Red Alert: Postcard From Sderot

Odelia Ben Porat
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Odelia Ben Porat

We woke up a bit late this morning, to a cool and cloudy Sunday in Sderot, our town, a town of 24,000 people in Israel's western Negev, less than a mile from Gaza. We quickly and hastily got the kids organized for daycare and grade school, and I was ready to head for the office. Suddenly in the middle of the morning pandemonium  - brushing teeth, choosing shoes, nibbling on toast  -  the phone rang. On the line was Itai's daycare teacher: “Due to the security situation in the south and in Sderot we have a delayed opening today. We will start only at 9 A.M. [8 A.M. is the usual start time for Israeli daycare], so please notify as many fellow parents as you can.”

We were pretty surprised! Usually Sderot sticks to its daily routine, even while under active missile attack, because all the schools, daycare centers and nursery schools have been reinforced against falling missiles, or have bomb shelters nearby. By 7:23 A.M I had received a text message on my mobile phone from the army's area commanding officer, to say that ALL the schools in Sderot would enforce a delayed start - at 9 A.M. At this point we all started to get a little more uptight than usual. Of course, we didn't have a hunch about the miraculous luck we were about to experience

At 8 A.M. – which is exactly when all of Sderot’s parents are normally stuck in the daily school drop-off traffic jam, we heard the warning sirens of Red Alert that we know so well. The Red Alert is an alarm system that is supposed to give us around 10 seconds' warning of an incoming rocket attack. The sirens were followed immediately by a long and continuous series of enormous explosions. Our municipal loudspeakers did not cease to scream out: “RED ALERT RED ALERT” for what felt like minutes at a time.

My two-and-a-half year-old daughter started to cry hysterically, “Wed alert wed alert!! I don’t want wed alert!” while my one year old daughter kept trying to sneak out of our family bomb shelter. More than ten missiles landed one after the other, but to our luck, and thanks to the regional commanding officer, we were all in our homes at that very instant – and not in long lines of cars outside waiting to drop off our kids at school and daycare.

By 9 A.M we were yet again trying to get organized to get out of the house to begin our day. Right when all the kids were finally prepared and standing next to the front door – happy and waiting to get going, we received another phone call: School cancelled! Ayala, my six-year-old, exploded in crying. She had been expecting joyfully today’s lesson of the Hebrew letter 'Kaf' - including the regular celebratory chocolate cookies for 'Kaf'. As you can imagine, our attempts to calm the kids down were useless.

So the new challenge was to think of ways to spend an entire weekday-workday with five kids at home. Since outdoors it was raining raindrops as well as missiles, the only option was to invite my friend with her four kids for an all-day playdate!

My friend arrived and all nine kids immediately began to relax and play together. With each new Red Alert that was broadcast over the city’s loudspeaker system all eleven of us rapidly sped to our home’s bomb shelter. The kids decided to go outside to play. But even as they played in the yard – multiple Red Alert warnings interrupted us. My one-year-old stubbornly refused to willingly go to the shelter with each alert, and we needed to grab and lift her writhing little body each time. We managed to get her into the shelter by compulsion, and just in time.

Suddenly we heard a huge boom as a rocket exploded just a few meters away from us. It is difficult to describe in words how rapidly my heart pounded, and how we both turned chalk-white those few moments after the blast. We had been meters away from certain death or injury. Needless to say, for the rest of the day, all eleven of us remained indoors. The kids’ creative talents blossomed and their newest game is: “Red alert tag”!

In the meantime, it is so hard for me to believe that it is already the afternoon, and that we have had almost two hours of quiet from the missiles, but I can still feel my heart pounding. I asked my husband to drive (quickly and with lots of praying) to our local bakery where I wanted him to buy the kids some donuts to get a little sweetness and smiles for them. We really need to be creative and spontaneous these days in Sderot, as we continue to live under the barrage of missiles from Gaza while trying to raise happy, playful kids.

Odelia Ben Porat is the Partnerships Manager at the Reut Sderot Association, a nonprofit organization running multiple social service, educational and community projects in Sderot and neighboring areas. Ben Porat moved to Sderot with her husband six years ago to join the Afikim BaNegev community to build and strengthen Sderot through community action.

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