Saturday, 19 July 2014

My first siren

I've now been here a week and have since done various more bits and bobs, such as buying a kettle (a necessity for a Brit abroad) and unpacking. Life is good.

I think I'm going to ask to move up in my ulpan class, as I'm not feeling challenged (the very same complaint which used to irritate me as a teacher)- but I haven't learned any new vocabulary and, while I quite like the teacher, as a (former) teacher myself, I can tell when I'm not getting something out of the class.

It's actually highly irritating being an ex-teacher in an academic situation. It makes me realise just how much I pushed myself and ran circles around my pupils to help them get the best, most useful learning experience possible. Also that the British educational system is way too focused on box-ticking exercises (peer-assessment? Mini plenaries? Independent learning?) which have little to no benefit, and that these aren't hard and fast rules to stick to in a learning experience. In my ulpan class, we were repeating vocabulary/grammar rules ad nauseum, there was loads of teacher talk and therefore the learning was solely teacher led. Had I not known the vocab being taught already, I would've been absolutely fine with this approach. As it is, I feel now like my prior career was routinely exhausting for no reason whatsoever. Oh well. Plus ca change.

And what a change! Other Brits (and most likely other ulpaners too) have been experiencing some homesickness and doubts. This must be normal: all of us have uprooted ourselves from our lives and schlepped out to start anew in what appears to be a war zone, to the outside world at least.

I confess I've had no such doubts. Yes, I still miss Corny (and Benjy), which is inevitable. However, the lady who rehomed Corny was so happy and grateful to have him, which is both comforting and is closure in itself. Otherwise, I feel very much at home in Israel. I don't know if this is a false sense of ease, or if I'll experience homesickness later, but right now I'm very happy. I don't regret my choice for a minute.

I think because I've been waiting for so long, I'm finally where I want to be. Maybe not Jerusalem (it is the most beautiful city I have ever seen, but a bit claustrophobic/religious, if I'm honest), but Israel definitely. With this in mind, I've been craving a visit to Tel Aviv pretty much since we landed on the tarmac. Telling this to the cab driver, en route to the ulpan last week, he told me I wouldn't be craving it so much once I'd experienced an azaka (siren) there.

And, ladies and gentlemen, this is what I am writing to report. For I ventured to Tel Aviv and experienced my first ever azaka.

I've been stewing over what happened over Shabbat. After going out on Thursday night, to celebrate a fellow ulpaner's birthday (and because the weekend begins on Thursday night in Israel), I arose late on Friday morning, with one idea in my head - to go to Tel Aviv. Screw the beach - I missed the city. I also wanted to see Deborah, who has lived there for the past two years. So off we went, leaving the ulpan at 12.30.

Deborah invited me to stay for the weekend, but I wanted to check out the situation before committing to staying over. As the buses in Jerusalem stop for Shabbat (the Sabbath) an hour or so before sunset, this was to be a flying visit.

I caught sight of my reflection in the window as we approached the city, and I had the stupidest grin on my face. It reflected exhilaration - now I was really home!

Deborah and I caught up; we hung out on the beach a little bit (I have a slightly impressive watch and ring tan to prove it), and at around 5.45ish, she caught a bus home and I began to make my way back to the rendezvous point for my friends from the ulpan.

And that's when it happened.

As I sat on a bench waiting for my friends to join me, an eerie, piercing sound broke the air. It took me a split-second to realise that this was the dreaded azaka.

Now, prior to leaving for Israel, I prepared myself for the azaka in a few ways. During the strike day at school (last...week?! It seems a lifetime ago now), I put 90 seconds (the time you have to get to a bomb shelter) on a countdown, and practised running various lengths of corridor to my, erm, desk, which served as the shelter. I became pretty good at it too. I also chatted to my grandpa, who lived through the Blitz. He told me about the 'Blitz Spirit' and sense of togetherness in these situations, and that being prepared is half the battle. So I felt ok going to Tel Aviv, knowing what could potentially happen.

Being by myself in the street, I wasn't sure where the nearest shelter would be. In something I can only describe as 'survival mode', I ran, calmly, to a building I'd been in before.

The key is not to panic. I'd forgotten the security code on the door, but worked it out in a few seconds. I walked to the bomb shelter, went down into it and stood.

I didn't know where my friends were. I called them a couple of times. I realised they must have been on the street, walking to meet me. They didn't answer.

I was running off pure adrenaline. The sirens were still blaring. Then they cut out.

I took a few deep breaths and suddenly, there were two very loud BOOMs.

Simultaneously exploding in my head were several short, sharp four letter words (which I can't write here).

Up until that point, despite it all, I had been very calm. I knew there would be booms - that's the sound of impact! - but I hadn't realised they'd be so loud. I figured they must be near to where I was. It also hit me that, during my practises for this, I hadn't factored in anything to do with staircases.

After I'd sought shelter, heard the booms and realised what had just happened - a little bit of shock set in (despite all my tough preparation!!!), I felt slightly drained, confused and angry at myself - how dare I feel like this? Tel Avivians - my friend Deborah included - have to do this several times a day! Hell, the people in the south practically live in their bomb shelters, and have been for the past 15 years! Who the hell was I to feel bad for myself?

Mustering that famed British stiff upper lip, I exited the bomb shelter, located my friends, who had been just over the road and had run to a street shelter. The impact(s) had been just above our heads. We made the decision to return to Jerusalem for Shabbat.

On the sherut (minicabs which run like intercity taxis), a bit more shock set in. I started thinking about other times I'd been in equally uncertain situations. I thought about the atmosphere of fear and shock during and in the aftermath of the London bombings. I was keeping it together, but I can't deny I was a bit freaked out, wondering if something was wrong with me to react in this way

Importantly, at no point did I regret my choice to make aliya. I think it's just that the first azaka to a non-native is always going to be shocking, despite expecting it. It's best, in any case, to get these experiences over and done with quickly. I just can't imagine ever getting used to it, as some of my Israeli friends have, but who knows in time?

When I finally got back to the ulpan, the news stated that what I had just experienced was a 5 rocket barrage, each intercepted by the Iron Dome. Thank G-d I didn't know that at the time.

I might wait a little bit before going back to Tel Aviv. or, it could be that next time there's an azaka I'm better prepared.

Either way, it's another first in the Holy Land!

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