March 19, 2003 Update (2)

Letters from Israel

Wednesday night, March 19, 2003

Dear all,

Just a short note to all of you who've asked what's going on here.

Even though it is highly unlikely that Israel will be affected by the Iraq war, the army has now told everyone to take out their gas mask kits, assemble the mask and filter, try them on and then carry the kit with them at all times.

Certain TV stations are broadcasting instructions from the Home Front Command on how to go about sealing a room and how to put your gas mask together.

We're sitting around sheepishly looking at each other as we try on our gas masks, not quite believing that we're actually doing all this when there is almost 0% chance that these precautions are at all necessary. Seeing each other in these ridiculous looking disguises I burst out laughing. Jason kvetched that the whole thing is silly.

I remember as a small child I came across a red rubber, child-sized gas mask that had belonged to my mother during the Second World War. I was fascinated by the thing, tried it on, by a miracle didn't suffocate and took it to school as a novelty. One of the teachers saw what I was playing with and confiscated it from with a horrified shriek. I couldn't understand what her problem was.

I never imagined that one day I would be in a situation where I too would have to carry around my own gas mask as my mother did in wartime London.

These modern Israeli masks are quite heavy, especially with the filters attached. The rubber is pretty uncomfortable, as it has to be strapped tightly to the face to ensure that it's airtight. I find it somewhat claustrophobic. It's just unpleasant to have this sweaty thing stuck to my face, controlling my breathing.

Trying on the masks and testing them, I find myself thinking about the thousands of soldiers out in the Kuwaiti desert who actually have to be able to run around and fully function in them for several hours on end. I found it tough enough just sitting around in one for a few minutes.

Israel is divided up into several geographic areas, each with its own air raid alert system. Although we're equidistant from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, we're technically in the Tel Aviv zone, so if God forbid there should be an air raid siren anywhere in the Tel Aviv area we'll hear it too.

That's pretty much it for now. I've given up on watching TV. If I hear one more "expert" speculate on exactly what's "really" going on in Iraq I think I'll scream. We'll all know soon enough.

Good night,


P.S. You can find my letter about Purim from earlier today here.

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Copyright 2003 by Leiah Elbaum.