ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Tamar Asis. (Dafna Talmon)
Photos: Dafna Talmon

'Fortunately, I'm already pregnant because I wouldn't have been able to get pregnant at a time like this. Our sense of security has been shaken to the core.'

A teacher married to Ariel, Tamar was evacuated to Netanya and returned to Sderot six weeks ago ● This is her story

Photos: Dafna Talmon

This is part of a series, “Uprooted.” Each column is a curated monologue from an individual among the tens of thousands of internally displaced Israelis during the war with Hamas who were evacuated from the country’s northern border and the Gaza envelope.

I grew up in Talmon, a settlement in Judea and Samaria, where my parents still live. Ariel and I got married 18 months ago, and we’re pregnant, at week 34. I’m an 11th-grade homeroom teacher at Adam V’Adama school at Kfar Silver Youth Village, and now I’m also in charge of 9th grade, as their homeroom teacher has been called up as a reservist.

How did you move to Sderot?

Ariel’s family was evacuated from Gush Katif (approximately 8,500 Israelis were evacuated from the Gush Katif settlement bloc in the Gaza Strip in 2005), three generations of flower farmers. His grandfather established flower greenhouses in the fields of Ganei Tal, and his parents lived in Tel Katifa. After the evacuation, they decided not to sink into sorrow and grief and re-established the greenhouses in the Mavki’im region.

After his discharge from the IDF, Ariel and his brother joined the family business in the greenhouses – although, in reality, they had worked in them even as teenagers. When we met, I understood that if I want him, it comes with the greenhouses. It’s so deeply rooted and ingrained in him. We looked for a place in an area with a strong community both religiously and socially. That’s how we came to Sderot a year ago – a simple and pleasant town with lovely people.

Weren’t you afraid to move there?

I grew up in Judea and Samaria, so for me, it was a shift from one complicated reality to another. I believe we have a duty to safeguard the land of Israel, and I even see living in Sderot as a kind of mission.

That being said, when we moved to Sderot, the proximity of Gaza was not at the top of my mind. I did have a sense of security. We were advised to rent an apartment with a safe room because if there were rockets, it’s better to be in a safe room at home than run to a shelter. No one had in mind such a scenario as what happened on October 7 and since, and certainly not for such an extended period.

This week, I heard someone say, “We took care of the sense of security but not security itself,” and it’s true. And it came back to haunt us, all of us, especially those in the kibbutzim and beautiful communities close to the Gaza border.

IDF soldiers patrol in Sderot, October 11, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)

Last May, after Operation Shield and Arrow which lasted five days, I understood for the first time what it means to live near Gaza. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t return to Sderot if there were rocket attacks while I was pregnant, and here I am… I came back to Sderot, but not really. I am always prepared for evacuation, and I constantly ask myself whether it’s safe enough to stay.

Saturday, October 7

On Simchat Torah eve, we were at Ariel’s parents’ home in the settlement of Neta in the Lakhish area. On Saturday morning, the men woke up early for synagogue, and I joined them around eight. When I arrived, Ariel told me, ‘Tamar, they took over the police station in Sderot.”

Neta is a classic religious-Zionist settlement. Many residents are in the security forces, and immediately people realized that something out of the ordinary was happening. The civilian security coordinator told everyone to turn on their phones, and suddenly it all felt like a regular, tense weekday.

We saw the Iron Dome flashes and heard the incessant booms. A neighbor’s friend who lives in Nahal Oz (a kibbutz close to the Gaza border) texted that she had been in the safe room for hours. There was a sense that it was like part two of the Yom Kippur War.

People were walking around with their phones in case they were called up by the army, which indeed happened. Slowly but surely, the place emptied of men.

On Saturday night, I started making phone calls to my students living in the Gaza envelope (the populated areas that are within 7 kilometers of the Gaza Strip border). The grandfather of one of my students was murdered, and his uncle was kidnapped. Another student told me that girls from the Nova party came to them, knocking on their door trembling and crying. That was how my October 7 went.

The evacuation

The next day, on Sunday at 6:30 a.m., Ariel was called up for reserve duty. He is an officer, a company commander’s second in command in the armored corps. There were tears and fears, and difficult conversations. We considered all scenarios, including the possibility of something bad happening to him. We talked about being willing to “sacrifice” our sweet family unit now for the greater cause called the State of Israel.

