Late Friday afternoon, Erev Shabbat, November 16, 2012, warning sirens blew in earnest in Jerusalem for the first time since we have lived here. Later reports claimed that two rockets launched from Gaza had landed close to, but outside the city. Even though Marcia, the neighbors and I had all heard and felt faint concussions from explosions that Hamas later boasted came from “improved Qassam” rockets, everyone here remained calm.
Out on the street, pedestrians walked at the same leisurely pace as before. In an apartment next door, an orthodox gathering sang together while the sirens wailed, preparing for blessings over wine and bread and a Sabbath meal.
But after all kinds of prior talk about being prepared, Marcia and I still weren’t quite sure what to do; then Marcia’s all-girl intelligence network kicked in. Her cell phone rang continually as she gathered tactical assessments from women all over town. Everyone and everything seemed okay. After a quick meeting with our fellow building mates we agreed to meet in Miriam’s makhsan (storage room) if the sirens blew again. (Modern buildings in Israel all have fortified safe rooms, by code, but ours was built well before this rule, sometime in the 1930s.)
While Jerusalem’s and Tel Aviv’s recent experience is relatively unique, missiles have fallen regularly into southern Israel from heroic positions in Gaza (urban centers, hospitals and schools) for years. Citizens in the south are urged to reach shelter within fifteen seconds of an alert to be safe.
Here in Jerusalem the recommended time to respond is a luxurious 30-90 seconds.