A Slice of Israel…

Ever lose something and then when you find it, you are so relieved? Well, we found it, but relief is the wrong word…we’ll save ourselves 700 shekels (about $180) – so that’s good. But it also means my procrastinating is over.

Tomorrow, I’m going to go and exchange the old gas masks we were issued long ago with current ones. What a concept this is, I want to shout out. No, I don’t want a gas mask! I don’t want to put it on; I don’t want to even look at it!

I don’t remember when or how I was given my first gas mask; I do remember clearly going to a small room in a hospital when I went to arrange the discharge papers. A soldier was there and he handed me a blue case. I asked him what it was and he told me it was a gas mask for my infant. My eyes filled with tears as I repeated several times in disbelief, “this isn’t normal. You don’t give a baby a gas mask.” He was all of 18 or 19 years old and he tried to comfort me, “it’s okay,” he said, “don’t worry.”

I have two other memories related to gas masks in Israel. The second was when I suddenly realized the US was likely to go into Iraq that night – and Aliza might be too big for the infant mask I had. We went running down to the gas mask distribution center; only to be told they had none left and I should try another place. We got there to find they were closing.

Again, the tears filled my eyes as I approached a soldier and practically begged him to help. He took us quietly through a side door – though others had been turned away – and calmly switched the masks for us.

The third and final memory was around 8:00 at night, hours before the US entered Iraq for the Second Gulf War. The government had warned us – prepare to be hit by missiles, as had happened in the First Gulf War. We’d prepared a room to seal; we’d bought some provisions.

And then they announced that we should not only have our gas masks at the ready, but we should activate the filters and try them on. Aliza and Davidi were young. Elie was 15 years old. I froze completely. I didn’t want to see my children with gas masks on – I didn’t want to pull them from their warm beds to this nightmare we thought we might be facing.

It was Elie who told me we had to get the children out of bed – and we did. It was Elie who put the gas masks on his brother and sister, while I tried to keep them (and myself) calm. The next day, I took the kids to school. Shmulik refused to go – he offered to do dishes if I didn’t force him to go. That didn’t sway me to let him stay home, but his tears did. He was almost 13 years old – too old to cry; too frightened not to. I gave in because I wanted him calm and I wanted him to feel he would always be safe.

I wrote Davidi’s name on the case of the gas mask and then I drew a heart and a smile face inside. I don’t know what I was thinking – just that I wanted him to smile.

I took Aliza to the day care group – with the mask. I explained about how she had cried the night before and fought against us putting it on. The woman told me not to worry – and then she played a game with these young 2 and 3 year olds. She had them take the masks out and used the cardboard box as a cradle for dolls and stuffed animals; then she had them practice putting on the masks.

By the end of the day, Aliza was fine with them; Davidi was accepting too. Shmulik was still refusing to go to school; and Elie was telling me all about what he had learned in school about chemical warfare and what we might be facing from Iraq.

Now, almost a decade or so later, Israel is reissuing new gas masks. The ones we had were made useless once we opened the filters and they’ve sat for years in our home. Now, we are being encouraged to get new masks and so tomorrow I’m going to do that. We didn’t even remember where we’d put them – my husband finally remembered and we found them there. The boxes are dusty and old.

Each box has a name on it. there are different models – for a young child, for a young adult, for an adult. It’s a slice of Israel – this gas mask business.

I wrote about that period to a group of friends – yeah, me, writing…duh. Later, I called it Diary of an Almost War (see below)...and ended it with these words:

May we never see those damn cardboard boxes ever again and may none of you ever, ever, ever see a gas mask on your child’s face or hear your child say they are scared of something other than the dark, and spiders, and creepy things. 

The last part is about to come true – after tomorrow, I’ll never see TH0SE cardboard boxes again…they will take them away tomorrow…and give me new ones. I guess I should have written it differently. I should have written, “May we never see (or need) ANY damn cardboard boxes ever again….”

Diary of an Almost War

Date: March 19, 2003 11:59 a.m. 

Subject: Pre-war Report from Israel

Well – lest this all seem too far away from you all, here’s a brief overview of what is happening here in Israel as we prepare… these are headlines from Israeli Internet sites – shows a list of what we are doing to prepare for a war that we have nothing to do with….well, not any more than the rest of the world…but we too hope this will be over quickly and successfully. Israelis want to see the end of Saddam because there’s no chance of there being a stable Middle East so long as he is in power. Nevertheless, as a country seen to be close or on the front line, developments are unfolding fast….Schools To Remain Open For Now (although schools that don’t have enough bomb shelters may oppose this policy – my daughter’s school would put the 11th and 12th graders between the two bomb shelters…in conventional war, this would be a relatively secure place, not in what we might be facing. My daughter will stay home!)

Homefront Command Seals Hospitals (hospitals are releasing non-essential patients – those who have come for elective surgery…for example, in the first Gulf War, my brother-in-law had herniated disks – he couldn’t get the operation he needed because they were afraid that there would be a successful hit and they’d need the bed) Egged Prepares for Gulf II (Egged is the bus company, they’ve trained 100 drivers to drive with gas masks and protective suits so that they can drive INTO an area where potentially bio/chem weapons have landed to evacuate wounded) Hizbullah Prepares for War (Hizbullah, according to Lebanese newspaper, has moved several batteries of katyusha rockets south, in preparate to launch against Israel)IDF soldiers have been ordered to carry gas masks with them at all times Public told to seal rooms now; carry masks once war starts British Airways to Cease Service to and from Israel (duh…we didn’t expect anything else) Canada, Japan, US, UK, Russia, Australia call upon their citizens to leave Israel (duh…well, that was expect too).

More as things unfold….another interesting note. Israel created “silent” radio. People leave the radio turned on to one of these stations 24 hours a day. Nothing is broadcast, so it’s simply silent unless there is an attack – then the radio breaks silence and announces what you should do. The radio stations have already been announced and as soon as I remember to bring a radio down here, I’ll be able to “listen” to it. And finally, reports are – Israel expects the attack to begin Thursday morning our time (again, no surprises there).

Date: Wed Mar 19, 2003 1:15 pm
Subject: Israel

….and to make this hit home further….A senior IDF source said today that the American-led war against Iraq will begin tonight, unless tactical considerations force a delay. One such consideration is the heavy sandstorm currently blowing through Kuwait, in the Iraqi border region.

Today, we will seal the room where we will stay in case…it has two windows that we have to seal, as well as a door to the outside that has to be sealed. It has a bathroom, refrigerator, plenty of water, blankets, and enough computers to keep my kids busy if we are stuck here for a few hours.

And, two days ago, when I asked my son to move the gas masks for the family down here, I realized that the gas mask for my 3 year old is the wrong type – it’s a tent for an infant up to 3 years, but she should really have the “Bardas magen” (description: Designed for children ages 3 to 8 years old. The kit protects the head and the respiratory system. It is comfortable to wear and allows a wide field of vision. Function:Air is pumped by a blower through a filter into the hood. The purified air fills the hood creating pressure which prevents the entry of contaminated air from the outside.

If, for some sick reason…., you want to see what these things look like, go to: http://www.idf.il/english/organization/homefront/homefront3.stm.


Date: Wed Mar 19, 2003 2:38 pm
Subject: And here we go?

I don’t know how much you are all hearing there about what is happening here. I haven’t turned on the international news yet – I’ve been listening only to the local Israeli news and I should probably apologize for diverting attention from Iraq now…but what is happening here is very real to me. Two days ago, I realized that my little one had the wrong gas mask. She turned 3 in January and the infant tent is good for infant to 3. I went today to exchange it for the children’s head mask.

The first place – all the masks were already given out. The second place was also closed. Finally, at the 3rd place they said they were closed and come back tomorrow, but my husband went over to one soldier and explained that we weren’t notified, but we thought our baby had the wrong mask. He was wonderful – he asked me to bring my daughter inside (luckily, I’d brought her along). They looked at her and exchanged her mask right away. Somehow knowing that I had the right mask didn’t help much.

We came home and had dinner and put the two little ones to sleep. My sister called and said the order had come for everyone to open the kits and try the masks on. We took the two little ones out of bed…and realized that we have no idea how to put these kits together…pretty scary thought.

The news has a clock – going backwards – counting down the time till the end of the deadline. My 17 year old is scared. She didn’t think it would come to this. Everyone has been ordered/asked to carry the mask with them no matter where they go. That means that IF I decide to go to my meeting tomorrow, I should be taking the mask with me. They haven’t yet canceled school for tomorrow.

My 15 year old has had more experience, since the army chose his school to show off the preparedness of the nation. He knows how to put the mask on – and showed my middle son. His bar mitzvah is next weekend…he wonders if his aunt and uncle will still come from America.

My 7 year old let me put the mask on him, but said it was hard to breathe. He didn’t say he was scared, but he was glad when we took it off. I never got it on my 3 year old, she was too cranky.

So – I’ve told you about my children. I can’t find the words to tell you how I feel. If you’ve ever touched a gas mask – I can’t explain what it does to see it on your children’s faces. I don’t think I want to go to sleep tonight at all. We’re starting to put plastic on the windows now – one thing or another, and we just didn’t get the chance.

Another army report – school still on, take your masks. Put them on and measure them. Connect and open the filters. Okay – I can’t write much more but … what a strange world we live in….


Date: Thu Mar 20, 2003 7:56 am
Subject: Israel III

Good morning everyone…

My brother called from the States at 4:20 a.m. our time (thanks, bro…) to tell us of the US invasion. This morning, it seems Israelis are being told to “act normally.” Now, this wouldn’t be so funny if we weren’t also told to carry gas masks with us everywhere we go…including kids going to school. Anyone know how to carry a gas mask and act normal?

So…my first grader is going to school with his backpack, peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a gas mask. On the bright side, I doubt the teacher will care that he’ll be late.

See – my sense of humor is returning. I wasn’t sure it would after trying a gas mask on…but hey, human will and all that. Saddam is about to speak on CNN (actually, as I informed my father, who also just called…- he’s speaking on Iraqi TV, to be carried by CNN). I think for Israel, this will be the “deciding” moment. If he threatens Israel and the US in the speech, we can expect that he might try to hit Israel tonight. If not…maybe with all his troubles, he’s forgotten about us? Ah, hope springs eternal….

From past experience, I am told, he launches the SCUDS at night, leaving most Israelis with a probably false sense of security during the day…but don’t tell him that. If he knew that, he’d launch during the day for sure.

So, my kids are going to school (with gas masks) and I’ll stick around working and glued to TV/Internet. I heard that an entire division of Iraqis have surrendered…how many men in a division? There are 350,000 troops…how many left if one division surrenders?

Well – I have to go finish handing kids sandwiches and driving them to school…here’s to a swift end to this…and despite conflicting views all around – let’s hope the world that comes out the other side of this is a safer, better place for all.


Date: Thu Mar 20, 2003 8:20 am
Subject: Israel III

One more thing…my 1st grader is going with his gas mask to a room filled with kids and gas masks…and even though he now knows how to read…you want them to find it fast, right?

so, I just wrote his name all over the outside box…and drew smilees…on the box and colors. My 3 year old decided that the gas mask for her is actually a carriage for her dolls. So, she managed to put her dolls inside the mask, but wouldn’t let me put it on her – I guess I’ll try again with that later, or maybe I’ll put it on Davidi (the 7 year old) first – same mask. Then she’ll see it on him…

So- I just thought I’d write to tell you all that if you ever have to decorate a gas mask box…don’t use yellow magic marker – it doesn’t show up well – blue works just great!


Date: Thu Mar 20, 2003 9:44 am
Subject: Israel III

Well – almost all the kids at school.

My 13 year old…okay – confession – I do not understand the psyche of a 13 year old boy!

So, last night he was dancing and laughing and telling the US to attack…why? Not because he’s pro-war – but because we all assumed that school would be canceled today. This morning, he refused to take his gas mask, and I told him that even though there was less than 1% chance that he’d need it, he had to take it. At that point, he started to cry. Yup, 13 years old…and scared out of his mind. So…we made a deal – I get my morning dishes done, and he stays home from school. All in all, he’s calm because he’s home. His next fear was how long it would take him to put the gas mask on, how much time would he have. I told him (not entirely truthfully), that we’d have a good 5 minutes warning. He just asked me if I wanted to time him (no, actually, I don’t)…sure, I said – well – he got his gas mask on within 1 minute. Isn’t it amazing this world we live in….

At some point, after this is over, I’ll worry about the psychological scars inflicted on children who have to deal with the concept of chemical warfare (yes, he knows that the rain we are experiencing is a good thing because it would clean the air…).

And, as my daughter just walked off for her driving lesson…do you have enough money? yes…Do you have your bus card? yes…cellular phone? yes….gas mask? yes….

What a world….and all this without a missile ever being fired at us. For what it’s worth,, I believe tonight is the defining moment for Israel. If we get through tonight without any missiles…


Date: Fri Mar 21, 2003 8:14 pm
Subject: Israel IV – the end?

And what I hope will be my final Israel chapter…

Went to sleep last night hopeful that I would wake up as I did – 6:00 a.m. worried about getting kids to school on time and not about bombs or missiles falling. Woke to the sad news that 12 Britons and 4 Americans had died in a helicopter crash in Kuwait. News is that there is little resistance and hopefully there will be a swift end to this.

On the funny side – my sister called to tell me it was 7:15 a.m. Why is that significant, I asked. Because at 4:40 a.m. Israel time, Iraq apparently bombed Kuwait with missiles they don’t have. Okay, I said. And?

My brother in the States called my father (woke them up) at 4:30 a.m. to tell him that Saddam was bombing Kuwait. My father promptly called my sister (woke them up) to tell her. Since I live near Jerusalem (and they live closer to Tel Aviv…the reasoning goes…), I’d be last to get the missiles and therefore, thankfully, the last to be called.

My father asked my sister – “should I call Paula, or do you want to?” – My sister responded, “I will…and I won’t”

I asked her if they realized that Kuwait was in the OPPOSITE direction? Anyway, having gotten through the night, I believe we are thankfully as home-free as anyone can be when it’s a madman who has his finger on the trigger…gee, that didn’t sound very promising did it? Well, at least from the tone of this email you can tell that the terror I feel is gone and once again I believe we can persevere. That is, ultimately, what living here is often about. Just to be sure, I will leave the radio on over the Sabbath. Israel invented this absolutely brilliant concept – silent radio. Over the Sabbath, several radio stations (covering the entire country) will broadcast…silence – unless there is an attack. Then the radio will break silence and broadcast the alarm and instructions.

My 13 year old still refuses to take his gas mask. Next week is his bar mitzvah, so I think I’ll give him the day and take him to buy some clothes. My 15 year old woke up with a headache. If he’s anything like me, it’s a post-stress thing. He was so “in charge” for two days, I think his body is just reminding him that he’s still a kid.

So – in honor of what I hope is the departure of the Saddam regime, I’ll let my kids have one more day at home and then hope that life will return to normal (real normal, without gas masks).

Another interesting thing will be what happens now with all the gas masks. We were told to open the filters and completely prepare the masks. If my son is correct, the masks now have a 2 week shelf-life. That means we’ll all have to go get new filters – another frustratingly long wait on line…waiting for the next time? But overall, I am so very thankful that it is turning out this way and I am grateful to the Americans, British, Australians, and 37 other countries that GWB didn’t mention by name. While I know without doubt that their single goal was NOT protecting Israel (this was NOT about Israel), nevertheless, for us, the result is the same – one less madman to deal with, one less sponsor of terrorism to worry about.

Again, I thank you all for your concern…and I’m especially glad that I didn’t have to sit here typing that I’m fine while wearing a gas mask!


