. . . But Who’s Counting?

I’ve just returned from walking Rocco and realized that in about the 18 minute walk, just as many jets flew overhead leaving from Nir Dawid, the nearby airbase (halfway between where I live and the kibbutz where Zoe is).  But who’s counting? What’s so interesting, or a bit jarring, actually, is that it’s 9:30 in the evening. There’s not an exceptionally  bright moon and only a few stars managing to break the dark evening haze. As we walked, I could hear and then feel the trembling sound and  fading whistle of the jet engines, amplified in the still, night air. The are unmistakably heading east, and if you know your geography of the Middle East, you can posit any number of scenarios as to where their destinations are.

There go another two, seemingly right above my apartment.

The situation was the same last night, except I was too engrossed in watching re-runs of American Horror Story Asylum as I lay in bed with my computer propped up on my lap. I’ve always enjoyed a good horror movie (not the “slash-and-gore” variety, but something that gives me a good start), like the monster that you know just has to be lurking around the corner as you shout at the movie’s protagonist, “Don’t go down that dark hall way! Don’t go! You just gotta KNOW there’s a monster there!”

Oops! There go another two.

As these planes fly overhead, I look up to see if I can figure out just where they are. There are always far past me by the time I can find the plane’s blinking red tail lights. But as the flight path is pretty much the same, I can spot them when they’re already past me. I can barely make out the outline of the plane (during the day these “training exercises” as they have been called in the newspapers were also active, just not as active as they seem to be in the night sky). I  look up at the plane. And I imagine the face of the young pilot, sitting in his flight suit and helmet, calmly, with practiced assurance of his duty, speaking into his helmet’s microphone, making course corrections or following orders for the set of scenarios that necessitate today’s practice. In my mind’s eye I see the handsome, intelligent, young pilot, his cockiness put on hold while he focuses all his energy and attention to his role in the tiny cockpit of his plane. His build is slight and lean. Hair cropped closely to his head, his sharp eyes and chiseled face look even more handsome as they are set off by his regulation uniform. Yet he is a kid, flying a million dollar gadget, replete with dials, switches, buttons, levers, and colorful computer screens. He’s been playing computer games on his laptop or smart phone since he was old enough to hold them. He is so used to holding a joy stick that his thumbs seem to move even before his brain tells them what do to. Who knows how this feels to him? Like when he would play a war game with his friends, only a little bouncier?

Another two.

I picture his mother, also looking up at the night sky. I can even picture her face. Passive, yet a certain tightness around her eyes and mouth. Wondering if her son is in one of those planes. Keeping her emotions, the tangle of pride, fear, resignation, and faith playing out their own tug of war within her mind. Does she read the myriad of newspapers on-line every day trying to forecast the future or does she avoid the temptation?

And what am I feeling right now? It’s been more than a year since I’ve made Aliyah. For the first few months, every time there were fireworks in the sky, the culmination of a wedding celebration, I would jump, trying to hide my embarrassment as I looked at the faces of everyone else in the room or on the street who seemed totally unphased by the noise. Now I don’t jump. I don’t make up scenarios in my head. I know they are just the sounds of celebration. And I realize that if there were a God-forbid I would have heard the Iron Dome warning sirens first. But they are absent. No sirens. No worries. Just drills.

And another two.

Like today at the Center. At 4:30 p.m. we had a drill on campus. A young man with a megaphone and a button that, when pressed, emitted a piercing siren, alerting the kids to head to the shelters. They were told about the drill in advance and by 4:30 they were all gathered near the doors of the various shelters. Of course 4:30 was scheduled on purpose. It was just when afternoon prayers were over, allowing the boys to finish,  put away their prayer books, and walk out of our little schul, laughing and joking as they headed off toward the doors of the shelters. In an instant, I was back in Roosevelt Grammar School on Hopper Avenue in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. I was eight years old and standing in my little dress with its starched crinoline and big bow tied neatly in the back as I quietly walked outside to the clang, clang, clang of the fire bell, a drill that surprised no one. It was, after all, a beautiful day outside. No principal ever scheduled a fire drill on a rainy day. It occurred to me that the faces on the children today were the same as those of my classmates 49 years ago. Boredom at yet another “safety” drill, yet a hint of pleasure in having their daily routine put on hold for a few minutes.

Another one. Followed by its mate.

I wish to God that I didn’t think of Janusz Korszak every time a plane flew over head. Korszak, the Polish  pediatrician and educator who ran a small orphanage in Warsaw during the Shoah, and who refused to be parted from the 196 children in his charge when they were shipped off execution at Treblinka. I don’t have a pessimist’s mentality. I’m not frightened. I don’t think the worst will happen, although somewhere, locked in my gut is the knowledge that eventually something will happen. But it will not be doomsday. It will just be shared by every person who walks around this tiny country with their Teudat Zehut (identification card) tucked in their pocket.  Every mother living here, whether Jew, Arab, Christian, or Druze, will be a “Jewish mother” and worry for the safety of their child and family. We would all have to step into the nearest shelter and everyone would just be “people” caught in the jagged results of fanatics and their plots to bring anyone not like themselves to heel.

Ah. Quiet. No more rumblings except for the sound of the planes returning from the east back to the tarmac of Nir Dawid. To cool down, get their bolts checked, and their tanks refueled. Ready for the next “training” mission so that, should the drill become a reality, the mental, psychological, and physical repetition will drive the body to its height of concentration and efficiency.

Yup. I think it’s time for me to return to thrills and chills of American Horror Story. There’s nothing like a good scare to make you glad to be alive.

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4 thoughts on “. . . But Who’s Counting?

  1. Ellin, you really have a gift for expressing the complex feelings and thoughts that are woven in mere “moments” of daily life. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself and helping those of us not in Israel understand your experiences there.

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