and our wallets to the people who are under such great threat from this great natural disaster.
"I pledge that tomorrow night, and if necessary, throughout our convention if necessary, to act as Americans not Republicans, because America needs us now, no matter whether we are Republican or Democrat."
I would like to also compliment Barack Obama for pledging to use his e-mail list of supporters to raise funds and provide goods for those affected by the storm.
May the good times soon roll again.
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