By Onnie Shiffmiller
Our car had been stolen a few weeks earlier and on Thursday, Nov. 15 we were notified that the car was found in Jaffa. I was told that I could retrieve the car but then had go to the Jaffa police station to cancel the stolen car report.
I left Raanana about 7:30 PM. Taking a taxi to Jaffa to retrieve my car, I was thrilled to unexpectedly see so little traffic on the roads. Heading to Tel Aviv/Jaffa on a Thursday night and escaping weekend traffic snarls is a rare occurrence. How lucky was I. So, I got the car and drove to the police station — now thrilled to unexpectedly find a parking spot right in front. I walked into the police station, and was surprised to see no lines. Wow, luckier still. Then the following occurred: Onnie: “Hello officer, I need to cancel a stolen car report.”
Police Officer, incredulously: “What?”
Thinking I had made a mistake in my Hebrew, I repeated the sentence, this time more slowly: “I need to cancel a stolen car report.”
Police Officer: “Are you crazy? Don’t you know there is an emergency situation here? The sirens just stopped ringing a few minutes ago. Didn’t you go to a sealed room?”
He continued to yell for what seemed like an eternity but, in reality was probably just a few seconds. I had no idea what he was talking about. The rockets were being aimed at Sderot and Be’ersheva, both an hour south of Tel Aviv. I had no idea that the Tel Aviv sirens had gone off before to warn its citizens of an incoming rocket. I had left Raanana when the Tel Aviv sirens rang, so I never heard them.
Onnie: “No officer, I was in Raanana. I was told that I can’t drive my car until I come here and cancel the stolen car report.”
I thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head at this point, but then he retreated. “Oh, you’re right!” he said.
Then, as if nothing had happened, he walked me through the paper work — then actually offered to buy my car when he heard I drive a 2003 Subaru B4 (apparently his life-long dream, which I declined to fulfill). We left shaking hands and wishing each other a Shabbat Shalom.
I share this story for two reasons. Hopefully – and especially for those of you who have dealt with Israelis – you’ll get a chuckle.
It was so typically Israeli: yell first, reason second. But more importantly, the interaction was particularly telling in light of the week’s events. Through no fault of our own, we are victims. Sometimes we’re victims of a scam. Sometimes we’re victims of a crime. We have no control over the situation. We can’t see it coming and we have no way to stop it. But sometimes life is in our control. Sometimes, it’s how we choose to respond to events that define who we are. Sometimes we can choose to be the victim or we can choose to survive.
Israel was given that choice this week. It chose survival. Yes, the Jaffa police officer was momentarily shaken. But then, he realized that a job needed to be done and he did it.
That’s how the country functioned this week. Within hours of the flare-up in rocket fire from Hamas in Gaza, municipalities throughout the country set up hotlines. If you lived in the south and were looking for safe housing in the center or north of the country, just call the municipality and they could help you. If you were a family out of firing range wanting to help people in the south, all you had to do was call your local municipality and put your name on a host family list. What to do about families who couldn’t or wouldn’t leave? Some of them still had jobs they were trying to get to.
Others had elderly parents or many children. For these people, leaving was not a realistic option. While not ideal, they had access to
safe rooms or bomb shelters.
The residents of the south were not forgotten, and help came in many ways. Teenagers and young adults collected food, games, books and art supplies. They made their way down to hard-hit places like Ashkelon, Be’ersheva, Sderot, and Netivot to entertain children who had not been out of bomb shelters for days. For those who were able to leave, parks and other tourist sites offered steep discounts to citizens with proof of residency in the south. Adults, more in tune with the economic fallout, invited fishmongers, farmers and other small business owners to sell their wares in safer territory.
The problem with this can-do attitude is that it does not make for very good photo-ops.
It’s not dramatic to take a photo of a child coloring a picture for his mommy and daddy.
A photo can’t capture the fear and discomfort of life in a shelter. A photo can’t capture the embarrassment of a six- year old who has started wetting the bed again out of fear of more sirens disturbing yet another night of sleep.
That’s okay. We don’t want to be victims. Just don’t confuse strength with an easy life. While the intensity of rocket fire in the south increased exponentially during the week of Operation Pillar of Defense, its citizens have suffered for a long time. But as long as we continue to choose life, we’ll be able to return to normal.
And that’s why I have to end this letternow. I have to get ready for a wedding!
Onnie Lovett Schiffmiller is a writer and tour guide who grew up in Fairfield and now lives in Israel.
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