“I feel so vulnerable when I am driving my car,” said Ehud Zion Waldoks of Beersheba. “I am constantly preparing to stop abruptly, to leap out and grab my daughter and run for cover. I am calculating my speed to be a little faster than usual, but not reckless. I am checking where the nearest wall is at every traffic light.”
Waldoks’s story is similar to that of all southern Israelis – and now most of the state of Israel, as rockets penetrate deeper than ever into the Jewish state. But as a resident of Beersheba, Waldoks is more accustomed than others to the sound of sirens, to the 60-second rush to the bomb shelter. It has happened before. There were similar flare-ups with Gaza in 2008-9 and 2012.
Yet consistency doesn’t make it easier, he said. In some ways, the ongoing rocket attacks, coupled with periods of heightened terror, make it more challenging. The current Israel-Gaza conflict will end, he said, but the war will have lasting effects on the nation.
The test of talking about the war with one’s children is almost impossible to pass. Recently, the Israeli website Mako published an article offering tips for making the experience more bearable and appropriate. The first rule: don’t lie. Young children, psychologists recommend, should be spared the details but simply hugged and reassured. Slightly older children, up to age 5, may benefit from drawing about their emotions or role-playing.
By age 6, psychologists recommend that parents explain about the army’s operation and the Iron Dome missile defense system; teens can be told what is really happening and should be empowered to take an active role in supporting younger siblings and those less able or stable than themselves.
Parents on the ground said they read the Mako article but they find the reaction to rockets has only somewhat to do with age and more to do with maturity and general outlook. In the Waldoks home, there are three children under the age of 7, and the oldest is therefore forced to make her way into the shelter in the middle of the night on her own.
“We are carrying the little ones so [the oldest] cannot be carried by one of us,” Ehud Zion Waldoks toldJNS. “It is so hard for her. In the moment, in the middle of the night, she hears the rockets and she does not know what is going on. But she does it, without any physical contact from us, without us holding her hand.”
Their oldest daughter, he said, is consumed with questions about Operation Protective Edge. In contrast, their 2-year-old sees the nightly gatherings almost like a party. He doesn’t know what’s going on.
In Ashkelon, Esti Day’s 1-and-a-half-year-old daughter is having a different experience.
“Whenever she hears sirens, she start screaming,” said Day. “She yells all the time. She wants to sleep in the shelter. When the siren is over, she doesn’t want to go out.”
Being a parent during war, Day said, means putting your own needs and wants aside. It also means being prepared.
“Take something as simple as a shower. Now, you have to do it very quick and have the towel beside you. You need to make sure all the children come in the bathroom with you – there wouldn’t be time to get them from another room,” she said.
Shachar Liran-Chanan, a student of psychology and education at Ben-Gurion University, explained, “Parents are told to stay calm. They try to hide their real feelings from their children. But the children see through them.”
Lilach Nissim of Herzliya works with the municipality to prepare for emergency situations such as the current one. Born and raised in Ashkelon, she spent three years working in the rocket-battered city of Sderot.