Still crazy after all these years…

We’re six years old and the school year is almost over. 1st grade: a red backpack on my back, a lunch pack hanging from my neck. A tight pin in my hair. T-shirt. Maybe shorts, or a skirt. “Comfortable” shoes. It’s a pretty straight route from home to school. My mom walks with me up the stairs, waits for me to cross the street and waves good bye. I’m a big kid. I know the way by myself. I know how to handle myself. And I definitely know what to do that morning in early June when the siren is sound. We just practiced it for Yom Ha’shoa. And Yom Hazikaron. When there’s a siren, wherever we are, we need to stand in attention, bow our heads slightly, and remember our heroes with somber faces. We practiced. We won’t let anyone down. Other kids stand still too. But wait! This siren is different!! It goes “up and down” and isn’t one flat “calming” sound!! People hurry us towards us, waving their hands excitedly, motioning us to run to the school and find shelter. There is no shelter. We sit in the hallways, away from the windows that might shatter.
At home, we have a partially empty “machsan”, sort of a storage “cave” under the house, but not underground, with one dusty orangy light bulb dangling from the ceiling. All the neighbors assemble, huddling together. Every so often, someone walks out to look at the sky in an effort to guess what’s going on. One neighbor brings a “transistor”. He wiggles the antenna as we try to listen to news – rusty, crackly, broken up voices say things we don’t understand and no one explains. My mom is pacing in the semi-darkness worried: her parents live in a moshav right near what was then the Jordanian border. We did visit not long before, to help dig trenches in the orchard, my mom begging her father to come to Haifa, which he, of course, refused.
My other grandma who lives next door, is not much different. I notice she does not come to the shelter. And I panic. During one of the calms between the sirens, my mom sends me to see what’s with her. She sits near her green, felt-like board; her cards stretched in front of her, trying to figure out which one to put on top. “Omi, omi”, I call out (yes, in German), “you have to come to the miklat (shelter)!” She doesn’t budge. I inched forward to check in there is room for the 2 red hearts. “Omi”? I try again. “I survived World War I, and World War II’, she says, “Came to Israel and lived through the War of Independence. And the Sinai Operation. I am not going anywhere. If He wants to take me now, He can come right here”.
He didn’t. Not then.
Soon it was all over. Names we heard of only through Torah stories became places we could go visit. At the end of the summer, our parents took us for a day trip to see Jerusalem and the famous sites: buildings with bullet holes in Mt. Scopus; the views to the Dead Sea; the houses and stones (so many stones!) of Mamila; the Kotel – a crowded space near a tall stonewall with people everywhere, people in tears, everything feels a bit delirious. We’re told to put a note, and we do. We still do, still ask for mostly the same things. So what. We’re standing next to a home we had 3000 years ago. If things take a little longer then we expect, that does not mean they won’t happen.

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2 Responses to Still crazy after all these years…

  1. janis lightman says:

    Michal,  Somehow I know that we were kids during the 6 day war. I remember my parents in Massachusetts so proud that Israel won so quickly. Yet, I hadn’t stopped to think that people my own age would go to the Kotel and see it as it was – before.  It seemed that the story is one of people just a little older than us. Your memories and your putting your 1967 same -age -as-me self there makes it so real.  I visited Yair and Ayala today in Palo Alto. We talked about Yoni in the army, Moriah finished…. We were all so happy and proud to know your family is doing so much for Israel. Yuval is so proud to be going soon to Yeshivah/Mechinah and be able to see Yoni during his time off.  Then I come home, turn on my computer and here you bring me back to what it was like then – such a different time and you were actually there. Your grandmother’s strength and conviction that G-d will take care of her… The Greatest Generation despite it all.    Thank you once again for making it real and bringing it all home. I feel closer to you than ever reading your words weekly – although you’re across the continent.  Hope you’ll be back for a visit and dance soon,Janis

  2. Chagit Stallman says:

    Thank you, Michal, for bringing back the memories in such a delightful writing.
    I remember. You as the little big girl with the pin in your hair, your mom waving and smiling, your Omi, my mom and dad, my Oma, our Miklat in Moria street, the worried looks in the adults faces, the intensity listening to the news on the radio/transistor, third grade school ‘operating’ shifts during the Six Days war, the heat of the summer.
    I also remember the family trips to Jerusalem and the big colorful scarfs wrapped around our hips over our shorts during the visits in the holly places.
    Above all I can still remember the feeling of relief when it was all ‘over’ and the words of hope for Peace to one and all.

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