By Steve K. Walz
Where else but in Israel, would a fresh-faced 8 year old Little League rookie wearing a New York Mets uniform, smile and casually ask you, “By the way, during the game today, if a rocket is fired at Modiin, where do we run?” Where else but in Israel, would a confused Tel Aviv taxi driver ask his passenger, “What do I do now?” several seconds after air raid sirens are sounded throughout the city.
Within the span of a few days this past week, I was challenged with easing a child’s innocent anxiety during the course of a “relaxing” after school activity and dealing with my own mortality, while simply trying to arrive on time at a meeting in the bustling metro Tel Aviv region. Call it what you wish, ‘absurd’, ‘surreal’ etc. For me, each instance or incident provided a sense of irony and awe.
Coaching one of Modiin’s Little League squads on Friday afternoons is a physical and emotional panacea for me, as it allows me to realize a life-long dream (being involved with baseball), while blowing off the stress of daily life. But even coaching baseball comes with a proviso that is unheard of anywhere else in the USA. Several hours before the game, the Israel Association of Baseball alerted all Little League coaches (Little League in Israel runs from October till early June) that they were legally obligated to instruct all youngsters where to ‘run’ if air raid sirens sounded within the city. And so, several minutes before we started practice for an upcoming Chanukah tournament, I was ‘volunteered’ by the other coaches to explain the reality of things to the nearly 20 Little League team members in Hebrew and English. As I stared at the kids, some of whom just made aliyah within the past year or two from New York, Philadelphia and Dallas, I wondered how they would react to a potentially chaotic scene. Much to my relief, both the American olim and the Israeli youngsters, listened attentively and then segued into their baseball banter without missing a beat. In fact, it was one of the most productive practices of the season.
On Sunday morning, I boarded a crowded train to central Tel Aviv, disembarked and then hailed a taxi.
Less than a minute after the driver started to wind his way through the busy streets to nearby Ramat Gan, air raid sirens sounded throughout the city. My initial reaction was, “I don’t believe it.” But my driver, a grizzled Tel Avivian in his early 60’s, was positively confused. He exclaimed, “I have no idea what to do!” Realizing that this was not a scene from a Hollywood movie, but a real life rocket attack upon the heart of Israel, I calmly told the driver to pull over to the side, so we could at least make it to the entrance of the nearest building. We both got out and strode less than 5 yards to a storefront. For several seconds we pondered where the missile would hit. And then, a loud boom echoed above our heads in the sky. A motorcycle driver who was also standing nearby pointed up and proclaimed, “Iron Dome shot it down.”
I looked up and saw the contrails and puffs of smoke from both the Iron Dome missiles and the remnants of the Fajr-5 projectile that had been fired by an Islamic Jihad squad in the Gaza Strip. As if on cue, all of the citizens who had abandoned their cars in the middle of the road, many with the engines still running, returned to their vehicles and continued on to their destinations. Everyone just kept on going…no hysteria, no crying, a few wan smiles…and life goes on. Yes, I made my meeting on time. No one appeared out of sync at all, except for one marketing executive whose hands were shaking because her son was sitting in a tank along the Gaza border waiting to see if his unit would be amongst the first to invade enemy territory.
Walking back to the train, I looked up at the skyscrapers that are growing by leaps and bounds in Tel Aviv and adjacent Ramat Gan and just shook my head. For a split second, even my body shuddered. While the military will almost always never tell you where the Fajr-5 missiles were headed, it is obvious to most people that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are absolutely trying for an Israeli version of 9/11. A missile strike upon a skyscraper or two in Tel Aviv or Ramat Gan would kill or maim hundreds and send frantic citizens on the streets below in a race for their lives. Despite the fact that the cowering residents of Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba, Ofakim, Sderot etc. have been hammered mercilessly, a single Fajr-5 strike upon a skyscraper in Tel Aviv, would make headlines all around the world and spark an all out war upon Gaza. Which is exactly what Iran wants!
The irony and awe associated with all of this, is that the “Iron Dome” system was initially rejected by major IDF generals, as well as the Pentagon, where senior ranking military officials claimed the system couldn’t possibly work. Without the insistence of Amir Peretz, a much maligned ex-Minister of Defense who pushed for the funds which enabled Israeli scientists and ex-IDF technologists to create “Iron Dome”, hundreds if not thousands of innocent civilians could have been killed or maimed during the past week across half of Israel.
Where else but in Israel could one experience, “Nissim Glu-yim” (overt miracles) from Above?