Remember the Bar-On family? They live on a small kibbutz between Sderot and the Gaza border, and in August 2007 I spent Shabbat dinner with Marcell and Uzi and their four children. This visit became the focus of an article I wrote about living under the daily threat of Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip:
Moments before we met, Mayan Bar-On bolted for the center of her family’s home on Kibbutz Nir-Am along the Gaza border. Away from the windows, away from the doors, in a hallway underneath a red-tile roof that couldn’t withstand a Qassam strike, she and her 9-year-old brother, Gabi, huddled and waited for the boom.
Now, though, the 12-year-old girl is partaking in a more peaceful ritual. She lights the Shabbat candles and prays
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam. Asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat.
“Shabbat Shalom,” her father, Uzi, says.
Everyone shares the sentiment and begins to pass the dinner plates, knowing that at any moment, with only a few seconds warning from a public intercom, they may have to drop everything and again—again and again—take cover.
Six seconds: That’s all the time residents of Kibbutz Nir-Am have to react. Six seconds: Less time than it took to read this paragraph ... Boom! And after they hear the boom, they know it’s safe to return to life, at least for now.
This is fast becoming tradition on the frontier of Israeli society. Between the rocket-launching Gaza fields of Beit Hanoun and the primary target town of Sderot, Nir-Am has been constantly under fire for the past six years. More than 6,000 Qassam rockets have been launched at Israeli cities and villages since September 2001, and hundreds have landed in this community of about 350.
A few months later, Marcell Bar-On wrote in a letter:
“The attacks are unprovoked, unpredictable, and continuous, and their effect has been close to catastrophical for us, both economically and psychologically. Our every action, our every waking moment, is geared toward minimizing the impact of living under enemy fire. Our first concern is always for our elderly and our children. My son Gabi, who turns ten in December, was three years old when the bombings started, and doesn’t remember life without Kassam bombs”
You can imagine then that life has felt even more precarious since Israel’s war in Gaza began last weekend. “However,” Marcell wrote in an e-mail sent to friends living around the world, “we are of high spirits and our thoughts and prayers are with our soldiers.”
She also sent a link to the above video, which features her 21-year-old daughter, Dana, talking about what it’s like to always be 15 seconds from a bomb shelter.
“I’m afraid of listening to music while I’m in the shower,” Dana says in the July recording, “because of what happens if I won’t hear the alarm.”