Besides Ariel, his father and two brothers were also called up, and I have three brothers in reserve duty, plus one in regular service. We went to his parents for 24 hours and found ourselves away from home for a month and a half.

Flower hothouses in Ganei Tal in 2005, prior to the disengagement from Gaza. (Effi Chori/ Facebook)

I didn’t have clothes to change into, so I bought some clothes at the supermarket as that was the only store open. My car wasn’t with me, so Ariel’s grandfather (such a special man, a farmer and a disabled IDF veteran with a leg amputated from the War of Attrition) came and drove me.

I knew my married friends would go back to their parents’ homes because all the husbands were called up. I knew it would give me strength to be close to them and my parents, so I went there – and simultaneously, I was on the phone all the time. I called my students to find out what was happening, where everyone was, and how I could help. Most of my students live in the Gaza envelope, and even those who don’t — the youth village was within missile range, and there were sirens.

כל תושבי ותושבות עוטף עזה והסביבה!מוזמנים ומוזמנות אל החאן שלנו!חאן אירוח בטוח ושקט במושב חצבה שבערבה.החאן מציע…

Posted by ‎איציק בשטח – החאן‎ on Monday, October 9, 2023

In the second week, the youth village administrators decided to relocate to Moshav Hazeva in the Arava. We were there for a week, and I found accommodation in a nearby tourist campground, Itzik’s Khan, which welcomed me warmly, refused to accept payment and opened its gates to families from the south and north who evacuated. The people of the Arava have been wonderful and so helpful.

In the third week, the students moved to Hadassah Neurim Youth Village near Beit Yanai – and I moved to a hotel for evacuees in Netanya to be close to them. That’s how I lived for approximately five weeks. Children who lived in the Gaza envelope and were evacuated with their families came to stay for two or three days and then returned to the hotels. We wanted to see how they were doing.

Some children experienced difficult things, like a girl from Alumim (a kibbutz in the Gaza envelope) who held the handle of the safe room door, alternating with family members for hours as war waged outside the door.

First pregnancy

In the initial days of the war, I ceased feeling the baby’s movements. I attributed it to stress, and as soon as possible, I went for an ultrasound which confirmed everything was fine. Initially, during the pregnancy, I insisted on seeing a specific doctor I trusted. I wanted to track the pregnancy with her and her alone. But in the chaos that followed, I started going to whoever was available.

Tamar Asis. (Dafna Talmon)

Despite the distance, we try to find creative solutions to keep Ariel connected. I write to him about the baby’s development and record ultrasound sessions. Sometimes I put my hand on my belly, imagining it’s his hand.

When we manage to talk on the phone, I try to be positive and upbeat. I make challahs for him and prepare the food he likes – to try to make my soldier stronger. I see it as another way to contribute to the war effort.

Before the war, I did all the check-ups on time, read the books, and then suddenly everything came to a halt. I told myself that when Ariel returns, we will take a birthing class – and with time, I’ve realized that I might have to take the course alone.

In recent days, I decided to consult with a doula. I want to bring our baby into the world with joy and positivity, to convey the feeling that he is safe and protected, even though the world is neither safe nor protected, and there are wars.

I admit there are moments of doubt: What kind of world am I bringing him into? This question crosses my mind, and unfortunately, I have no answers. Trust in the inherent goodness of the world has been shaken.

For now, even the small pleasures come with a lot of guilt. A lot. A week after the war broke out, I told my friend that it’s fortunate that I’m already pregnant because I wouldn’t have been able to get pregnant at a time like this. Our sense of security has been shaken to the core.

Far from home

I feel like I don’t have a home now. Home in the basic sense of doing the laundry and making meatballs. I love domesticity, enjoy it, and not having my own space has been hard.

I was fortunate to grow up in a home where the most important thing was home and family, and that’s what I wanted for myself. That’s one of the first things I noticed about Ariel – he is like me. Home is the most important thing for both of us, and we dedicate all our positive energy, efforts and priorities to it. I feel that we have built our own temple, our own sacred space, and we don’t have it now.

