Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
To dedicate this lesson


One of the many skills that those of us living here in Israel rapidly acquire is the ability to discern between the different sounds of similar-sounding sirens.


Rabbi Berel Wein

Sivan 14 5781
One of the many skills that those of us living here in Israel rapidly acquire is the ability to discern between the different sounds of similar-sounding sirens. We live in a noisy environment and it is more than likely that in everyday living here we will hear some kind of siren. Most of the time the siren is from an ambulance transporting people to the hospital for treatment. The wail of that type of alert is easily recognizable and becomes almost part of the background noise that marks life in a large city. The wail of an ambulance siren is more of a staccato nature, with pauses in the noise itself before it resumes its sound.

As I mentioned earlier, all of us are accustomed to this this siren, and it is mainly produced to warn oncoming or crossing traffic that an ambulance is about to pass, which will not necessarily observe the speed limit or even stop signs. Extra caution is needed by all the other automobiles on that street at that time, to avoid an accident or collision. The ambulance services here in Israel are quite efficient, and they provide life-giving assistance with alacrity and compassion. No one likes to hear the sound of an ambulance, indicating that someone requires dire and instant medical treatment. However, the sound of an ambulance siren does not strike fear or terror into the hearts and minds of those who hear it, for we think of it as a part of the ongoing regular cycle of life as we know it to be.

There is another type of sound or siren that is often heard here on the streets of Jerusalem, and that is the siren of a police or security vehicle. The sound of this siren is much lower and more growling than the ambulance siren. It is easily recognizable, and its purpose is, as was the case with the ambulance siren. to clear a path in traffic, to allow the police vehicle to arrive where it is needed quickly and safely. The police siren usually is accompanied by a spoken warning emanating from the loudspeaker of the police vehicle, so that in most cases the purpose and mission of the police vehicle is immediately understood by all those that otherwise would somehow block the street or go through the intersection.

Police sirens often engender anxiety and worry. It usually means that there is a bad accident or an act of violence that had been reported, and the police are rushing to it, to sort matters out and help restore the situation to some sort of normalcy. If we hear a large number such as three or four police sirens one after another speeding down our streets, we are immediately concerned that the matter is indeed serious, one that the radio will inform us of quickly. If we do not hear any news regarding any special occurrence, then we are immediately filled with relief caused by the police sirens.

However, there is third type of siren that we have recently experienced, here in the holy city of Jerusalem. That sound is the up-and-down whale of the siren announcing that an attack, usually concerning rockets and or missiles, is taking place. It is rare for us here in Jerusalem to hear that siren, and in the quarter-century that I have been living here, I have heard it only a few times. The last time was only a few weeks ago, at the beginning of the rocket attacks by Hamas at Israeli targets throughout the country.

That siren sound does cause an immediate emotional response. It not only warns of imminent danger, but it opens a vista of a very unknown and dangerous future period. When that type of siren sounds, one is to find shelter in the rooms and staircases of the building, and await the signal that all is clear, when one can return to one's own apartment. The effect of this siren is long-lasting, so that even after it was last heard, which could be weeks later, its echoes remain vivid in the ears and minds of the civilian population of the city.

The prophet Amos already stated that when the morning siren of the shofar is sounded in the city, the people will be filled with terror. The sounds of this last type of siren fit that bill and description accurately.
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