A lot of people are asking me what it’s like to live in the south of Israel, under fire.

Before I jump in, I want to point out that we live in Be’er Sheva, which means we don’t have it nearly as bad as those in Ashkelon and Ashdod, who don’t have it nearly as bad as those in Ofakim, Netivot, Sderot and the small communities within 3 kilometers of the border with the Gaza Strip. Some of those communities get rockets year-round, but you’ll never hear about it in the news because no one cares. A huge percentage of those kids suffer from severe PTSD. When we get rocket rain in Be’er Sheva, it means they’re getting a non-stop rocket storm.

Also: We absolutely LOVE living in Be’er Sheva, and never regret it for a second. It’s an amazing city. The Jewish people have been refugees for long enough; we’re finally home, and no amount of rockets will chase us away.

So what’s it like to live under rocket fire?

Imagine it’s been a pretty normal week, you finally got all your kids to sleep and just sat down on the couch to relax ... when a siren goes off. It has a surreal sound, maybe because of all the echo, maybe because it doesn’t sound like 2021.

You jump up, shove your phone in your pocket (because you never know), and run to grab the baby and wake up your oldest daughter, while your spouse grabs the toddler and next child up—your prearranged plan. You bring them to your shelter or “safest room” faster than you know how to move, and shut the door. If you’re in Be’er Sheva, you have 60 seconds. Sderot has 15, while a few communities only have seven seconds.

Now your heart is racing, but you need to show your kids that you’re calm and confident that everything will be OK. So you smile and with your best, cheerful, non-shaky voice say, “Good job! We did it! Now let’s thank Hashem (G‑d) for protecting us, and giving us such an amazing army and Iron Dome!”

The kids are in a weird state of sleepy/wide-awake. The siren keeps wailing over and over because usually if there’s one rocket, there’s 10. You hear the booms, your kids hear the booms, you try to distract them by talking about happy things, and you hug them tight. If you’re more experienced, you can differentiate the booms—Iron Dome booms have more of an echo, while hits fall loud and flat; sometimes, you can even feel the shake. If you hear a hit, your job of keeping the kids calm just got 20 times harder.

After 10 minutes, you put the kids back to bed, sit back on the couch and adjust your mindset for the new reality.

Were there any hits? How long is this round going to last? Why now? Should we move the kids into the bomb shelter for the night?

Now you’re glued to your phone, checking if everyone is OK, responding to worried family members and obsessively reading the news.

If you live in an apartment with a shared shelter, you prepare comfortable clothing to sleep in. You debate taking a shower; if you’re willing to take the risk, night is better because there’s less noise pollution, but you still shower with the water on a trickle so that you can hear the next siren. You have a robe ready to throw on and you move fast.

The sirens get your adrenaline pumping, which is good for being ready to react but bad for falling asleep. Even when you do fall asleep, you try not to fall into a deep sleep—you need to hear the sirens.

The terrorists like to fire at night, and especially at early dawn, because it’s easier for them to hide. In Be’er Sheva, we’ve been woken up as many as five times a night, but the average is probably three for the more intense “escalations” during the past two weeks.

Morning comes, and between 6 and 7, you’ll get the official notice: no school, no non-essential work, everyone must stay near shelters at all times and review Home Front Command instructions.

Staying trapped in the house with your children, and hopefully spouse, for days on end—not knowing when it’ll end—you need to keep the kids entertained and calm, despite the constant noise of aircraft above, booms and siren runs, and despite the fact that you know homes are being destroyed and people are being hurt, and these siren runs are no joke at all.

Every time a kid moves, you need to recalculate your 60-second dash to safety, often moving furniture and toys so that there’s nothing in the way.

Mundane things become a big challenge. Getting dressed needs to be done strategically. Cooking must be with a timer on the oven, or something that can be turned off at any moment and still turn out fine. Bath time with the kids needs to be fast, so that you reduce the likelihood of slippery towel-wrapped kids in the shelter. Speeding motorcycles become your new worst enemy. Every time you hear one, your heart stops, and for a second, you wonder if it’s a siren.

Despite work being canceled, many people still go out or work from home, so that the business doesn’t go down with the rockets. Working from home with kids and sirens interrupting is a special kind of challenge. You might decide to spend your day with the kids so you can keep them calm and then work through the night; it’s not like you’re getting any sleep anyway.

If you’re lucky, you have a clean public bomb shelter near you, meaning you can dash over with your kids so that they can play in the underground safety with their neighborhood friends, while you catch up with the other parents, and most importantly, let your guard down. Everyone becomes extra helpful and supportive of each other, with strangers going out of their way to help and provide comfort.

You might start checking the news or social media obsessively, even though you know you shouldn’t.

You’ll have just been huddling with your kids in a bomb shelter and then go online to see someone condemning Israel, and your blood will boil. Either that, or you’ll just hit the block button because you are so done with it.

On the flip side, you’ll see someone on the other side of the world write all about what Israel should do, and you’ll just get so annoyed because no, we just want to get the kids back in school. If you want to have an opinion, try living here first.

Then there’s the people commenting on the bravery of the Israelis and how strong the people in the south are, and you’ll just want to scream that you’re not strong, you’re falling apart, this isn’t normal, not even for the most seasoned, tough Israelis, and especially not for the parents of young children.

But you also get encouragement—from the people around the world showing support and standing with you, from the people donating to important organizations in the south, and from those wonderful organizations and people who drop everything to help.

You learn to joke about things and find the odd humor in it all because it’s a great classic Israeli survival tactic. You might stock up your shelter with great snacks, and if you’re sharing a shelter with neighbors, you have fun sharing them, turning things into a festive-like atmosphere. You also laugh at each other when someone shows up wrapped in a towel with bubbly hair or in funky pajamas.

There’s only so many adrenaline rushes your heart can handle. If the sirens keep up for long enough, your heart starts to physically hurt. But also, you oddly start to hope for another siren just to end the suspense of when the next one will be, so that you make it to safety and can stop all the planning.

Eventually, you start hearing rumors of a ceasefire. You’re mad, relieved and suspicious. You’re mad that they’re not solving the problem for once and for all, but you’re also relieved that it’s over for now, and yet still suspicious that it’s not going to last. The more operations you’ve lived through, the more strongly you feel these emotions.

Once the ceasefire is announced, you wait for further instructions. If you live in one of the closer communities, you’ll probably be waiting another few days. If you live in Be’er Sheva, you might have a late school day, and you’ll need to decide if you trust the ceasefire enough to send your kids off. Only half the kids will be in school on the first day back.

Suddenly, you’re expected to continue on as normal. Get back to work, catch up on everything and walk around like nothing happened. You’re still waiting for it all to start again, but for the rest of the world, it’s old news. Next.

Bruria Efune is a mother of four living in Be’er Sheva in southern Israel. She is currently raising funds to buy a bomb shelter for neighbors who are in a very unsafe situation. To assist in the effort, visit the donation page here.