Saturday In Yafo

Sometimes horrible things can happen on the most beautiful of days. That’s what happened yesterday, when Hamas militants shattered the quiet, sunny sabbath morning with a barrage of rockets and cruel, indiscriminate terrorism. As I’m writing this the death toll is over 700, with almost 2,000 injured. Dozens are still missing. 

Where we live in Yafo (south of Tel Aviv) the first rocket siren sounded around 6:30 am. I woke up my partner, Tamir, and the two of us groggily made our way to the stairwell, nodding at neighbors in all manner of dress or undress, fresh from their beds. A minute and a half later we heard the expected explosions overhead, and after waiting for shrapnel fall, crawled back to bed. 

Just as I was drifting off again, another siren. By this time the bomb shelter was open. Us and our pajamaed neighbors filed into the basement and sat next to each other in silence, one woman taking it upon herself to clean off the dusty folding chairs with baby wipes. The process repeated itself for another three hours, Tamir getting grumpier at each disruption of sleep. Finally, sometime around 9:30 the blue, cloudless sky was silent again. Seasoned by a lifetime of Israeli post-trauma, Tamir took the opportunity to continue his REM cycle. 

But I opened the news. According to news outlets, at least 20 killed, 50 wounded. In Israel WhatsApp and Telegram groups move a lot faster than official news sources. There, clips were already circulating showing Hamas militants shooting civilians from the backs of white pickup trucks in Sderot, an Israeli town about 60 miles south. 

Others showed music festival goers running across fields trying to reach their cars. Messages flew through groups reporting that terrorists were going door to door, kidnapping or killing anyone they could in towns and kibbutzim close to the border. Turning on the news, correspondents in bulletproof vests and helmets reported from clean, manicured streets as gunfire punctuated the background. 

From the studio, a news anchor interviewed a resident of one of these towns by phone, until the interview was cut short. “They are at the door! They are knocking on the door now. They are here,” the woman whispered, before she hung up. 

By the time Tamir woke up, the death toll was at 100, with over 500 injured. It was clear a brutal, unprecedented massacre was unfolding. It’s hard to know what to do in a situation like this. We felt helpless, but also grateful. Scared, but safe. Like the rest of the country we mostly stayed glued to our couch, curtains drawn, with the TV tuned to Channel 11 news, Israel’s public broadcaster. We wore down our phone batteries reaching out and responding to family and friends checking in, sharing information, and plans. At some point I made my mom’s pancake recipe I remember from childhood. 

Come evening, the number of dead had jumped to 250, 1,500 injured. Many of our friends had already been drafted into reserve service and were on their way to staging locations. Instagram stories were dominated by people looking for missing friends and family members, many of whom were at the ambushed music festival, or trapped in their homes in one of the still besieged border communities. 

More videos were circulating, these ones taken by the terrorists themselves and posted to Telegram and TikTok. Surreal clips and stills show a mother clutching twin babies, escorted by gunmen down her neighborhood street. A woman crying out for help from the back of a motorcycle, later appearing in Gaza, her gray sweatpants now soaked red. A soldier wearing only his boxers and tactical vest lying in a pool of blood at the entrance to his bunk house. And more, and more, and more. 

I notice most news outlets, Israeli and international alike, don’t show these images, instead opting for more palatable, vague plumes of smoke or shattered glass on a sidewalk. But these images are true, and I’m starting to think people should see them, despite the discomfort. 

These images are also how Israelis are finding out the location of loved ones. The many photos and videos of hostages being paraded through crowded, cheering Gazan streets on the backs of pickup trucks, motorcycles, and golf carts are how, unfortunately, some are finding out what happened to their parents, friends, and sisters. 

More messages flow through. People looking for and offering rides to reserve soldiers. Lists of names of festival survivors that ended up at someone’s house in Patish circulate and recirculate. We scour the names but don’t find our friend’s sister, Liraz. Some neighbors are opting to leave for other parts of the country. The news is still on. 

When rockets fall, the name of the location appears in an orange bubble in the top right corner of the screen. Sometimes one, two, three pop up. Sometimes there’s too many to fit in the frame at once. After I hang up the phone with my family in the U.S., a siren sounds and we head back to the basement. Tamir and I begin to discuss backup plans. Where should we go if we stop feeling safe here? 

I don’t pack, but I lay out our passports, wallets, a few clothes and a ziplock baggie of cat food next to the cat carrier, and do the dishes, just in case. Finally in bed I think I feel my baby kick for the first time, and fall asleep. 

There were no sirens, and after a solid six hour sleep we checked for updates. At least 350 dead, almost 2,000 wounded. Dozens still missing. In Gaza the numbers hover around 200 dead, 2,000 injured. A lot of innocent people are suffering. 

It’s a bright, blue, silent day again, the only sound being an occasional passing helicopter. Having slept off the initial shock, Israelis have sprung into action. WhatsApp groups are flooded with dropoff points for donations for soldiers and displaced families, blood donation sites, volunteer jobs bringing food to the elderly, and lists of addresses available to host people fleeing the south. 

Random, weird news updates trickle through. The Sderot police station, which was taken over by militants, has been demolished. Police took out a car of terrorists found heading north on Highway 4. Heavy gun battles are still taking place in some border towns. 

Tamir is making eggs, and I start my daily prenatal yoga routine. After that we’ll walk over some donations, and hopefully pick up some milk on the way home to check the news.