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September 21, 2014 / 26 Elul, 5774
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Shelter From the Storm

Israeli children taking cover during rocket attack

Israeli children taking cover during rocket attack
Photo Credit: Dima Vazinovich / Flash90

It is a sweltering Jerusalem day and I am sitting on cold stone, my arms wrapped around my knees. Mindlessly scrolling through my iPhone, haphazardly liking and commenting and reading messages and waiting. Killing time. I hear the sound of hurried steps and look up- I realize that I am not the only one who chose this spot. A short and slender brunette with smudged purple eyeliner hurriedly walks in and flashes an awkward smile, clumsily fumbling in her purse for something. She leans on the wall beside me so apprehensively that I am compelled to ease her stress by jokingly letting her know that it won’t topple over. She crosses her arms and her legs, taking up as little space as possible. Her eyes flit back and forth. She is nervous. I smile at her and make a joke about being under-dressed. She doesn’t laugh and I realize that this is probably her first.

In seconds, we are joined by an old woman barely balancing on her walker-clearly having done this hundreds of times- she mumbles something incoherent, curses I think- I attempt forced small talk. More mumbling. I laugh, desperately hoping that the incoherent mumbles were some form of geriatric humor. She gives me a blank stare and I realize that she wasn’t being facetious. Whoopsie. I turn to glance out the window, mindlessly tapping on my phone and thinking. Just as I realize that it still has been less than a minute and that there are bound to be more of us, I hear scuffling and the sound of a door scraping on the smooth floor upstairs. The neighbor pokes her head around the corner and makes eye contact, nodding at me. She is holding her boyfriend’s hand so tightly that her knuckles are white, but somehow, other than pursed lips, all of the muscles in her face are relaxed. She is trying to be casual about this whole ordeal but it is obvious that she is anxious. He strokes her skinny, tanned, Israeli arm and pulls her in for a hug, stroking her back and holding her close. A little uncomfortable, I turn back to my phone, feeling as if I am invading their quiet moment of intimacy.

The five of us, an improbable handful of compatriots, spend a few forced and awkward moments together. I take it all in and am suddenly imbued with this weirdly strong sense of solidarity and identity and belonging, but I can see that none of them feel the same. Before I can further dig myself into an embarrassing ditch of attempts at small talk, it is all over and we are free to go.

We exchange sighs of equal parts relief and annoyance and just as I turn to leave, the nameless neighbor looks me straight in the eye and with a crooked smile that is at least half solemn, says “I hope that we do not meet here again”.

Suddenly I realize how ridiculous this all is.

I am sitting in the stairwell of my building. I am sitting in the stairwell of my building with random neighbors and people who were walking down the street because this week Hamas decided that they like me less than they liked me last week.

I’m walking back up to my apartment in my pajamas and I laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all.

I laugh that I have a red alert app on my phone to alert me when there are rockets falling. I laugh that there is an app, like Waze, that will show me where the nearest bomb shelter is. Because the rockets can find you anywhere and the red alert doesn’t care that you have no idea where you are. I laugh that the chilling whir of impending rocket sirens caught me in a heated debate on Israeli politics. I laugh because no one knows the facts. I laugh because it is hipster to side with the underdog, and pictures of brave freedom fighters with Kaffiyehs portray desperation and evoke empathy a lot better than pictures of the iron dome being operated by IDF soldiers with bulletproof jackets and M-16’s.

About the Author: Ariela Aharon is a patriotic American expat currently residing in Jerusalem, Israel and studying Psychology. When she is not volunteering for Magen David Adom, stressing about the MCAT, or passionately questioning everything, she likes to spend time with her friends and family. She can usually make it a few hours without entering into a heated debate about things that have little to no bearing on her life. Yalla.


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