The ladies of “Denise” on Keren Kayemet Street work on sorting buttons and beads on an unusually quiet day in the shop.
Be’er Sheva: I would like to say that things are calming down here, but they’re really not. Because the sirens were so frequent the first day and night, last Wednesday, each successive day has seemed a little quieter.
We are sleeping through the night. We’ve been able to go about grocery shopping and errand running in a fairly normal way. My husband John started his first week of a pediatrics rotation. But throughout all of those very normal everyday things, there is still the constant threat of incoming rockets. My increasing feeling of confidence and security is most definitely naive.
Yesterday and today, against the advice of more cautious friends, I went out to grocery shop for Thanksgiving. I do all my shopping by bus or by foot so it usually takes me a few days to round up everything I need to host a big dinner. The effects of the conflict are very apparent in the world outside my little apartment.
Lots of smaller stores are closed and the busses I rode, usually as busy as those in any metropolitan city, were practically empty. It seems a lot of people have left to stay in safer places to the North, but from the conversations I’ve had over the past few days, Be’ershevans want people to know that they are still here and they’re not leaving any time soon.
My favorite fabric store sits at the end of an outdoor pedestrian mall and is run by two or three ladies who speak Spanish, Hebrew, Russian and a little English, depending on what day you visit them. Today they greeted me warmly and asked after my friend who usually comes with me. I told them we were all doing fine and thanked them for staying open since I was afraid they might be closed. The only English speaker and my de facto translator replied, “What can we do at home?”
The same attitude prevailed at the town shuk (an open air market with stalls that sell everything from fruits and vegetables to rugs and plastic flowers). If anything, the people in and around the market seemed friendlier than usual. It’s the same kind of attitude adjustment Americans always seem to have after a big disaster or storm. People stay in closer touch with one another, check on each other periodically, and smile at strangers because you know they are scared or worried just as you are.
The difference here is that the threat is intermittent and ongoing. Part of the warmth and friendliness I’ve noticed over the past few days comes from the fact that I have been squeezed into bomb shelters with total strangers. Either in the back of the grocery store or a random mechanic’s garage on my way there, people welcome me in, point the way to the nearest shelter and make sure I’m okay when I leave. They profusely reassure me in Hebrew despite my protestations that I don’t understand Hebrew. We pantomime what we can’t say. They offer a pat on the shoulder and a wave goodbye.
I don’t feel comfortable forming an opinion on the social and political ramifications of this conflict. I know that I find violence of any kind disturbing. I know that when looking for someone to blame for the increasing violence on both sides, I tend to look up, to the people in positions of political power and not to the soldiers and citizens they control. I know that those fighting feel a deep passion for their cause, whether just or unjust.
I know that deep inside they are probably just as worried and scared as any one of us and I pray that tonight, they put their weapons down in response to a ceasefire and go home to comfort their families.