The doorbell rings last night...I am home alone with the kids (Haviva was out teaching). Bathing this one, serving dinner to that one, fixing someone's computer...the stuff of everyday life, no different than the father of five children ages 4-14 in hundreds of thousands of homes in the "Western" world. "Please answer the door,"I call out. My 14 year old daughter, Michal, comes to me and says "there is someone from the Ministry of Defense." (this is a free translation of the Hebrew original...) Ministry of Defense? Maybe she didn't understand. I go to the door, and sure enough, there is a someone from the Ministry of Defense, and he explains he is going door-to-door collecting gas masks.
And you know, it took me a few seconds to assimilate what he was saying...for a few seconds there I even forgot that we have gas masks at home, forgot that for weeks at a time, twice in the past 17 years, we lived in real fear of a chemical/biological attack. We created safe rooms in our homes, walked around for weeks with gas masks, practiced putting infants into their special tents...for a few seconds I forgot all that, and just wondered what this guy was talking about. Then it all came back to me...and I saw in my mind exactly where our family's gas masks were "hiding," far from my mind's eye. So I asked the nice Ministry of Defense representative what this was all about--he explained that there is a massive project going on, called "Collecting from the House," which entails collecting all the millions of gas masks distributed to every household in Israel, because, as he explained,they are expired! If there was a chemical attack tomorrow and we tried to use them, they would be useless. Well, for a few seconds there we would get a laugh at how silly we all look in those things.
So I asked my new friend, who I burdened with our six gas masks (Nachum, our youngest, was born after the last distribution), whether this was a good sign or a bad sign. Did this mean there was suddenly new intelligence, prompting the powers that be to refresh our gas masks? Or did it mean the scare is over, and we will all have a little more room in our closets? No answer from my friend, he is just doing his job, no time to dwell on the bigger issues. Then, get this, he pulls out a PDA with wireless connectivity, and enters in my ID number, and look at that--full details on the military property I was storing in my house, along with to which family member it was assigned...what a difference from before the Gulf War in 1990, or just a few years ago when America attacked Iraq, and we needed to to central points, fill out forms, wait in lines.
In 2007,in the modern, high-tech, post-post Israel, the Ministry of Defense pays house calls! What service!
And then tonight I go out to Emek Refaim (few hundred meters from my house), which just a few years ago was rocked with multiple suicide bombings, to take part in a street festival in honor of the holiday of Shavuot. It was packed, wall-to-wall people. Did all of those people change in their gas masks?
Somehow we try and live our lives, not thinking about the gas masks in the closet. And now they are not even in the closet...I hope nothing happens.