Jerrycans and war go together like peanut butter and jelly. The name jerrycan refers to its German origins, Jerry being wartime slang for Germans. Originally made from pressed steel, jerrycans were designed in Germany in the 1930s for military use. Motorized troops were issued the cans and lengths of rubber hose, and told to siphon fuel from any available source to aid their rapid advance through Poland at the start of World War II.

Tonight I’ll empty the twenty-liter yellow jerrycans under the table in our sealed room, my daughter’s bedroom, and fill them with fresh water. The jerrycans have been under the table since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, when the government instructed us to take gas mask kits to school and work, in case of a chemical attack. My husband brought them home, along with ten kilos of sugar and five one-kilo bars of halvah.

“What’s this for?” I asked, poking at the plastic covering that bound the individual kilo packets of sugar together.

“In case there’s a war,” my husband answered. “People have survived war by eating sugar. It’s an energy source.”

I just nodded. We had been hearing of the possibility of war for weeks.

“Bring me the cans, a can opener and the torches,” my husband called, lugging the sugar to our sealed room. “Where’s the key to the bars on the window?”


“In case we need to leave the house through the window,” he called out. Then he went outside to push the iron slab that seals the window closer to the house, so that we’d be able to pull it closed from inside the bedroom.

Thankfully, no missiles were fired at Israel in that war, and we didn’t need to use the sealed room that year. And anyway, Beit Shemesh is in central Israel, and missiles don’t land here, right? We used the canned food, I baked with the sugar, and I ate the halvah spread thickly on hot toast with plenty of butter.

But the yellow jerrycans stayed in place. My daughter Elisheva and her friends did their homework with their feet resting comfortably on them. At first, my daughter was embarrassed to tell her friends why the jerrycans were there. When eventually the truth came out, one of her friends hooted, “You’ll all be drinking water that tastes like my socks!”

“Tell her that if there’s a war, we’ll share our water with her family,” I told my daughter when she complained of the teasing.

The jerrycans stayed in place. In 2006, the Second Lebanon War came and went. The family had grown in size, and the children were growing up. We got used to buying ten-kilo packs of sugar—we bake a lot in our family. The key to the bars on the window now hangs on its own nail in Elisheva’s cupboard. The rubber bar that we’re supposed to place against the bottom of the door in case of a chemical attack is suspended on two hooks above the heavy door. Occasionally I dust it, and then I wonder if the rubber is now too hard to provide an effective seal.

In 2012, with the threat of missiles speeding over from Gaza, we had a few drill sirens. The children had drills at school. Then, for the very first time, a siren howled in Beit Shemesh. I could not breathe because my heart was lodged in my throat.

“Mummy, into the sealed room!” my ten-year-old daughter yelled. Luckily, my baby was in her carriage. I pushed it into the room, under the table, next to the jerrycans. There was no more room for my other daughter to huddle there. The window! The iron cover was too far back to pull closed. I wavered between sealing the window and racing to find my other children who were outside. I ran outside to find the children. I’d screamed their names twice before a neighbor yelled to tell me that it was a false alarm.

“The jerrycans have to go,” I told my husband that evening. “There isn’t enough room under the table for us and them.”

My husband lifted his shoulders and then dropped them. Like he always does when he’s tense. Then he looked away, and I knew that the jerrycans would stay.

The mother of one of my daughter’s friends met me at the grocery. “I hear you have two jerrycans of water,” she said.

I nodded.

“I keep a six-pack of bottled water in our sealed room. But maybe it isn’t enough.”

I nodded again. “A jerrycan holds twenty liters,” I answered.

“Where can I buy jerrycans?” she asked.

I told her I’d ask my husband.

Today my cleaning lady is in a bad mood. Her daughter lives in Nahariya, in the north of Israel. She doesn’t have a gas mask for her one-year-old son. “They’ve all been swooped up,” she says. “No more masks available.” She scoops up the dirt into the dustpan. “It could start tonight, you know. The war.”

“Maybe,” I answer. I wonder if when we upgraded our masks a year and a half ago, we got a tot-sized face mask for our youngest daughter. She’s too big for the baby mask now. I wonder if I should take the gas masks out of storage and put them in the sealed room, next to the jerrycans.

We live under a flight pathway; I listen to yet another fighter jet roaring past overhead. I want to think positively. I know Israel is G‑d’s beloved land, and that He watches over this land more than any other. I want to believe that nothing will happen, that G‑d will keep us all safe. At the same time, I also know that war is a real possibility. There are people who want to hurt us, and I have to make every effort I can to keep my family safe. So, tonight I’ll change the water in the jerrycans.

Our hearts and prayers are with our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. Please, let us all give extra tzedakah (charity) and do extra mitzvahs dedicated to their continued safety.—Ed.