A view from Israel: A new (emergency) normal

by | Nov 28, 2023 | Homepage Posts

Liz Dovrat
I recently joined a Zoom meeting run by the dean of the humanities and social sciences faculty at my college, Tel Hai in Kiryat Shmona. The dean commenced the meeting by praising the multitudes of faculty and student initiatives started during the immediate aftermath of October 7th to support the victims of the “Black Shabbat,” the people evacuated from the northern borders, and our soldiers. Then she explained that she saw us – as individuals, a college, a community, a country – in a slow transition period from an emergency situation to an emergency normal/routine.

This phrase, “emergency normal” – despite the slightly awkward English phrasing – encapsules my family’s experience of the last two weeks.

Overall, for a family evacuated from our home due to war with no end in sight, we are extremely lucky. As my mom says, I always seem to land on my feet. Within two and a half weeks of being evacuated, my husband and I have managed to rebuild a new life in our host city, Hod Hasharon. After a week of living at my mother-in-law’s apartment, we found a three bedroom, centrally located AirBnB apartment to rent for the foreseeable future. There are two amazing playgrounds within walk-
ing distance – a godsend to any family with active kids.

Through the generosity of the Hod Hasharon municipality, we received donations of toys (including a huge stuffed cow now named MooMoo), books, clothes, and kitchen supplies. We took advantage of free programing for the kids. We also registered our kids to preschool and school, with the Hod Hasharon educational department going above and beyond to help our family. Within 24 hours of making the initial phone call, my children were not only enrolled into schools, but warmly embraced by the wider school communities with offers of help and friendship.

At this point, my kids have been attending their new schools for almost three weeks and have adjusted well. While there have been difficult days, it is nothing out of the normal when adjusting to a new school. They all have afterschool activities (dance and judo), which they love, coming home happy but exhausted (making bath time a little tricky…)

As an adult who moved several times during childhood, immigrated to a new country, and moved around within the new country several times, I recognize these steps of establishing a new life in a new place.

Yet…yet this isn’t the normal ups and downs of moving or raising three happy, healthy, active, yet emotional kids. Every day there is at least one reminder of the impact this war is having on my kids, myself, or my husband – besides the endless news cycle.

For instance, I cried hysterically right before I registered my children to schools – it was the heartbreaking acceptance that we were not going home anytime soon.

I now tuck my son into bed by telling his “zoo” (five stuffed animals, three of which were donated) to keep him safe. My girls, who have been falling asleep on their own since they were babies, now insist on holding my hand to go to sleep because all their fears come rushing into their minds at the end of the day. Every night at least one child calls out because they are scared.

We walk around the city on errands and my kids insist on reading the names of the kidnapped Israelis on the posters plastered everywhere. Then I need to explain yet again the devasting reality that yes, Hamas took babies and children, too. I find myself having to explain why there are so many soldiers or men with guns at the playground or why there are so many vehicles with police lights driving around the city (patrols for protection). My daughter tells me she fears Arabic-speaking men with dark skin and black clothes and me not knowing exactly how to answer since my leftist inclination wants to explain the problems with racial profiling while the horrors of Oct. 7 justify her fear. We constantly discuss the difference between Hamas and the Palestine civilians in Gaza. I attempt to explain how our heart can be in two places at once (with our friends from our kibbutz and with our family and new friends in Hod Hasharon). My kids ask, “Will we be home by Hanukkah?” and I must answer the sad truth, “I don’t think so, hopefully by Purim.”

As for work, my husband is a P.E. teacher and I’m an English as a Foreign Language teacher in an academic college. We both still have jobs, yet our educational institutions are in the evacuated area, with many students and teachers evacuated themselves. While most of the schools in the country have returned to in-person teaching, at least partially, my husband’s school is trying to find solutions for all students through temporary physical locations and Zoom lessons. My academic semester, which was supposed to start on Oct.16, has been delayed at least till Dec. 3, like other universities. We will face a similar challenge to my husband’s high school – how to teach when there is no access to the physical campus – which is at the heart of what makes my college unique. Yes, we will teach on Zoom, but we will need to consider how to support our evacuated students and those serving in the military.

We are okay and lucky. We miss home and want to return when it is safe. We want the country to continue to pull together and support each other. We want our kidnapped citizens back. We want our soldiers home. We want our borders to be safe again. We want our children to return to their carefree childhood, where the worst thing to happen is a fight with a friend. When all this will be and how and at what cost – this is the uncertainty we live with every day.

Liz Dovrat is the daughter of Barbara Dudley, Jewish Community Relations Council chair. She occasionally writes for Jewish News on life in Israel with her family. She wrote this on Nov. 9, 2023.