JERUSALEM. — A HOLIDAY WEEK in Israel consists of a mixture of half working days and complete holidays, so the plant where I work solved the problem by closing for the entire week. As always happens when I have a few days of leave, it coincided with the maturation of a long list of household chores that my wife had been nursing for just such an occasion. I had planned on doing a little reading and writing, but before I could settle in I was dragged off to the shops.
First call was the garden center. It's autumn and time to fertilize, turn the soil and plant the winter bulbs and seeds. We bought a selection of plants, a couple of garden tools that I have been eyeing for some time and a few bags of fertilizer, and then we went to the hardware store.
Shopping for the garden is always fun. After all, gardening is a pleasurable pastime. If you don't enjoy it, you don't do it. So one never thinks of garden shopping as a chore. Its a pleasure, a delight. The hardware store was grim by comparison.
It is now carrying items for war. We checked the price of an emergency light and found it to be very expensive. So we bought fresh torch batteries. Then we said to each other ''what else do we need if . . . ?'' We have never competed that particular sentence, except to say ''He wouldn't care . . . would he?''
Current talk here, confirmed by radio and newspaper reports, is that this corner of the world is on the brink of war. No matter how much you pooh-pooh the idea or try to ignore it or get away from it, it's inescapable. One can feel the country is turning to face the coming war. The other day the civil-defense authorities announced that the distribution of gas masks is to commence. That's serious stuff. Imagine going off to work or school or even kindergarten each morning swinging agas mask along with your briefcase or packet of sandwiches.
For those of us who have never experienced anything like this before, our question is ''What happens inside the home?'' How do you prepare for the coming catastrophe? Every house has a bomb shelter. That is a fact, but also an ab-straction. The building laws require that every building, apartment building and private home have a shelter. The shelter, normally below ground, is of heavy reinforced concrete with a thick steel anti-blast door and an emergency escape hatch.
Where we live, we will share a common shelter with two neighboring families. If we are all in the shelter together, we will number 11 souls ranging from 3 to almost 60 years old. Because we are all reasonable, responsible people, we have always told each other if one of us intended storing something in the shelter, so our shelter is not too cluttered with discarded household items. This apparently is not the general rule.
Bomb shelters, by the nature of their construction, are expensive. Having paid for one, the home owner wants to use the area, so he turns it into a storeroom, a study, a kids' clubhouse, a larder or whatever hethinks of. With the first sounds of saber-rattling, one should go down and clear one's shelter, but human nature intervenes and says ''It won't happen. He wouldn't dare . . . would he?''
Now there is a new factor to consider. He has chemicals and gas. These are always designed to be heavierthan air; they won't do much good (!) if they float off into space, will they? So the worst place to be, in the event of a gas or chemical attack, is in your basement shelter. You must go up, preferably to a room well off the ground, above the poisons.
We have chosen our second-floor bedroom and have taken up a radio and all the spare tape we could find, to seal the cracks in the windows. We have a bathroom en suite so there is plenty of water, a small TV set, a telephone, a bed and clothes.
What about other protective items? I always said no to a fire extinguisher. We have no formal first-aid kit, but lots of odd bandages, plasters and ointments. We bought a few packets of baking soda which when mixed with water forms a protective mixture that you can dip a handkerchief or cloth into to cover your mouth and nose if you are caught without your gas mask. Gas masks will be distributed in due course. Food?
Should we go to the supermarket and lay in stocks of food? And if yes, for how long? What should we buy? There's no cooking in the bedroom, so that in itself will limit the choice. Should we lay in a supply of reading material and other pastimes to while away long hours of boredom?
What if he discards the chemical and gas attacks and goes JTC straight into regular bombing? We may have to leave everything and make a -- to our bomb shelter which is without supplies. The choices are making everything very difficult.
Everyone is an expert and has answers to all one's questions, so to avoid confusion, one stops asking. The few years' service I did in a civil-defense unit are long past; in any case everything seems to have changed. I suppose it will turn out that it doesn't really matter how much you know or whether you had previous experience. It will inevitably be a new experience for us and for the entire world.
Of course I don't really believe it will happen, but I also doubt that it will just go away. He wouldn't dare . . . would he?
Mr. Moss is an engineer and a resident of Jerusalem.