This piece is one of an ongo­ing series that we will be shar­ing in the com­ing days from Israeli authors and authors in Israel.

It is crit­i­cal to under­stand his­to­ry not just through the books that will be writ­ten lat­er, but also through the first-hand tes­ti­monies and real-time account­ing of events as they occur. At Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, we under­stand the val­ue of these writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ni­als and of shar­ing these indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ences. It’s more impor­tant now than ever to give space to these voic­es and narratives. 

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, JBI is record­ing writ­ers’ first-hand accounts, as shared with and pub­lished by JBC, to increase the acces­si­bil­i­ty of these accounts for indi­vid­u­als who are blind, have low vision or are print disabled. 

Dur­ing World War II, Louis G. Schwartz, a wait­er at the Sixth Avenue Deli, sin­gle hand­ed­ly raised nine mil­lion dol­lars for the war effort with the slo­gan You’ll buy War Bonds soon­er or lat­er / So get them today from Louie the Wait­er.” He also came up with Send a Sala­mi to Your Boy in the Army,” which became the catch­phrase for Katz’s Delicatessen.

So, it was fit­ting that this past Wednes­day my hus­band, Yoav, wore his Katz’s t‑shirt to our vol­un­teer job at Piz­za Badash in Tel Aviv, where we were mak­ing piz­zas for peo­ple sit­ting shi­va, that is, mourn­ing a loved one. But it’s not sim­ply mourn­ing a loved one” because that doesn’t cap­ture what we’re talk­ing about here. We’re talk­ing about peo­ple who may have first learned of their grandmother’s mur­der on Face­book, because after Hamas infil­tra­tors slaugh­tered her, they took her cell­phone, and used it to post pic­tures of her butchered body on her Face­book wall.

Obvi­ous­ly, in the face of that kind of hor­ror, piz­za seems inane. And yet, peo­ple have to eat. 

Yoav and I land­ed in Tel Aviv a month ago to spend the year here while he’s on sab­bat­i­cal from New York Uni­ver­si­ty, where he’s a pro­fes­sor of learn­ing sci­ences. Need­less to say, the year isn’t going as planned. We were search­ing for ways to help when we received a text mes­sage that a pizze­ria, whose own­er had been called up, had opened its doors for vol­un­teers to make pies for griev­ing fam­i­lies. We jumped on rental scoot­ers. The call was for peo­ple to fold box­es, but when we arrived, they already had enough fold­ers. What they didn’t have, though, were enough vol­un­teers who knew how to make piz­za. Some mess­es were com­ing out of the oven. 

As fate would have it, Yoav has been obsessed with piz­za-mak­ing for the past year. In his usu­al sci­en­tist fash­ion, he’s been test­ing and retest­ing hydra­tion per­cent­age, fer­men­ta­tion process­es, proof­ing time, flour types, stretch­ing tech­niques, and how to best launch the dough with the steel peel. With­in forty-eight hours of land­ing in Tel Aviv, he had bought a used piz­za oven and begun test­ing what need­ed to be done dif­fer­ent­ly in this hot­ter cli­mate. After I told the over­seer of the vol­un­teer oper­a­tion, Miri­am, that my hus­band had stud­ied” piz­za, she said, Get him behind the counter.” And that’s how I land­ed there, too. 

The whole time we made piz­zas, the rock­et sirens kept sound­ing off, forc­ing every­one to drop the box­es they were fold­ing or the toma­to sauce they were scoop­ing and run for cov­er. It was make piz­za, hide from rock­ets, make piz­za, hide from rock­ets, repeat. The first two times, every­one ran to the stair­well. When I asked the guy shel­ter­ing next to me why the stair­well, he said it was to get as far away as pos­si­ble from glass, like the pizzeria’s store­front. One explo­sion boomed so loud, I felt the thun­der in my chest. Every­one glanced at each oth­er, acknowl­edg­ing how near the rock­et must have been. 

When the sirens wailed a third time, we ran to a pro­tect­ed room on the sec­ond floor of the build­ing next door. When we left that shel­ter, we passed an old­er woman on the stairs, seat­ed next to her son, who was hold­ing her while she remained gripped by pan­ic. Per­haps she couldn’t climb the stairs fast enough to get to the pro­tect­ed room. One of the piz­za vol­un­teers offered her water and, at first, the woman could only stare at the vol­un­teer and the half-drunk bot­tle in ter­ri­fied con­fu­sion, her eyes odd­ly blank and her mouth in a small sta­t­ic o. Then, under­stand­ing, she reached out.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, when you leave piz­zas in the oven to hide in a bomb shel­ter, they burn. Those pies end­ed up in the garbage instead of being car­ried off to griev­ing families. 

The views and opin­ions expressed above are those of the author, based on their obser­va­tions and experiences.

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Jes­samyn Hope is the author of the nov­el Safe­keep­ing, win­ner of the J.I. Segal Award and a final­ist for both the Rib­alow Prize and the Pater­son Fic­tion Prize. Her mem­oirs and short sto­ries — orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in PloughsharesThe Com­mon, and else­where — have received two Push­cart Prize hon­or­able men­tions, been named a Best Amer­i­can Notable Essay, and have been anthol­o­gized in Best Cana­di­an Essays, The Broad­view Anthol­o­gy of Expos­i­to­ry Prose, and The New Spice Box: Con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish Writ­ing. She grew up in Mon­tre­al, has long lived in New York City, and is spend­ing the year in Tel Aviv.