“A mistaken air raid siren sounded in Ashkelon, Gedera, Ashdod and other southern cities,” news outlets reported matter-of-factly on Motzoei Shabbos. This mundane bit of information was buried among other back-page news items. And why not? After all, what really happened? No missile landed in an inhabited area; none had been launched. No damages to report; Iron Dome was not triggered into action. It was just a plain old technical error. That’s all.
But for the Shabbos-observant residents of the region, who do not use phones or radios on Shabbos, this was hardly the case. The siren sowed panic in thousands of homes, where the ground seemed to tremble underfoot.
Need we describe how a family reacts when the nighttime silence is broken by an air raid siren, particularly when there are many young children? (And if memory serves correct, we could count on the fingers of one hand the number of late-night sirens that sounded even during the most turbulent days of the Pillar of Defense.) Children wrenched from their sleep couldn’t just go back to sleep, nor could their parents.
And then there were the speculations that abounded, as imaginations worked overtime: “Wait a second; it doesn’t make sense that a missile was just launched from Gaza. If so, it must have come from Nasrallah, or from Assad — who just a few days ago was attacked and is expected to respond. Who knows, maybe Ahmadinejad is finally making good on his threat, and maybe Israel attacked the nuclear reactor in Bushehr?
“Anything could have happened in the hours since Shabbos began. If so, then that siren was probably because of a Shihab 3, meaning a completely different story. Maybe we have to get out our gas masks… and who says we can leave the sealed room after a few minutes, particularly if we still haven’t heard an explosion?”
These disturbing questions continued throughout Shabbos day. Baruch Hashem, on Shabbos the chareidi public is entirely cut off from current events near and far. Usually that makes our lives easier, not harder. But in this case, because we were never updated imaginations were left to run wild, and the proposed scenarios grew more serious from moment to moment.
“There are missile attacks throughout the country.” “A war started with Syria — with Iran…” All these ideas and more had a field day until after Havdalah. Until then, it all seemed quite real and possible. Not even the wildest scenario thought of by the most vivid imagination seemed implausible.
But what do we want? That from now on, they’ll think twice before sounding the air raid siren? That’s not acceptable either, because it’s better to jump out of bed for nothing night after night (even on the rainy, stormy, winter nights) than to be exposed to the dangers of missile attack without warning.
What is clear, though, is that everything — and we really mean everything — must be done so that this sort of event does not recur. Whoever can blithely report on a “mistaken siren” and assume that “after all, nothing really happened” did not live through this himself.
If something like this does happen, the Home Front Command should make sure to update the chareidi population. The fact that a whole swath of the public is entirely disconnected from all media for 25 hours should be taken into consideration. The general public may have known a minute later that it could go back to sleep as if nothing happened, but things were a bit different for us. We couldn’t just go out to ask the non-Jews outside — as far as we knew, we had to stay inside.The air raid siren puts one on high alert, and there’s no way to avoid that.
While of course we prefer a false alarm to a real alarm, our Shabbos was made very difficult due to the false alarm, and we would like to hear that everything possible is being done to avoid this in the future, and that our needs and vulnerability as shomrei Shabbos are being taken into consideration.