I will try to give you an overview of life in Israel in general and Yoav in particular during this very difficult period.
First, I must tell you that though we are now in yet another episode of rockets falling, sirens sounding all through the days and nights -- in the south of the country, this is happening very often throughout the year. Communities in towns, such as Sderot, and kibbutzim and moshavim such as Kfar Aza that are very close to Gaza, experience these attacks whenever Hamas feels like it – and unfortunately they do feel like it very often.
Do they ever get used to it?
Let me answer that question (as a good Jew inevitable does) with another question. Imagine for just a moment that you are at home in Sderot. A peaceful afternoon. You and your wife are sitting in the garden enjoying the sunshine. Suddenly the all too familiar siren sounds wailing, the warning “Tzeva Adom” comes over the radio and TV, and you know you have just 15 seconds to reach the safe room (assuming you have one).
But wait, your kids are playing in the local park – can they reach a safe shelter in time? You can’t get to the park in 15 seconds – you can only pray.
Another scenario – you are all asleep when the siren starts wailing. Quickly, you grab the kids from their beds and run to your safe room (assuming you have one). The kids are terrified, and all your calming words (assuming you can make them) do not have much effect – after all, you all know this can and probably will happen again, suddenly, and without warning. Could you get used to this?
In Yoav, the council is the focal point with the War room being located there. Throughout the year, the emergency teams in every community train for just such situations, so that if the “mock” preparations become real, everyone will know what to do, and the inhabitants of each community know that they have an efficient, trained and committed team, composed of their neighbors and friends. There is someone in charge of medical needs, someone to check the elderly and frightened, someone to control the logistics, someone to worry about education and how to make life for the children as normal as possible. Then, very important, there is someone in charge of communications, not only to be in touch with the War Room in the Council, which is functioning 24 hours a day and night, but to make sure that every citizen of Yoav receives immediate and update information, both about what is happening, and also what to do if necessary.
My job, as Mayor of Yoav, is to ensure the constant training of the Emergency Teams, to put out regular updated bulletins, to visit the various communities and talk to the people, and to try to keep the panic level as low as possible.
If I, and my colleagues in the War Room, can show by personal example that we are not hysterical, that there is no cause for panic, even if things are difficult, this radiates down to all our citizens.
The Safe Room or Shelter is basically a room that is built with materials that rockets cannot penetrate.
In private homes, this can be a regular or small size room, with or without a window. If with a window, then there is an iron shutter which will be closed at a time of emergency. The Safe Shelter is bigger, built to hold a large number of people or children, with iron doors. 75% of our homes in Yoav do not have safe rooms, and only a few Safe Shelters. This means that we cannot hold activities for the children, and that families without a Safe Shelter feel – and are – very vulnerable.
What is the difference between being calm and panicking? The Safe Room and Shelter. A family having a Safe Room will go there when they hear the siren. A family without the Safe Room can only cling to an internal wall or stairwell in their house, knowing that this is purely psychological and can’t actually save them from a rocket hit.
You ask what help we need? Most urgently, financial help to build more safe shelters and safe rooms.
Regarding shopping, and life in general, Israelis are really amazing, and do everything they can to carry out a normal life – going shopping, out perhaps for coffee, going to work, always with one ear attuned to the possibility of the siren. If you are driving at such a time, then it’s out of the car, find some sort of cover, and lie down and cover your head with your hands.
Not a simple procedure, especially if you have children or old people in the car. In Yoav, as in every community, each kibbutz and moshav has a small “7/11”. All supermarkets have a safe shelter (otherwise no one buys there!).
We in Yoav are deeply grateful to the Lehigh Valley Jewish Community and Leadership, for its unwavering support at all times, and especially in our all too frequent emergency situations. We shall do our best to keep you informed of what is happening here , and we look forward to hearing from all our friends in the Lehigh Valley.
Dr. Matti Sarfatti Harcavi
Mayor, Yoav Regional Council, Israel