We Are All on Alert
Jan 1, 2009
I’m on my way to ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, to see for myself what kind of conditions the children have been living under ever since the start of “Operation Cast Lead”.
The nearly empty roads make it feel like it’s Shabbat. But it’s Thursday – the 5th day since the rockets have been pounding the entire Negev region, and the lack of traffic and eerie stillness in the Negev fields on both sides of the road only heighten my sense of unease.
We are all on alert: for warning sirens signaling another missile landing in the vicinity, for changes in orders from the Homeland security, for new and worrying developments…
But even the overcast grey skies and the rain that has started to fall cannot disturb the sense of tranquility and serenity I feel as soon as I step foot into ALEH Negev, where familiar routine and daily life continue as much as is possible.
I am met by Maj. Gen (Res) Doron Almog, Chairman of ALEH Negev, and Yehuda Marmorstein, ALEH’s Executive Director; they too have come to the village to see how everyone is holding up, and to offer moral and practical support to Masada Sekely, ALEH Negev’s Director. Like me, they are amazed at the extraordinary heroism exemplified by the staff, whose sole concern is the children’s welfare.
We gather to prepare for the visit of Welfare Minister Yitzhak “Buzhi” Herzog. When he arrives, he joins the chorus of praise for the personnel. He affirms the vital importance of keeping children within their normal surroundings, and we receive his promise that he will offer a quick response to any problems that might arise.
Our dear Masada has not stopped moving for a moment. She runs between the sheltered rooms, taking stock of what’s needed, reviewing the situation with staff and sharing news. I marvel at her energy, and it is only when the red alert sounds, piercing the relative quiet, that I am brought back to the fact that we are actually at war.
We race to the shelters, as I cover my apprehension with humorous comments on the situation. I am amazed at how the staff and children simply pick up where they left off before they were in the shelters, continuing the game they were in middle of, barely taking notice of our entry and underlying tension.
The all-clear sounds; we emerge blinking into the sunlight and almost immediately prepare for the next scheduled visitor: Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai. But before we get too far in the preparation – another siren shrills – another Code Red! This time, our response is readier, as we have been already been through the drill… we actually manage to close the door of the sheltered room behind us in record time.
“Too close,” is the collective sigh. After all, how long is 30 seconds?
I think to myself how quickly we all adjust to wartime habits.
And I begin to understand why the shelters have become home for the children, who cannot run or comprehend what’s going on.
The Defense Minster arrives, bringing with him an air of assurance and authority. He assures us that the current situation will not be allowed to continue. Israeli citizens cannot live in fear of being under constant enemy fire, he says.
Masada asks those of us visiting to help with transporting the children, many in wheelchairs, from the shelters back to the residences. I am tentative at first, but as I finally feel that I am doing something, I finally feel the threat of the Code Red subside. The experience of helping is definitely doing more for me than for the children I am assisting;
Inspired, I volunteer to sleep at ALEH Negev next week, to help keep the kids calm during the night spent in the shelters and take over for some staff members, who have been working round-the-clock. I will be joining a group of parents, who are taking shifts on night duty at the village.
As I am also here to transcribe events, I go in search of a good story to report. I find it in Etti Ben Dayan, Residential Director here at ALEH Negev. She has been here since daybreak, checking in on how the residents have coped during the night. She stops to hug a child here, to stroke the hair of another, all the while checking on the welfare of the staff as well.
Ziva Costiner, Principal of the Special Education School on premises, tells me quietly that the war has affected attendance of those children from neighboring areas. No matter how many children show up though, the staff will continue to arrive in full force and do their utmost to keep the children occupied, she says. The most important thing is to adhere as closely as possible to routine, and to ensure that the children remain calm, happy and relaxed.
I feel very blessed to see what is happening from up close and to be part of it, and I will continue to keep you updated as things progress. With wishes for peace and tranquility,
Goldy welcomes your comments and feedback. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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