Coffee with a side of rockets

On Thursday evening, my city came under rocket fire for the first time since the Gulf War 20 years ago.

Now, we’re in the Middle East here, but I’ve generally tried to avoid politics on my blog. But writing about food seems a little frivolous at the moment when the country is at war (Is it war? Or merely a military flare-up? Is there a difference?). And it’s not like I’ve been really cooking much lately — when the next siren sounds, I don’t want to be caught with my pants down, or up to my elbows in dough for that matter.

So my options were saying nothing or telling you about life in Tel Aviv at the moment. Because honestly, that’s life here. We live in a lovely Mediterranean city with a beach, great restaurants and lively markets. And sometimes we have wars.

Let’s be perfectly clear about one thing — things in Tel Aviv are not bad at all. We’ve had only a handful of rockets, and we’re far enough from Gaza to have 90 seconds to run for cover. It’s nothing like life in the south, where people sometimes have no more than 15 seconds to flee and have been enduring thousands of rockets for years.

In fact, we’ve been criticized for living in a bubble. The south is being hit by rockets, and we’re sitting in coffee shops. Well, as one of my coworkers pointed out, turns out that we’re sitting in coffee shops even when we’re being hit by rockets. At least you can’t accuse us of hypocrisy.

I was sitting in the garden of a lovely American-style bakery called Nola — the place for proper chocolate chip cookies, blondies and biscuits — when Tel Aviv’s first rocket siren sounded. The conversation of the day had been the escalation in the south, which seemed to be creeping ever closer to us; that afternoon, there’d been a rocket siren in Tel Aviv’s southern suburb Rishon Letzion.

Do you think we’ll be attacked? my friend had asked on the way over. I said yes. After all, they’d been saying for years that in the next flare-up, there would be rockets on Tel Aviv.

And there it was.

We ran inside as the siren wailed, milling around dazed next to the restaurant kitchen. There was a boom in the distance. Was it the rocket? Who knows, but it was enough to send the rumor mill whirling.

Fearing this was the start of an onslaught, we quickly paid and scurried home. That evening my husband cleaned a decade’s worth of filth out of the building bomb shelter, while I stayed upstairs with the baby, sirens going off in my head.

But the next rocket came only the following afternoon, as we were strolling near Dizengoff Square on what was otherwise a very lovely day. As the siren started to wail, the people in the street began to frantically hunt for cover. (Well, most of them. I swear one woman kept on walking her dog.) We wound up huddled in the stairwell of a nearby building with another young family. Again, off in the distance, we heard a boom.

After waiting several minutes, we stepped back outside into the bright daylight. If the city had stopped, it wasn’t evident. I felt somewhat like Rip Van Winkle.

And then what? Well, the rockets didn’t seem to be coming all that frequently. We continued on to a packed coffee shop. No reason to penalize local businesses just because we’re at war.

Since then, we’ve been getting a very moderate rocket or two a day. Most have been shot out of the sky by the Iron Dome missile defense system (turns out it pays to live next to the Defense Ministry headquarters). The bomb shelters are open, citizens are unnerved, but life goes on. The coffee shops on the corner under my house aren’t full, but they’re not empty, either.

And us? I’ve finished my shower for the day, my baby has a clean diaper. Yalla, let’s get the daily Fajr over with.

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