Letter from Jerusalem II: A Lull Over So Soon
It was July, then August, when people usually cool off in northern Israel. Here’s what they did instead: Reach out to those displaced—and keep their sense of humor.
The early summer calm in Israel was shattered by the attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah. Suddenly we are back to the life-and-death struggle.
We’re startled, but we toughen up quickly. The Army invokes tzav shmoneh, an emergency call up of reserves that requires no advance notification. At my office, Elishe Binder’s husband, Nachum, is called up. So is Lital Frenkel’s fiancé, Aaron Porath—10 days before their wedding. Lital doesn’t panic. “I’m counting on them letting him out for his own wedding,” she says.
We’re obsessed with the news. In the office, one computer is always logged on to Y-net, the fastest Israeli update. A television is suspended above the almonds and sunflower seeds in a snack stand on Jaffa Road, and a crowd gathers to hear a breaking story. Taxi driver Avi Stika keeps his radio turned up. “I called my unit and volunteered,” says Stika, who speaks Arabic and who fought in Lebanon more than 20 years ago. “They’ll call me if they need me.”
Israelis usually argue about everything, but not about this war. Still, the reports of Katyushas hitting Haifa, Afula, Safed and Tiberias feel surreal. I convince my daughter Yael, who lives with her family near Afula, to stay with us in Jerusalem. Haifa University, where she’s a student, is closed anyway. Our Shabbat table grows to 22 as friends and strangers with plans in the north stick to Jerusalem.
While the army is fighting, civilians display spunk and ingenuity. Families, volunteer organizations and companies cobble together aid for the north, everything from free Internet service and medical treatment to chocolate milk. After a week under fire, my friend Shlomit sends her kids from Haifa to her sister in a West Bank town. The irony of finding safety in areas hit hardest by the intifada doesn’t escape anyone.
Shlomit’s husband, Shmuel, an engineer, works for Intel Haifa, which stays on schedule in a basement bomb shelter with wireless connections. Two weeks into the fighting, the company announces a breakthrough in chip design.
In the rainless summer, thousands of Israelis from the north move to a tent city on Nitzanim beach that offers food and entertainment for kids. Admission to parks and museums is free for families who have been forced to relocate.
In Jerusalem, police apprehend a suicide bomber, but there’s still an hour wait for a table at Tal Bagels. “How can the Jerusalem Mall still be full of shoppers when two hours away Haifa is being bombed?” I overhear a distressed visitor from Haifa ask. “Living is what keeps us going,” explains Mia, a Jerusalem teacher with three daughters. “We shopped and went to cafés through the intifada even though then we were the center of attacks.”
Despite rumors that Tel Aviv might be hit, anywhere below Haifa is considered safe. My friend Vivian Shechter, a nurse from Jerusalem, does not reschedule her vacation at the Carmel Forest spa, just south of Haifa.
As one day of war leads into the next, our confidence builds. We can take the worst the enemy deals us. Eretz Nehederet, Israel’s most popular satirical television show, takes on the conflict with a comic actor playing Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. The Jewish ability to laugh amid our tears is proof that we can’t be defeated.