I do alot of scary things...being a Hatzala and MDA EMT volunteer, who's on call around the clock -- I unfortunately see all sorts of pretty gory scenes. Mass casualty attacks, terror attacks, horrendous car accidents, or just something ordinary -- like a heart attack victim who needs CPR -- all of these situations have a "scariness" factor to them.
But this was completely different.
Last Wednesday I read all about the new deadly "ingredients" in the Katyusha rockets -- 30-40 kilo of ball bearings, that turn close to molten during the quick Katyusha flight from Lebanon to Israel, and how they explode out in all directions causing immense damage.
Yet, swallowing my fear, on Friday morning I collected another 3 MDA volunteers, and we drove up North. With rising anticipation, I started getting serious butterflies in my stomach when we reached Afula -- the southernmost town in Northern Israel to be hit by Hizbolla's rockets. Everything seemed to be moving faster and faster in Afula -- everyone running around to get things done before the next rocket attack.
Everyone on edge.
We kept on driving North and stopped to take a picture at Har Tavor...knowing full well, we had just entered "Katyusha Rocket Country"
We kept going...and eventually reached "Tzomet Amiad" -- the Amiad intersection. Normally, this simple intersection has no importance to anyone...but in the past 18 days, this intersection is mentioned on radio and TV stations countless times a day. Tzomet Amiad is the unofficial "border" used by IDF HomeFront command to determine what level of preparedness you need.
North of Tzomet Amiad, and you need to be in the direct proximity of a bomb shelter at all times. South of the intersection, and you can take it a bit easier.
Twenty minutes later, we arrived at the MDA Station House of our destination. A quiet, sleepy town that has no notoriety or fame...yet had already been the victim of a numerous Katyusha strikes over the past few weeks.
Normally at MDA stations around Israel, the ambulances are neatly parked one next to the other in a covered area of the parking lot. Not anymore.
Ambulances are now placed at distances from each other, so that if G-d forbid there is a rocket attack at an MDA station -- the likelihood of all the ambulances getting damaged is minimized. My ambulance was even parked outside the station across the street.
Looking northwards at the mountains overlooking the station, most of the trees and greenery had been burned black by brush fires resulting from countless Katyusha strikes.
The estimates I've heard are that it will take JNF another 40 years to return the Galil to the green forest situation that Israel enjoyed only a few weeks ago.
We are given a quick overview by the Station Manager. When the Air-Raid sirens go off, you drop everything, put on a bulletproof vest and run for the station's bomb shelter.
Little did I realize how much time I was going to be spending in this bomb shelter.
The time ticked by since we arrived, and everything was quiet...there was a feeling of nervous anticipation in the air. Someone called my name -- I needed to do a "service call" and accompany an additional ambulance driver to the MDA Station in Tzefat, and then drive the modified ambulance back to our station. Sounded like a simple milk run...nothing to it. I took one additional person from my dedicated ambulance crew, and off we went.
About 7 minutes into the ride...my MEERS (nextel) phone started beeping -- one of our MDA colleagues back at the station was yelling something, but I didn't make out what he was saying. I asked him to repeat it, and he nervously said, "Air raid sirens are going off...follow the protocol!"
The "protocol" means, stop your vehicle, put on a bulletproof vest and helmet, and find cover as quickly as possible OUTSIDE your vehicle. My crew member and I ran for the concrete bus shelter alongside the road, and crawled underneath it as much as possible...while the other driver didn't seem very impressed. He just mosied on over not wearing a vest, and asked if we were having fun. We said it would be stupid to die from shrapnel when a vest could save a life. The sirens continued to blare and we heard a boom in the distance.
The sirens stopped, and we quickly got back on board and continued driving...without removing any protective gear, no matter how hot we were...no matter how uncomfortable. I just wanted to get to the station in Tzefat, drop this guy off, and get back to our station as quickly as possible.
As we drove up the mountainside to Tzefat, the Air Raid sirens started up again, and we heard more explosions. Approaching the final turn to the Tzefat MDA station, I saw a plume of smoke rising up...a katuyusha rocket has narrowly missed the MDA station in Tzefat...by 10 meters. All the windows facing the rocket were blown in...
