Jerusalem on Yom Kippur of 1973. I am 12 years old and fairly confident I’ll be able to make it through the day – it is already the second or third time I’ve fasted. My Israeli mother has decided, despite the heat, that she and I will walk to the Kotel and has assured me that on Yom Kippur you can walk in the middle of the street without fear, because no one in Israel would dare drive on Yom Kippur. This sounds like fun.
The Western Wall glares an unmerciful white in the mid-morning heat and after a short while, we begin trekking down to Emek Refaim and Masaryk Street, where my Aunt Mary and Uncle Mac live. My sisters and I are still a bit skittish of traffic, having been in a bad car accident the week before, so it’s a bit unnerving that there do seem to be cars on the road, each with a few guys inside, and going pretty fast. We can’t walk in the middle of the street, which is disappointing. Perhaps my mother has been out of the country too long? She too, is wondering what’s up.
Aunt Mary opens the door and we can hear the radio is on. Why is she listening on this, the holiest of holy days? “The BBC is reporting tanks are moving on the Egyptian border,” she tells my mother. Cousin Jerry – a star naval commando – is already in uniform and rapidly wolfing down some nice chopped liver. Breaking his fast in the middle of Yom Kippur? He has to go join his unit, Mary tells me. I’m an awkward, pudgy pre-teen, eager for attention from my tall, handsome cousin, so I try to make conversation but he’s in brusque, monosyllabic mode. He finishes eating and dashes out.
We hang out around the living room for a long time, playing and reading. My mother dozes off in an armchair, a magazine on her lap. All of a sudden, I hear a sound that I’ve never heard before – a long loud tone that fills the entire neighborhood. Half-asleep, my mother mumbles, “We have to get down to the bomb shelters.” I have no idea what she’s talking about.
My mother wakes up, completely weirded out by her pre-State WWII flashback, after which there’s some discussion among the adults about why there was all-clear signal instead of an rising and falling siren. Only later do I come to understand what this means. Israel Radio finally breaks its Yom Kippur silence and resumes broadcasting. It’s official: Israel has been attacked and even though it doesn’t feel like it here in placid Emek Refaim, there’s a war on.