◉ You can download a PDF of every public bomb shelter in Tel Aviv. As you walk down the street, note how long it takes to arrive at the next protected area at a full sprint. Take into consideration your age and general physical condition.
◉ You can download the Red Alert app and set your phone to ding every time a rocket is launched from Gaza. It will ding a lot. It will ding in your pocket and ding while you are naked in the shower and ding ding just as you fall asleep, finally, for a nap and ding ding even when you give up all hope for humanity and put the phone in the freezer. Ding ding ding. Turn off notifications when you want your heart rate to dial back toward normal.
◉ You can memorize the data supplied by Homefront Command, tracking every long-range missile, every crude rocket made in a Gaza warehouse, every blind mortar flung from one place at another. And every one flung back the other way. Memorize the time you have to get to safety, factoring in type of projectile and distance from launch. In Tel Aviv, never be further than two minutes from a shelter. In Ashdod, one minute. In Sderot, fifteen seconds.
◉ You can stare at the web site IsraelHasBeenRocketFreeFor and watch the clock tick, reset when a rocket is launched, tick tick, reset, tick. Urge the seconds to pile into minutes and the minutes to pile into hours but they will not. Die a little each time the clock resets.
Ding ding goes the Red Alert app in your pocket.
None of this matters when you take your children to breakfast on a Monday morning in Tel Aviv. They’ve been at camp in the north, away from the rockets and bomb shelters, for two weeks. Now they are back and they want their favorite breakfast at their favorite café. They are saying chocolate pancakes and home fries, toast and orange juice. You hear the siren.
The noise seems to fall out of the sky and it lands on your ears just as you hear, underneath and insistent, the ding ding in your pocket. Your son, the one who is skittish when bicycles and dogs go by, jumps to his left and starts down the wrong street. You grab his wrist. You grab your daughter’s wrist. You begin to run.
There is a public bomb shelter in one direction and the bomb shelter in your apartment building in the other and your first reaction is to take them home. There is no time for a second reaction. For a brief moment you are running through the flow of Israelis heading for the public shelter and a woman goes right by you pulling her daughter. She yells Shamah! and points the way there but it is just a sound buried in sounds. The apartment building is around the corner and you have no choice now but to believe in it.
The siren still screaming urges you to run and you squeeze their wrists, hard. This will leave a mark. You are pulling them by these wrists, thin as birds’ bones, but you realize, somehow, that you are also holding them back. When you turn the corner, you can see the white concrete building, the glass door open. The siren is still wailing. It may or may not have been two minutes.
You let them go.
You watch them, boy on the left, girl on the right, side by side as they run. You pause because you must watch them move away from you, her ponytail bobbing as she runs, his long legs pumping like he’s heading for the swings at the playground, but he is not.
KEVIN HAWORTH is the author of an essay collection, Famous Drownings in Literary History, and a novel, The Discontinuity of Small Things. He teaches at Ohio University and at Tel Aviv University and writes regularly about Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza for Michigan Quarterly Review. If you’re in north Tel Aviv, he recommends Benedict’s for brunch, Basel Congress for a late-afternoon snack, and Café Jeremiah any time of the day. ◊