Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Girl from Da Burg at War

W ith things heating up to fever pitch in the Middle East, and as a result of this morning's emergency drill, I was brought back to the time of the first Gulf War, when I lived on an isolated mountaintop settlement in the Judean desert with my husband and (then) seven children. I decided to jot down some memories of that time in installments. It's too long to write at one sitting.

In the days leading up the first Gulf War, my husband and I went into our usual at-odds Gemini/Virgo stances with firm entrenchment. Dov pooh-poohed all the talk about sealed rooms and bombs and said there weren't going to be any bomb attacks and even if there were, they wouldn't reach our little mountaintop in the Judean Desert. On the other hand, I was feeling an urgent need to prepare and follow the instructions issued from the Home Front Command. I am the girl who always read all the instructions before taking tests in school or cooking pasta. I like following instructions and being prepared. It comforts me.

I wanted to get the recommended plastic sheeting to cover the window in the room we had set aside to become our "sealed room" in the event of an attack. Dov refused. He just kept saying it was a lot of horse-pucky and that even if there WERE an attack, plastic sheeting on the windows wasn't going to be of any help.

At least I didn't have to worry about getting gas masks, since the Home Front Command sent people out to us to issue them and train us in their use.

Another concern I had related to the flimsiness of our home. We lived in what Israelis call a caravan: a trailer set on cinder blocks. This is the typical accommodations of the Israeli settler until such time as permanent housing is built. Caravans are made out of plastic with an asbestos exterior. I had no confidence that we would be safe inside this space no matter whether the attack would be conventional, biological, or gas.

The Home Front Command wanted us to choose an inner room to serve as our sealed room; one with no windows was preferred. No such animal exists inside a caravan. I decided to designate our bedroom as the sealed room.

Dov wouldn't cooperate with my preparations. He just kept rolling his eyes as I transferred dry goods to glass jars with lids, filled bottles and jerry cans with water, and moved them into our crowded little bedroom along with all the masks, tents, bedding, toys, and books for our 7 children.

My youngest was a newborn nursing infant. He was three months old when the war did at last break out. Though we'd been shown a film about caring for infants in their gas-proof tents the movie didn't do much to assuage my feeling that I was a major character in a sci-fi movie. The tents had a built-in sleeve with a glove so that I could reach in and calm the baby, but not pick him up or make skin-to-skin contact. I expressed and froze milk after each time I nursed him so that I would have a store of frozen milk at the ready.

Then Dov got his "tzav." He got notification that his basic training in the IDF was to begin. "Oh, great," I thought, "Dov goes into basic training on the eve of the war, right after I've had a baby, and I don't even have a frigging plastic sheet for the window."

Dov and I had, at that point, never even spent a night apart from each other in all our married life. But it looked like I was going to be on my own should war break out. Well, not quite alone: I'd have SIX LITTLE KIDS AND A BABY to care for. *sigh*

Everything at this point in time took on an eerie tinge of unreality and frightened expectation. Just before he left for the army, even Dov began to think that he should prepare me as well as possible. I have a memory of him taking me around the house and showing me a few things to do with the Uzi, such as how to shoot around corners and bedroom doors. He also practiced with me a maneuver in which, should I hear the enemy break into the house, I'd flip the bedroom mattress up against the wall and get down low behind it with the kids.

Hmmmm. This was beginning to resemble an action movie, only it was the real deal: the girl from Pittsburgh at war.

To be continued...


  1. In the end, of course, I was right; missiles weren't going to hit our settlement; instead a couple hit in front of me where our unit was based near Ramat Gan. The colors were quite amazing.And it was LOUD.And we had to line up to use the one payphone, after the attack; every guy was calling his family to say we were ok.

  2. I had one of those tents for my 1 1/2 year old. You had to slide her under that narrow flap. To make matters even more fun, she had chickenpox at the time. One night the siren went off and we slide her through the flap and it nicked off a pock right in the middle of her forehead. She's got a little crater there, to this day, thanks to Saddam...