TEL AVIV, Israel — It was a normal July afternoon in Tel Aviv. Hot, humid and slightly dusty. I was in Jaffa, looking for a new apartment. I had seen a parade of dismal, dark spaces that the landlady assured me would soon be rehabilitated. “Everything will be ready for the move in day!” she insisted. A cockroach scuttled across the dirty floor tiles. She followed my gaze and promptly stepped on the cockroach.
Jaffa is the old Arab town just south of Tel Aviv. Tuesday night, as rockets fell, the residents of Jaffa celebrated in the streets, despite the fact that rockets don’t see Jew or Muslim, Israeli or Arab—they just see targets.
Half an hour after I had returned to my old apartment from Jaffa, an air raid siren went off. My first. My boyfriend stood quickly and calmly. It takes a lot to rattle a special forces man. He announced: “Time to go.” My old building has no bomb shelter, so we sat under the stairs. My roommate’s dog came and sat with us, happy to be hugged and included.
I so wanted to seem brave and nonchalant, but my hands began to shake and my heart accelerated. The siren continued to wail.
“Don’t worry,” my boyfriend said to me. “The first fifty times, it’s scary. After that, you stop giving a fuck. You get used to it.”
“How do you know when it’s safe to move?” I asked him.
“When you hear a boom.” The siren stopped wailing. He listened for a moment, stood, and pulled me up by the hand. “Let’s go back.”
We checked my roommate’s room. She is a local hippie, the most Zen out of all of us in the apartment. She comes from Rehovot and works as a performance artist in front of the market called Shuk Ha’Carmel. Tourists and children are the most entertained—for Israelis she is a local landmark. (“I’m standing by the fairy on the mushroom! Yes, near the shuk!”)
“Kol beseder?” my boyfriend asked, “Is everything OK?” She nodded, thinking it was sweet of us to warn her. My roommate hadn’t been afraid at all. I was shaken, she was calm and serene.
Checking Twitter didn’t help calm my nerves, but somehow knowing what was happening made things smaller, less of a big deal. The reports of Iron Dome intercepts also made me feel better. My boyfriend explained to me how it works.
“They shoot little missiles at theirs, and it explodes in the sky. Hamas isn’t good at building rockets, their rockets are launched from the ground with less control. They can’t pinpoint the destination. They just aim in the general direction of things. Besides, if there is a hit the damage is minimal. It causes maybe a hole in a house or something. Our rockets destroy entire neighborhoods.”
He thought it would be best for us to leave central Tel Aviv and go to his aunt’s house in Ramat Gan. I agreed. I liked the idea of being surrounded by people, and especially by people accustomed to air raids. People I could learn from. When we arrived in Ramat Gan the home was quiet. My boyfriend’s aunt had fresh fruit out on a table and was happily sewing a child’s Purim costume. She welcomed us with a big hug and kiss and distracted me by talking about apartments, landlords and rent.
In the distance I heard another alarm. My boyfriend sat up and said, “We should go to the garden!”—where the shelter was.
His aunt shrugged. “What is wrong with you? We will be fine right here.” She continued to sew. Inspired by her calmness, we walked down the road to a friend’s to watch the soccer match.
Shiri, who survived a suicide bombing, was chatting with friends. Beer and whiskey were on the table. The TV was turned to soccer. No one spoke of the news. The distant sound of explosions continued to happen overhead.
“What do we watch, Brazil vs Germany or Gaza vs Israel?”
“Boom,” my boyfriend whispered to me softly when he noticed me looking out the window.
“Stop it,” I said, trying to keep my tone playful. I returned to Twitter.
Rockets hit Jerusalem. Hamas says all Israelis are targets. Another rocket intercepted over Tel Aviv—Headed for Ben Gurion Airport.
“Miranda, kapara,” Shiri called to me in a singsong voice, “How’s Twitter?” She laughed, thinking I was looking at World Cup tweets.
“Not great,” I said in a strained voice.
“Forget it, put away your phone—it’s rude. Just watch the game.”
With explosions every few moments overhead, I thought … “Fuck it. Nothing will happen, and if the worst does happens, at least I’m going out like Biggie Smalls.”
Emails began pouring in. Friends I hadn’t talked to in years, relatives I never hear from: Are you safe?
During the halftime, my boyfriend and I walked back to his aunt’s house. The street was empty. The only sounds were the sounds of the soccer game. I realized: of course people didn’t watch the news during a bombing. They were being bombed. What other information did they need? They didn’t need more information; they needed distraction.
I hid my phone from myself and tried to sleep.
In the morning I woke up, feeling as if I had lived through a bad dream. After my shower, the alarms started to go off again. I shrugged and dried my hair.
Just keep calm, and keep going. With each siren, with each warning, the fear in me dies.