Reality Under Rockets


I had never heard a rocket siren before.

I’ve watched countless videos of rocket sirens, rocket explosions, and all sorts of violence.

But I had never heard it above my own head before.

The city of Jerusalem was exploding with energy yesterday.

There were Arab riots in pockets of the city- fighting against police, throwing rocks, chaos, and rage.

Other spots of the city were filled with Jews dancing in the streets to celebrate the anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. The day that gave us back our city. Our ancestral capital.

My husband was at work in town and I was home alone with the kids. I had dinner on the stove and we were folding laundry. I was chatting on the phone and all of a sudden I heard the siren.

We live across the valley from a major highway that has sirens all the time. I literally stuck my head out the window and had to ask myself, “Why is this siren going on so long?”

Because in Jerusalem, we usually only ever have sirens on commemorative days. Rockets don’t usually come to Jerusalem. The last one was years ago. I have been living here for three years and never heard one. Certain types of violence you expect in Jerusalem. I don’t need to go into the detail of all the things that are considered “normal” here.

So when I had my head pressed up against the window listening to the siren, it took me an extra minute to compute what I was hearing. But then I heard an explosion. Then another. It sounded like it was over our heads.

My heart just stopped. I was in my home in my beautiful pastoral neighborhood and there were rockets over our heads.

My brain immediately went to my children. My daughter got to the conclusion that we were in danger faster than I did. We all grabbed each other and ran down to the bomb shelter in my house; it was full of storage. There was barely room for us to stand. We didn’t think we would ever really need it.

The siren continued and so did the sounds of explosions.

For the first time in three years, I wanted to be anywhere but home.

I wanted to grab my kids and bring them to any remote corner of the world where there were no rockets exploding over our heads.

I don’t think I have ever felt that kind of fear. And guilt. And rage. Adrenaline was coursing through all our veins. My children were shaking.

We were just so unprepared.

We waited the prerequisite ten minutes and then moved slowly out of the shelter. It took an hour to calm them down. I gave them some of the soup that was simmering on the stove and they sipped warm broth from mugs and we tried to recalibrate. They asked me a million questions, for some I didn’t have good enough answers.

We talked about the Iron Dome, and our powerful army, and how Jerusalem is the home of the shechinah, and how Hashem protects us. We talked about how we were safe.

Then I got an alert that there would be another escalation at 9 pm, an hour from then.

Before I could say anything, my daughter said, “Ima let’s not wait till Abba gets home. Let’s empty the bomb shelter and make space in case we need to go back in.”

In a calm voice, I told her it was a great idea and that we might need to go back in at 9pm and she said, “OK. Let’s make a plan.”

So the kids and I ran back and forth emptying and schlepping everything we could to make enough space for us to be in there comfortably. We brought a small mattress, other pillows, fleece blankets, water, chargers, paper, and crayons. We made sure that everything was all set and at 8:50 they asked to go into the shelter early to feel prepared.

My husband made his way home and joined us sitting in the shelter. He told us about how when the sirens were ringing through the center of town some people took shelter- but most continued to dance and sing, “Am Yisrael- Lo mifached”- the Jewish people- we are not afraid. It was all too much to take in.

As I was sitting in the shelter I watched a video of the Temple Mount on fire- the rioting by the Al Aqsa Mosque had accidentally lit a large tree on fire. There were hundreds Jewish youth dancing at the Kotel, celebrating Yom Yerushalayim. The contrast and the image were astounding. The whole night felt surreal; drifting in and out between dream and nightmare.

We sat there for a half-hour and no second siren came. Exhausted, we made our way back upstairs and I told the kids that I would sleep with them in the family room near the open windows in case the sirens would come again in the night.

I fell asleep in my clothes, we all slept fitfully. Occasionally, we jumped at the sound that the fan was making – it sounded similar to the siren. Eventually, we turned the fan off and opted to sleep in the heat.

The kids became totally hypervigilant, listening to every sound. I tried to calm them and soothe their nerves, but I was hypervigilant too.

I woke up this morning feeling wrecked and like I hadn’t slept at all. The kids seemed OK but soon after arriving at school my daughter said she felt dizzy and scared and we ran to pick her up.

All of this after one experience.

One moment that broke our sense of safety.

Last night over 200 rockets came into Israel. We only experienced a few of them. The rest of them were shot at communities in the South who experience this barrage of danger all the time- can you imagine this being your reality?

At the end of the day what I am holding onto, is my daughter’s message to me in the middle of the crisis.

She said, “Ima, we belong here. We aren’t going anywhere.”

Pray for the safety of Israel and her citizens.

We aren’t going anywhere.

Posted in , ,

Shira Lankin Sheps grew up in New Jersey and went to Stern College for women. After graduating from Hunter College School of Social Work with her MSW in clinical social work, she worked in the clinical field, in marketing and photojournalism.

She decided to start The Layers Project to help break down stigma and promote healing within our Jewish community.

She feels strongly about presenting women, who are so often shown as shallow characters or fully removed from Jewish media spaces, as three-dimensional individuals whose lives are full and rich with resilience.

Shira made aliyah with her family two years ago to Jerusalem.

Headshot taken by Tzipora Lifchitz.