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Friday, July 28, 2006

Katyusha Chasers

Growing up in a Detroit, Michigan suburb, the months of April through June were very exciting times for me. Why? Well, that's when Tornado Season hit its peak for those of us living in Tornado Alley. For those of you who don't know, Tornado Alley is an arched section of middle America that lives in the areas most suceptible to tornadoes. It stretches from the Texas panhandle all the up until around the the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Basically, it's the area where the cold dry air from northern Canada and the Rocky Mountains meets the warm humid air from the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

Growing up with tornado warnings and sirens was a normal thing for us. From April to September, on the first Saturday of every month, at 1:00 PM precisely, the tornado sirens would go off to be tested. During the real thing, you knew when the sirens were going to go off. When it was the early after-noon, and it was as dark as midnight outside, you knew the sirens were going to go off any second, and it was time to head to the basement. You have no idea how weird it was for me, in my freshman year of college, to be told by my room-mate from Florida that she didn't have a basement in her house. I asked her where she takes shelters if there's a tornado warning. She looked at me weirdly and said that Florida gets hurricanes, not tornadoes. She didn't even know what a tornado siren sounded like. That sounded so weird to me. How can you NOT have a basement???

I also remember the first time that my brother's wife was staying at our house when there was a tornado warning. She's from New Jersey, southern Jersey. The only siren she had ever heard before was the fire siren that signals all volunteer fire-fighters to get over to the station house. I had never heard of that, and apparently it's just a New Jersey and New York thing. So, she had never heard a tornado siren go off before, and she had certainly never experienced a tornado warning. She totally freaked out. She got to see the spiel first hand. We turned off the TV, calmly went to the basement, went into my room, and we turned on the radio. She was obviously distraught, thinking the house was going to dissapear at any second, ala The Wizard of Oz, and we kind of just laughed at her. Why? Because, those kinds of situations were totally normal for us. We used to go outside and watch when the sky turned this disgusting color of purple and green like a big nasty bruise was breaking all over the sky. We would watch the lightening touch the ground and sometimes actually wait for the tornado sirens to go off before going back into the house. You learned to figure out how far away the storm was, so you knew how long you had before enough was enough. It was fun. My brother and I used to want to become a storm chasing team. Most of you know storm chasers are professionals who chase and track tornadoes for a living. Think "Twister" but no flying cows. My brother and I used to watch and tape every program about tornadoes. We were dorks, but that was our thing. We used to have annual tornado drills in school, where you practice how and where to go in case of a tornado warning and how to protect yourself. I've experienced the real thing in school on more than a few occasions. Not fun.

Fast forward to here in Israel. My husband and his family are sort of "used to" what's going on here. They've had annual missile drills in school to practice what to do and stuff. They lived through the Gulf War with falling scuds and gas masks. They lived through the Intifada when all their surrounding Arab villages decided to riot for a couple of weeks, and you couldn't even walk around the Yishuv because of fear of incursions and Arabs shooting at you. This is a bit new since this many Katyushas have never been launched before, and they've never gone this far south before. However, it's a situation they're used to. No tornado ever actually hit my house or my city, but it was a situation I was used to and prepared for.

So, now, I'm here, up north. I feel like I'm a Katyusha, as opposed to a storm, chaser. I actually left where it was safe to come up where everything was happening. The sirens go off all around me, and I run outside to see what's happening. I don't go to the shelter. So far, thank G-d, the Katyushas have either gone south or north of the Yishuv. We're right next to Sachnin, a huge Arab city, and I think Hezbollah is a bit afraid to hit them. Anyways, I'm actually kind of glad that I'm here. I think I was so scared in Jerusalem because I felt like an outsider. I didn't really know what was going on. I think that's why my family was more scared then me when I was in Manhattan during 9/11. I was there and got to see what was going on. They were watching everything on the news. I think after this week-end, I'll have a better understanding and feeling about what's happening. At least, I'll know first-hand what's happening instead of just watching it on the news from Jerusalem, where I might as well be 6,000 miles away like every-one else watching things unfold.

I took a small video of the sirens going off in Carmiel and the surrounding areas. No Katyushas, thank G-d, fell in Carmiel that time. The problem with the sirens is that they're all connected on the same network, so even if a Katyusha's aimed at Haifa, the sirens go off in the entire region. As I filmed, we could hear big booms and found out that Katyushas had landed in Maalot and Tzfat, each just a short 20 minute drive away. I'll be posting the video up in a little bit.

I don't know how to end this except to say that I am a spectator here. I'm not living here every-day, and I don't think I would have been able to stay for very long once things got started. 3/4 of the Yishuv is empty. There are only about 10 families out of about 85 still here. Tomorrow night, I get to leave and go home to Jerusalem. I have nothing but compassion for those living here that have been forced to leave. We should all give as much as we can to support the refugees of the north. They deserve our support and Achdut...

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