I’ve been home three weeks now. Home is Calais, Maine, USA. I grew up in the small border town of Calais, located two minutes away from Canada, for most of my life. The people here know me and I’m still in touch with the friends and classmates I grew up with.
After an 11-hour flight from Israel, and a five-hour bus ride from Boston, my dad and mom picked me up at the bus station in Bangor, Maine. Another two hours on the road, and I’m finally get home with two very happy parents. I breathe in the fresh clean air, take in the shades of green, and shiver in the early autumn breeze.
Home. It’s just as I remember all those days I’ve spent living in the Israeli town of Sderot this past year. After a year of more than 1,000 Palestinian rockets raining down on this city located right on the border with Gaza, I can truly appreciate the peace and quiet that a town like Calais has to offer.
We have friendly Canadian neighbors on the other side of the river, which divides New Brunswick, Canada and Maine. The only locals who have experienced war are those who have served in Iraq and Afganistan, and the veterans of foreign wars. Americans here at home can worry about paying mortgages and taxes without having to worry about random rockets exploding on their homes and playgrounds.
Boy, it’s nice to be back.
During the five weeks back home, I’m working as a cashier in our local grocery store, the Calais IGA. The store manager hired me back when I was in high school and has watched me grow up along with all my customers. As I ring in groceries, local elderly ladies and their husbands tell me that they pray for my safety at nights. I catch up with classmates that I haven’t seen in years; those in the military, serving in Iraq, and others also visiting home, who have attended college and found work in southern Maine.
I stock Kit-Kats and Reeses. I’ve gone from dodging rockets to stocking candy in the shelves of IGA.
I share some of my experiences with the store manager, Ed, who asks me about life in Sderot. There is one incident that keeps flashing back to me even as I work as a cashier here in Calais.
I tell Ed about a day where over ten Qassam rockets were fired at Sderot and how on such a day, even a simple shopping routine becomes intensely stressful. Shopping in the Sderot grocery store that morning, the alarm, Tzeva Adom, had sounded, warning residents of an impending rocket explosion. All the customers, cashiers, and managers raced to the back of the store where the bomb shelter was located. We had left carts of food and registers unattended. As we crammed into that shelter, counting down the seconds to safety, we heard the sound of the rocket exploding somewhere in the city.
Ed listened with shock. It’s hard to conceive that kind of life in a quiet town like Calais. But even in Maine, nicknamed Vacationland for its scenic routes and nature, it is hard to forget the traumatic experiences of life in the rocket-battered town of Sderot.