By: Dov Pfeiffer  | 

Sirens Over Israel

On Shemini Atzeret eve, I couldn’t sleep. This wasn’t in itself unusual; I often struggle to get to sleep. And then I heard sounds coming from my roommate's phone. Had he set an alarm by mistake? The arrhythmic pattern of the rings indicated not. What else could it be? No, it wasn’t an alarm he told me, groggily awaking. This was the red alert app. He had set it to feel connected to Israel. Now, it was going off.

Sirens sounding over Southern Israel. It was a concept so familiar that I didn’t think much of it. Hearing it, I didn’t think too much of it. Yes, I was scared, but in a twisted way, this was normal. During both of my years in Kerem b’Yavneh, located not far from Ashdod, we lived with sirens, but usually only for a short time. This time, the alerts didn’t stop. For hours on Shemini Atzeret, my Torah Tours roommate and I listened to the red alert notifications continue. 

Back when I was in Kerem b’Yavneh I had a similar experience. Near the end of my Shana Bet, including over Shavuot, we were cooped up in bomb shelters for two weeks. We had frequent sirens and knew how much worse it must have been surrounding the Gaza Strip. I remember waking up late at night to go to the bomb shelter, many of us preferring to sleep there. Still, it hadn’t been too bad. Though our minds were scarred, our bodies remained unharmed. I assumed this was similar to my experience then. I commented that it was probably a lot of shelling over Sderot with some volleys along the coast. I didn’t know. I couldn’t have.

I had Israel in mind over Simchat Torah. But we didn’t know the magnitude until after. The reality was incomprehensible. I entered Simchat Torah to fill a community with joy; I left an animated corpse. I reached out to a friend in Kerem b’Yavneh. Thank God, they were okay. They are now hunkered down, physically unharmed, in the bomb shelter, like I had been. But in so many places, too many places, they are not okay and never will be. There is no need for me to spell out the extent of atrocities perpetuated; for those who read the news, it is permanently etched in our hearts and minds. With the loss of so many Jews, some part of me has died as well. And here I am in America, unable to help, unable to express my sympathy, unable to do anything but mourn.

Now, in the aftermath, I still can’t sleep. The lives of 1300 dead Jews stir in my conscience. Now, Israel is going off to war. Everyone, in Israel and here in America, is mobilizing to actualize the call of Never Again. Far away in this foreign land, I feel bereft. I feel that in the justified rush to respond the scope of tragedy has been lost. As I lie awake and my sleepless eyes see the morning hours arrive, the magnitude of loss comes into focus. Over this week, I will have slept about 1300 minutes less than usual. One minute per dead Jew. During every minute of slight pain caused by my tossing and turning, I imagine the sadness and desolation of families and communities torn apart and lives senselessly lost. Each minute the destruction of another world.

In the coming weeks, as attention focuses further on helping Israel, I will feel empty, unable to help. All I can do is mourn. All I can do is wander the streets I’ve known so long through good times and bad, broken. In the present moment, I hope we can keep the tragedy in our minds beyond preparing for difficult times to come. As years pass, we must not let this tragedy fall from our consciences. We must mourn our dead. We must cry over our loss.


Photo Caption: A siren

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons