This past Sunday my wife and I took a trip to the home improvement megastore, Ace, in the central Israel city of Netanya. However, instead of shopping for home appliances or gardening tools, we were there to pick up free, government-issued gas masks for ourselves and our two small children. My wife had heard on the radio that distribution of gas masks was taking place at Ace this week until Tuesday, after which there will be no more gas masks available. So we immediately rushed to the store and were greeted by a big surprise: a two-hour wait in a line that wrapped around the building.
While waiting, I kept thinking about all the people in Israel who would not be getting masks since supplies are running short. It has been reported that 40% of the population will not receive masks. I couldn’t help but think about my neighbors and wonder whether or not they have masks. A dreaded scenario repeated in my head where Israel was at war with Iran and my family and I were forced into the local bomb shelter. Would I be able to put a mask on to protect myself in case of a chemical attack if my neighbors had no access to the lifesaving gas masks? What about the mother of two who lives next door and my neighbor Yudit who lost her son in the Lebanon War? Would I let them go without a mask as I strap mine on?
Unfortunately, I was unable to pick up extra masks for friends and neighbors. The government employees were very careful to distribute one mask per each family member listed on my national ID card. As a matter of fact, my wife, who is pregnant, was unable to get a mask for our soon-to-be-born child.
These are the thoughts and fears that are running through our minds here in Israel. With rockets landing in the south and the threat of a regional war with Iran looming over us, we cannot escape the fact that sooner or later we will face a decisive struggle for Israel’s existence. Each person has to be prepared for this bleak scenario.
Waiting in the line at Ace with the people of Israel – elderly and children, businessmen and new immigrants – I overheard many conversations. One woman on her lunch break who came to pick up a mask for her elderly mother was distressed because she underestimated the line and realized she would be very late getting back to work. For her, this trip to Ace was another chore on her “to do” list. Others in the line spoke about Iran, Turkey, U.S.-Israel relations, and internal Israeli politics. The common thread running through all the conversations was that everyone agreed an attack on Iran was inevitable, and that we have no clue what the repercussions will be. All we can do is stay prepared and alert.
The hardest thing for me as a father living in Israel is to explain to my young, inquisitive daughter that there are bad people in the world who want to kill us simply because we are Jewish. She understands it at a certain level because it relates to some of the Jewish holidays she celebrates, such as Purim, when we rejoice over our deliverance from an evil man’s plot to annihilate the Jewish people. But it’s difficult for her to fathom that even today there are people plotting to destroy Israel and the Jewish people. In her innocent mind, Purim celebrates our final defeat over the evildoers who wanted to destroy the Jewish people. It is so difficult to explain to her that the evildoers who hate the Jewish people still exist today.
I speak often to friends in Israel who also have children. For all of us, the idea of going into a bomb shelter and strapping gas masks on our family is a nightmare; yet it is one that we replay in our minds constantly. And while I am tormented by the idea of seeing a mask on any small child, I am concerned for all those who will not be getting masks, because there simply are not enough to go around.