By STEVE WENICK
It was the second day of Passover and I was six thousand miles away from my hometown, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, when the reality of life in Israel hit home. My rude awakening occurred while leisurely sitting around the dining room table enjoying an early morning cup of coffee with my wife and daughter. During the course of our recounting the previous day’s Passover Seder my daughter Jennifer casually mentioned, in the most matter of fact manner, that in the event we hear the shrill wail of a siren, we should head straight to the bomb shelter. I wasn’t sure that I heard her right because her tone of voice and demeanor were that of someone asking us to pick up a box of matzo at the supermarket.
Then, without missing a beat, she proceeded to give us a brief in-house course on how to conduct ourselves in the event of an air raid alert. The bomb shelter, which was located on the ground floor, was furnished like a den. It was tastefully outfitted with a comfortable leather sofa, and a glass enclosed breakfront filled with family pictures and bric-a-brac. A wooden chest leaned against the wall and on top of it sat a TV and DVD player. If it were not for the shelter’s massive safe-like door and bomb proof solid steel window shutters, I would never have guessed the room was a bomb shelter, masquerading as a den. While trying to process that whole bomb shelter thing Jennifer cautioned, “If you hear the alarm sound forget the dog because you and mom will have only one minute to getinto the shelter.”
Shattered were my illusions that this rural community, Mazkeret Batya, located somewhere between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, was safely tucked away out of harm’s way. The stark reality of living under the constant threat of a Sword of Damocles, in the form of Kassam rocket attacks from Gaza and the Sinai gave me a, “I’m not in Cherry Hill anymore” moment.
It is no secret that Hamas, in spite of its ridiculous posturing and bravado, dangles helplessly like a puppet from Iranian fingers. Mindless as marionettes, Hamas terrorists vacuously attempt to instill fear in the population of Israel by cruelly targeting soft targets. Those targets are: school buildings, school buses and school children. Hamas is the modern day embodiment of the biblical Amalekites, the archetypes of cowardice, the epitome of spinelessness, notorious for attacking the women, children, and the elderly situated at the rear of the column of the Israelites triumphant march to freedom.
I cannot help but marvel and admire the reserve and resolve with which Israelis go about the business of their day-to-day lives without missing a step. The Islamist terrorists’ threats and assaults are nonchalantly shrugged off with the same casual sense of annoyance as the occurrence of daily fender benders.
Later the same day my son-in-law Isaac loaded our family and gear into his car and drove to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Park in Jerusalem. We spent a pleasant afternoon picnicking in the Jerusalem forests. The air was clear and carried aloft the fragrance of pine needles infused with thearoma of barbecued lamb and spicy kabob. Scattered throughout the ancient hills were clusters of families and friends on holiday. We enjoyed an al fresco lunch of sardines, tuna, vegetables, figs and dates all washed down with nana tea brewed on a single burner Primus-like camp stove. The forest’s bugs tolerated our intrusion onto their turf.
Looking eastward from our camp site we could see the Green Line, the demarcation line separating Israel from the West Bank. It was easy to tell where the line was drawn. On the east side of the line the landscape was brown and lifeless, the fruits of the labor of a culture which regaled in throwing rocks meant to hurt, maim and kill. On the west side of the line the land was lush, green and vibrant, the harvest of a People rededicated to restoring the land, which had been neglected for over two millennia, by waves of conquering tribes, caliphates, emperors and countries who occupied her but had neither use nor love of her.
There are those who exploit the plight of Palestinians to further their stated ambition of wiping Israel off the map. For Iran’s surrogates, the hapless Palestinian terrorists, their acts of mayhem and murder have achieved nothing but to rain misfortune upon their own families. Unfortunately for them not one of the many Muslim countries can find room to accept them as citizens; instead they have been kept at bay in sand and squalor. It suits the Arab sheiks and Muslim dictators to use them as cannon fodder in their efforts to demonize Israel in order to deflect criticism and condemnation of the crimes of their own corrupt, despotic regimes devoid of human rights.
On the way home from our excursion we stopped off at a Ben and Jerry’s in the ancient sleepy town of Yavne situated along Israel’s central coastal plain. Besides a long history dating back to biblical times, Yavne boasts a kosher for Passover ice cream parlor which offers universal favorites like chocolate and vanilla. Surprisingly it also served a haroset flavored ice cream. A spread comprised of a mixture of chopped apples and nuts with a dose of sweet wine and a sprinkle of cinnamon, haroset is supposed to remind Jews of the mortar they used to build the Pharaohs’ pyramids while enslaved in Egypt. Sephardic Jews, those of Middle Eastern descent, use dates, raisins, and bananas and crushed nuts in their mortar-like mixture.
As the sun retreated behind a wall of trees silhouetted on the horizon we returned home thoroughly exhausted from a day spent in the fresh air. Nevertheless I summed enough energy to run out to the local supermarket to pick up a few things. While paying the cashier, I was startled by an ear splitting alarm that brought all of the customers and their shopping carts to an abrupt halt.
Some shoppers held their ears to muffle the shrill noise while others looked around momentarily confused while trying to discern the source of the offending sound or to locate the store’s shelter. Then slowly the tension in the air dissipated as one by one the customers began to smile and nod knowingly at each other because they were relieved when they realized that I had inadvertently pushed open the emergency exit door when leaving the store. Embarrassed I sheepishly nodded and smiled a silent apology to all those I had startled. As I left the store, I looked back over my shoulder and could not help but marvel how the customers resumed their shopping as if nothing had happened.
The next morning I awoke early (3:30 a.m.) with a sore throat. In silence I brewed a kettle of Bedouin tea and did some early morning web surfing. Once the household awoke I recused myself from the day’s planned activities and seized upon the opportunity to spend the rest of the day alone at home since Isaac was going to work and my daughter Jennifer and wife Bobbie planned to take our grandchildren shopping and then to a movie.
I sat alone with the family dog Max at my feet alternately reading, writing and dozing in the garden of my daughter and son-in-law’s Mediterranean Garden of Eden. The chilled glass of vodka and plate of figs set out before me seemed like manna from heaven – sans having to suffer the pains of slavery before receiving the reward of redemption. Sitting quietly in the shade of a lone Eucalyptus tree, relishing a slight cool breeze, I realized that in Israel, life goes on and one finds a way to cope, overcome and prevail even while the dogs of war rabidly bark at the door.