Displaced people and residents of the central Israeli city of Netanya gather to demonstrate for the return of the Hamas-held hostages, November 16, 2023. (Facebook/ Miriam Freiberg, Mayor of Netanya)

I appreciate the chance to stay in a Netanya hotel, especially being near my students. However, sitting alone in a hotel, surrounded by unfamiliar faces, no matter how nice and kind they are, was not easy for me.

Each morning, I saw families facing a new day in the hotel, grappling with unemployment, the absence of their children’s routines and frameworks, trying to survive. Can you imagine the challenge of removing a child from special education? While the hotel staff is kind and supportive, it’s undeniable – it’s not home, and it’s a tough situation. This is a daily struggle for many, figuring out how to create a sense of home in this homeless environment.

To be fair, government authorities did step in. The Health Ministry reached out about potential psychological treatment, and the Sderot municipality addressed bureaucratic matters and responded to our needs. While it took some time to organize after the initial shock, I can’t say the state entirely fell short. Every bureaucratic challenge I faced was addressed and resolved.

Back to Sderot

After a month and a half of moving from place to place, my youth village returned to Kfar Silver. If it hadn’t returned, I would have stayed in Netanya. I am deeply connected to it, but I go where my students are.

Two weeks ago, I decided to test the waters and spend an evening in Sderot. Ariel had a brief break, so we returned. When we entered our house, we were met with mold and cockroaches; it took me a week to fix the house.

I love my privacy and the corner we created, but in the end, when Ariel is not here – it doesn’t feel like home. On the other hand, I reached a point where I couldn’t tolerate the constant uncertainty and the transient nature of living out of a suitcase.

Sderot is full of soldiers now. I’m reassured by the presence of the anti-terror first response team at the entrance to the city, and the fact that our bedroom is also the safe room is also comforting. But if I had children, none of this would have mattered.

Tamar Asis. (Dafna Talmon)

Looking ahead, if things don’t return to normal after the birth, I won’t stay here. I have no sense of security and comfort in my own home. I keep an evacuation emergency bag ready, limit grocery shopping to two days ahead, and each day I ask myself whether it’s safe enough to stay.

How do you feel about what happened?

Unfortunately, we were not surprised. I feel that people are averse to confronting the painful truth. We have a good relationship with the Palestinian day workers in the greenhouses and also with the Gaza residents who worked there. We know what it’s like to live with an Arab population seeking peaceful coexistence.

But there is a difference between them and terror sympathizers. There is evil, and we need to face it head-on, not wrap it in our wishful thinking.

Throughout previous fighting rounds in the South, the sense of helplessness is what drove me crazy. The feeling that “there’s nothing to do” except pray or send positive energy. Reality exploded in our faces, and the main concern is now what will happen the day after. Will we be willing to internalize, or will we bury our heads in the sand again? The frustration and intense anger are directed at the army and the government, yet none of this started today.

The future

I try not to think too much about the future, and honestly, it even scares me to talk about it. As a woman of faith, it should theoretically be easier for me. I know that things will work out as they should because it’s written. I can’t quote a specific verse right now, except for the recurring message in the book of Prophets: there will be wars, there will be difficult days, but eventually, the truth shall come to light.

It helps to know that sure, there are prophecies about doom, but there are also ones about redemption. If the doom ones came true, the redemption ones should follow. We may be in the midst of the flood, but things will be alright afterward.

As an approach to life, I want to believe that we’ll learn from it, change for the better, and get through it. I’m hopeful for progress in Israel – both in security and unity. It’ll take time, and yes, there are fears, but it’ll happen.

Now, the big question is whether we’ll be able to go back to Sderot with the kids. I think most folks will return, but the damage is done. Those who stayed during the evacuation are mostly older folks who’ve been through all the wars and seen it all. They’re tough. They didn’t want to leave, and I get it.

I’ve personally felt the toll that evacuation takes on one’s life energy. The body and soul endure; you go through the motions of eating and doing things out of necessity, but it drains vitality.

When I came back a couple of weeks ago, I finally started thinking about the pregnancy and the upcoming birth. I’m aware Ariel might not make it for the birth, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be there with me.

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