With Hamas widening the rockets’ reach since Thursday, reaching Tel Aviv multiple times and close to Jerusalem late on Friday afternoon, residents of both cities have had to think fast about finding safety when the sirens sound.
In Tel Aviv, where there are 380 shelters, but only 240 located in apartment buildings (the rest are in public buildings and not always easily reached, according to a municipality spokesperson), many residents are taking cover in stairwells, in their own buildings or wherever they happen to reach in the one-and-a-half-minute warning span.
According to architects, stairwells and elevator shafts are structurally built to ‘hold’ the building, and are usually cast out of reinforced concrete or steel in high-rises. In new buildings, the reinforced rooms are also built one on top of the other, creating a core that is similar to a trunk of a tree, with the floors of the building hanging from this core.
Given the timing of the rockets, which have been in broad daylight as well as in the evening, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality has asked residents to leave open their building entrance doors so passersby can enter and take cover in emergencies.
While they’re waiting out the attacks, Tel Avivians are tweeting, Instagraming and posting to Facebook about the state of their bomb shelter or ad-hoc stairwell “salon,” a new facet of life for the so-called capital of Mediterranean cool.
“Turns out lots of people in my building work from home. Another stairwell meeting,” remarked one local on Sunday. Another resident said she was caught in a stairwell in the mall next to a beauty salon, where half of the people in the stairwell had their hair wrapped in foil for a coloring treatment.
“I was in an Arcaffe this morning on the ground floor of a corporate building,” said Simona Kogan, a Tel Aviv fashion blogger. ”We were shooed into a stairwell by a man on a loudspeaker who was directing traffic. Two people next to me continued to talk business while the Arcaffe workers reminisced about the game last night. People seemed prepared and unaffected. We only knew the siren was over when the man on the loudspeaker shooed us out.”
Life in the stairwell sounds less dramatic than you might think, probably because it begins quickly and is over within 10 minutes, the prescribed time that the Home Front Command asks that people remain inside.
Tomi Zandstein, a comic artist in Tel Aviv, came up with the following sketch for the stairwell dash.
Benji Lovitt, a comedian (and Times of Israel blogger) who lives in Tel Aviv, thinks it may be time to start preparing icebreakers for the meet-ups in the stairwells.
“Hey guys, let’s everyone go around and say your name, your favorite color, and what type of alcohol you’re about to start drinking,” he posted on Facebook.
Debbie Zimelman, a Modi’in biker who participated in last week’s 13th Wheels of Love ride for Alyn Hospital, found herself stuck in a hotel stairwell with a clutch of Brazilians as well as fellow Modi’in bikers while staying in Beersheba last Wednesday night, before biking the final 50 kilometers back to Jerusalem the next day.
Back in Tel Aviv, former New Yorker Miriam Warshaviak and her husband and toddler son have so far taken shelter in the sealed room of their local health-food store, gotten to know some neighbors in their apartment building stairwell, and taken cover in a nearby alleyway during a walk around the block.
“I had already played out in my head many times the scenario of a siren while driving, and thought about what I would do. Would I make it to a building? Crouch down on the road?” she said. “Yesterday’s siren was a bit scary when we were caught outside, but otherwise life goes back to normal.”
Of course, all these stories are old hat for residents of the south, who have been dealing with rockets and their repercussions for years. Down there, stories abound about birthday parties celebrated in bomb shelters, and wedding videos interrupted to record rockets sailing into the sky and being intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile battery.
In the 40-kilometer radius around Gaza, the southerners have been using their building and neighborhood bomb shelters for their intended purpose for years, but in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, it’s been 19 years since there’s been any need to find, well, shelter. Many building bomb shelters usually serve as ad-hoc storerooms, ballet studios, offices, synagogues and youth-group meeting places for city dwellers short on space, and are often jam-packed with pieces of furniture, bicycles, cartons of books and junk that hasn’t been looked at in years.
Jerusalemite Shari Fisch said she went down to the shelter on Friday before the siren and found a room that was full of “someone’s personal junk and missing a few light bulbs, really not in good shape.” Said the former Long Islander, whose family back in Long Island has been reeling from the effects of Hurricane Sandy: “I thought to myself that the building committee better get a move on and clean this place up! And then I remembered… I’m in charge of the building committee. Damn. So now I’ve got rockets and I need to clean the bomb shelter.”
There are the silver linings: One Hebrew University lecturer — whose office doubles as a bomb shelter — said he cleared some space in his office and found his missing parking permit for the university car park.
“The sticker had been buried under that rubble since May 2011, and just this week the university security people told me that, in order to get a new one, I would have to go and report its loss to the police,” he wrote on Facebook.
In the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem, where there aren’t all that many local shelters according to a shelter search on Google Maps, resident Deborah Meghnagi Bailey was pleased to discover that her building’s shelter not only had rugs and a couple of sofas, but also a working toilet and sink.
When the siren sounded on late Friday afternoon, she took her four-year-old off the toilet and carried him to the downstairs shelter, something she wouldn’t normally attempt, being seven-and-a-half-months’ pregnant. “Adrenalin offers a powerful boost,” she said.