We stopped for a second so the driver could hastily put on his vest and helmet (apparently he had a very quick change of mind when he saw the rocket strike next to the MDA station), so I took the opportunity to snap a picture (all rights reserved to the Muqata blog).
Quickly, we raced up ahead to the station to let our driver off, so I could turn around and drive back, but the Tzefat Station manager wouldn't hear of it.
"Get in the shelter," he yelled, "there's warnings of more rockets on their way!"
So, we ran into the station's shelter...I called my wife to tell her I was OK, and miraculously, no one was hurt by the rocket strike.
A few minutes later, we got the all clear signal, so I took a few more pictures and we zoomed on back.
Driving faster than I can ever recall, we zoomed back to our station in record time, and everyone wanted to know what happened. Rumors abounded of a direct hit on the Tzefat MDA station, but I had the pictures to prove them wrong...it was very close...but not a direct hit, and no one was hurt.
It took some time to calm down.
The Station Manager told me that for the religious volunteers, he would bend over backwards to do whatever he could to make sure we had as enjoyable a shabbat as possible...he said the room with the TV would always have the door closed, he would instruct people not to talk publicly on their cellphones on shabbat...and I told him not to worry.
He showed me a box he had just received from the IDF -- the official IDF military spec "Shabbat Kit" which was being distributed to all MDA stations around Northern Israel by the IDF Homefront command.
In perfect military fashion, the MilSpec Shabbat Kit had every part numbered and serialized:
001. Wine for Kiddush - qty: 1 bottle
002. Plastic Wine Cups - qty: 10
003. Shabbat Candles - qty: 4
004. Matches - qty: 1 box
005. Havdala Candle - qty: 1
006. IDF Siddur - qty: 1
007. Talit - qty: 1
008. Talit bag - qty: 1
009. Parashat Shavua Booklet - qty: 2
010. Chocolates - qty: 1 box
011. Lolipops - qty: 4
012. Dvar Torah sheets - qty 1
013. Halacha Questions & Answers (for week of Tisha B'Av) - qty: 1
014. Bisamim (spices for Havdala) - qty: 1 package
015. Kippot (Yarmulkas) - qty: 10
How can you not feel proud of our Jewish army, when they do something SO right?
This week, many different rabbis were trying to posit what poor behaviors of Israel and the Jewish people was the "reason" for the current war. Was it the "Gay Parade" scheduled to march in Jerusalem? Was it the lack of modestly dressed people? Previous Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu was asked this exact question this past week -- and he angrily answered as follows:
I suggest that instead of people trying to accuse the Jewish people...and being prosecutors against them...they should adopt the opposite strategy, and be advocates of the Jewish people. Look at the tremendous outpouring of love and concern for the Jews of Northern Israel...what a wonderful people the Jewish nation can be.
Shabbat came quickly...as did additional Air Raid Sirens. Each siren sent us scampering to find out bullet proof vests, and running into the bomb shelter. Within 30 seconds of the Air Raid siren, the rockets would fall...and we would feel the bomb shelter shake and hear the explosions. Just after midnight, a huge explosion threw me off my mattress -- apparently, the Air Raid sirens sometimes go off only after the rocket's strike...and not before. I grabbed my vest and ran for the bomb shelter...another 30 minutes went by before the "all clear" was given.
The next day, there were rockets landing all day long -- even in our area, as we constantly ran back and forth into the bomb shelter...listened for the explosions, and waited to see if we were called out.
We were very lucky (or I guess, the town we were in was very lucky)...with all the rocket strikes, there were zero injuries on shabbat, and we didn't even have to go out on one ambulance call.
I prefer it that way...
Yet even though I'm now back at home, the haunting sound of the air raid siren keeps echoing in my head. I could barely concentrate on shabbat to daven or read the parasha, expecting the sirens to go off at any second.
It's very late now, but I had to put my initial thoughts into words...I'll finish this posting tomorrow morning.
UPDATE: I went to bed last night with a feeling that this posting wasn't finished...and definitely not adequately.
Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael