Life – if you can call it that – under Israel’s Iron Dome

I’ve become pretty great at rocket dodging. As a New Yorker living in Tel Aviv while researching a book, I never thought I’d say that. And yet it’s true: since Hamas began firing rockets into Tel Aviv on July 8, I’ve learned to move quickly.

Out jogging when a siren blares? I have 90 seconds to find the nearest building with a bunker or drop down in a ditch, hands over my head. Driving a car? I have 90 seconds to pull over, get out and lie on the pavement, hands over my head.

Since Hamas began tossing rockets indiscriminately at Israel — hoping that the Iron Dome will miss at least one of them — I’ve started a tally.

So far, I’ve run inside a bunker or a stairwell 14 times. I’ve heard at least 20 “booms” that crackle the sky as the Iron Dome intercepts a rocket. I’ve felt the ground shake from said “boom” four times.

Last Friday evening, I witnessed a hasty Happy Birthday sung on a stairwell amid sirens and booms. There was no time for a cake or candle — just the song to assuage a toddler’s fear. On Tuesday I saw an elderly couple scramble to the cafeteria of the Tel Aviv Museum (the museum’s bunker), clutching on to each other. Those were two times the ground shook beneath us.

I do realize this is common fare, sadly, for Israelis. As an American citizen in town for only a few weeks, I’m witnessing just a sliver of what it’s like for Israelis trying their best to live a “normal” life in a kind of twilight zone where different rules apply. An endless supply of optimism that peace and safety are around the corner seems essential to keep society functioning.

I’m lucky my apartment has a “mamad,” or bunker, in it — a requirement for recent constructions in Israel. I go inside for the duration of the siren’s scream and rush out when it’s over to look out the window and see if any of the shrapnel landed nearby. Facing the highway, I see rows of cars pulled over to the side, the road quiet as people get up from the ground and back in their cars to resume their lives.

An interception of a rocket by the Iron Dome anti-missile system above Sderot on July 21. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

At a family dinner on Thursday, a siren went off while we were eating. The 8-year-old grabbed the dogs and the 3-year-old clutched on to her grandmother as her parents made sure everyone was safe in the bunker. They showed me the gas masks, now required in bunkers in case of a chemical attack.

We stayed there for a few minutes, heard two booms and the siren’s wail end.

“Hope it didn’t land in the living room,” the father said, laughing. As he walked out he looked around to make sure.

A few days ago, when I decided to begin my rocket tally, it occurred to me: We’ve become blasé about the situation, annoyed when a siren interrupts our daily routine. We joke: Where did the siren catch you this time? The shower, or were you still in bed? Where do you go if you’re in the grocery store and the siren begins? Are movie theaters fortified?

But what if there were no Iron Dome? The country would be in flames. The civilian casualties would be staggering.

I wouldn’t be here typing. All it takes is for one rocket to get through — one, out of the 20-plus rockets that have been launched at Tel Aviv in 13 days. I’m fortunate; I can run, squat and dodge — unlike those confined to beds or wheelchairs. Several people have suffered from shock. Some hospitals aren’t fortified.

Tel Aviv, in general, is privileged. We’re dealing with a fraction of the rockets launched daily at southern cities, where people are being told to go into bunkers every hour to avoid rockets. Over the radio I hear about shrapnel injuries, a civilian who died of a heart attack on the way to the bunker, a Bedouin killed from a Hamas rocket explosion.

The Iron Dome has a success rate of around 85 to 90 percent, according to the IDF. As Hamas keeps lobbing rockets, I feel myself, along with others, become more confounded by how surreal life in Tel Aviv has become.

How long will we stay lucky?