When I was growing up in California, I had a terrible fear of being caught in the shower when an earthquake hit. What would I do, stressed my pre-teen self; would I run out into the street stark naked in order to save myself? How would I live down the embarrassment? Or would I risk injury or even death out of prurient prudishness?
Fast forward to November 2012 and, although Israel has its earthquake worries too, the bigger concern this week is missiles from Gaza. And my shower nightmare just came true.
The missile alarm sounded in Jerusalem Friday afternoon, just as I was finishing my pre-Shabbat shower. The siren in our area is not super loud, but it was unmistakable as I switched the water off and grabbed my towel. I heard my wife Jody calling my name and then the slam of the front door as she headed down to the shelter with the kids and the dog, leaving me alone in our bathroom.
I have never heard a missile siren before. We made aliyah three years after the first Gulf War when Saddam Hussein lobbed 42 Scuds at Israel. No sirens – other than the annual memorial blasts on Yom Ha Zicharon and Yom Ha Shoah – have rung in Jerusalem since. I didn’t expect to hear one this time either: we have assured ourselves for years that our enemies would never want to risk hitting sites holy to the Muslim world. I guess the rules have changed.
I decided that I would not run out in just a towel. I entered my bedroom, threw on a t-shirt, reached into the underwear drawer and was about to pull on my pants when the siren stopped.
Now what? Jerusalem is supposed to have a minute and a half from the time the siren goes off and a missile lands. So if the siren is silent, there’s no more reason to rush, right?
The official response is that one should stay in the shelter for 10 minutes. Accordingly, I should have still high-tailed it to the room with the reinforced concrete. But I didn’t know that yet.
My movements slowed. I continued to get dressed, but I felt no sense of urgency. The fear that the siren triggered had been sublimated into something else – what was it? Fatalistic acceptance? A calm calculation on the odds that a missile would land exactly where I was standing in my bedroom? Shock?
By the time my shoes were tied, Jody and the kids were coming back upstairs. Ready to go to shul? I called out.
My curious calmness continued once in the synagogue space. Shouldn’t I be scared? Others were visibly shaken. There were still tears being wiped away. What was wrong with me?
Near the end of the Kabbalat Shabbat service I noticed something unusual. I had been holding a piece of paper with the prayers on it. There were sharp crease marks where my fingers had been gripping the edges. It looked like I’d tried to take a punch at something. The Sabbath Bride? God?
We all slept that night in suitable attire for a midnight run, slippers lined up by the door to the bedroom. There was no additional siren. There might never be. (Didn’t the IDF say they’d taken out nearly all of the long-range missiles?) But for at least one moment, I faced the shower nightmare of my youth and survived. How my psyche will hold up is another matter entirely.