Date: Sat Mar 22, 2003 9:24 pm
Subject: Israel V

To continue a little of what is happening here….though it almost seems silly now that I believe we were spared. Each day that goes by makes us feel more secure here. We left the radios on silent all of the Sabbath – there was a whooshing sound for the broadcasting, but it was strangely comforting. The radio stayed silent the whole time, but every house that I went to had the radio or television set to the silent station. We went to friends on Friday night and didn’t take our gas masks…our friend then went on and on about how he was convinced that Friday night was the deciding point and that we’d have missile attacks before the end of the sabbath (great – and we’d left our masks at home!). We don’t drive on the sabbath, but I decided then and there that if the sirens went off, we’d ask our friend for his car keys and drive home. Once I thought of that, I was much calmer and we spent much of the evening talking about how we’d prepared, if a security room was considered a sealed room, etc.

Last night, as we walked to and from our friends, we heard planes flying high overhead. Though I can’t be sure, I believe they were either Israeli air force planes (that in itself is unusual at night…on a Friday night) or American planes flying from the Mediterranean, across Jordan and on into Iraq. That would be my guess, as the coalition forces were most likely busy securing Western Iraq.

We met a friend in synagogue and I was shocked to see he’d shaved off his beard. Why? Because the mask he was given isn’t for someone with a beard and he wasn’t able to exchange it. I guess all this means that we took this very seriously and felt more secure for the preparation.

On the more serious side, eight children accidentally injected themselves with atrophine during this crisis – but all were immediately taken to the hospital and will be okay. There’s a dose in each protection kit. I guess out of the hundreds of thousands of kids going to school, we should be grateful that only eight actually did this. Think about it – each kid – from first grade onwards (and even many in kindergarten) walk to school on their own or at some point have access to their own personal protection kids – they carry them everywhere and for the most part, it is under their desks or in their lockers in school. While I drive my son to school every day, still, he went off carrying his box…it just makes sense that a bunch would have opened the kits, even though they were told not to. The injection is spring loaded – takes almost nothing to inject yourself.

And an Arab Israeli woman and two of her children died when she sealed herself in a room (lit a heater to keep warm) and went to sleep. In Israel, they were called the first casualties of the war (they died the night before the US invasion).

Enough time has passed that Israel is officially considering lowering its alert status, as the US has seized all or most of the area from which we were attacked last time. Pentagon officials are optimistic, as are most Israelis.

As far as Israel and this war is concerned, I believe our part is over and we can return to normal life (one more day with gas masks in tow…but hopefully that should be it). My 13 year old went to a friend’s bar mitzvah without his gas mask, and is not happy that I want him to take it to school tomorrow. I have a meeting in the north tomorrow, I’ll take it with me…one more day. At least, at this point, I think I no longer am struggling to hear the siren and am beginning to accept that we really made it through.

A few people have written me about how horrible it must be to see your children with gas masks. I can’t even begin to describe the feeling – and knowing that they are afraid and that there isn’t much you can tell them to comfort them because the possibility of attack was not something in our control. We simply were waiting. The only “comfort” we had was that we knew that Saddam and the world knew that this time Israel was NOT going to sit back and accept SCUD attacks. I doubt that was much of a deterrence and I believe the way in which the US and England launched this war was the key factor in our not being attacked.


Date: Sun Apr 13, 2003 5:26 pm
Subject: The Start and the End

Well, you were all there for the start, so I thought it only appropriate to again give you all my thanks.
We’ve just gotten the word:

“Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz a short time ago announced the alert level is being lowered; instructing us to put away gas mask personal protection kits and disassemble sealed rooms.”

It feels silly to have put ourselves through the emotional torture we went through since we weren’t hit…but it’s better to be sitting here typing it was all for nothing, rather than typing casualty statistics.

So – we are officially standing down, pulling the plastic off, putting those boxes out of sight and feeling…feeling like a ton of bricks has been lifted off our shoulders, feeling this ridiculous need to take a deep breath and smile.

May we never see those damn cardboard boxes ever again and may none of you ever, ever, ever see a gas mask on your child’s face or hear your child say they are scared of something other than the dark, and spiders, and creepy things.


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