Since the Gulf War, no one in Tel Aviv has had to worry about rocket attacks. On November 15, 2012, all that changed, as sirens were sounded in emergency for the first time in over 20 years.
As a resident in Tel Aviv, one of my favorite places is the New Central Bus Station, because it has what you might call “character.” The area around the CBS is a seedy place where literally anything can happen if enough money is exchanged. The bus station itself is dirty and looks very worn. Using the restroom costs a shekel and is most definitely not worth the price of admission. It’s literally better to "go" someplace else if at all possible. But there’s a major supermarket inside the CBS that has low prices. For someone like me who absolutely abhors the shuk and loves not having to go to 50 tiny shops to buy all my groceries, I’ve found this to be the place for all my needs. I was there an hour before the attack.
On my way out of the grocery store, I noticed a sign in Hebrew, translated to read “shelter."
“Hey, shelter!” I thought to myself. “You know, one of these days I should learn how to pronounce that in Hebrew. It might be important. Let’s see: Mem, Kuf, Lamed, Tet.” Perfect. All I needed now was for someone to tell me how to say the word correctly, since many words are almost impossible to pronounce for beginners like me without nikkud, the Hebrew version of vowel sounds.
Once outside the station, I took bus 42 and headed back to my flat in Jaffa. At first, everything was business as usual. Then suddenly, I heard a sound I never thought I would hear outside of Memorial Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day.
One minute I’m learning how to form adverbial phrases; the next I’m hearing the sirens and the bus driver shouting instructions in Hebrew far too quickly for me to understand. What I do understand is that everyone is getting off the bus in a hurry. Everything outside the bus was a blur for me. There was a police car not too far away, its blue lights flashing brightly. Everyone was on edge; some people were running.
The sirens finished, and everyone got back onto the bus. People were speaking intensely. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, and I wanted to talk with someone who spoke English. Usually that’s everyone in Tel Aviv, but I always seem to find the one person who doesn’t. I see someone my age: Well-dressed, short hair, glasses, kippah. This guy will know English.
“Yesh Baiyah ba autobus?” (Is there a problem on the bus?") I already knew the answer to my own question. We were back on the bus and it was moving again. Of course there’s no problem here. But I wanted to say something in Hebrew that would break the ice, and I didn’t know how else to ask him what I wanted to know. I needed to understand what was going on. He said something in Hebrew, but his speech is too fast for me to understand.
“Slicha, Ivrit sheli ze ra. Efshar beh-Anglit?” (Sorry, my Hebrew is bad. Is it possible in English?) I tried not to think about how badly I was butchering the language.
“Some rockets landed in Tel Aviv,” he said. My eyes go serious. My jaw tightens.
“Was anyone hurt?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t think so. I’m listening...”
I finished his thought for him. “... Ken, la-chadashot.” (Yes, to the news.) I pointed towards the driver's radio in understanding. I thank him and move back to my seat, which was somehow still vacant. I wouldn’t learn anything new until I could get online and find out more about what happened.
Back at my place, it seemed as if everyone was standing outside the apartment building, talking rapidly, which made sense. While I myself am no rocket survival expert, I figured it was probably not a good idea to be on the top floor of a building when one hits. Dima, my neighbor, saw me outside and asked me if I’d heard the news, or if I know where the "miklat" is. “So that’s how you pronounce shelter!!!” my brain screamed excitedly. Though excited about learning my new word, I maintained my serious composure. The atmosphere was still very tense.
“Yes, I’ve heard. Please show me where the miklat is.”
The rest of my evening was spent writing emails, making calls, and ensuring my loved ones that I was alright.
I was a little closer to the rockets than I had previously thought. The marker at the top of this map is where I was when the sirens went off. The marker towards the bottom highlights Holon, the town where the rockets hit. I'm not sure on their precise locations. Thankfully, no one was killed in Holon. There are other places in Israel where people weren't so lucky.
By now, all of the self-proclaimed experts and pundits are providing their “wisdom” on what happened, because when it comes to Israel, everyone loves to be considered an expert. Everyone seems to know what’s best. Everyone pretends to have the answer. In the end, their words fall to the ground, empty and devoid of any worth to those of us who actually live here. It’s not that we don’t want to listen to their brilliant, theoretical arguments, mind you. It's just that ... well ... you see ... we're simply having a hard time hearing them over the blare of the sirens.