(For information about how you can donate to “Straight to the South,” our campaign to buy food vouchers and pay off grocery store debts for needy families and soldiers in the south of Israel, please click here.)

I can’t speak for the people of the south. I can’t speak for the residents of Sderot, or Ashkelon, or Ashdod. I can’t speak for the Israeli soldiers bearing the burden of military equipment on their uniformed shoulders, exposed to mortars and drones, in this sweltering 100-degree July heat. I can’t speak for the innocent men, women, and children of Gaza, who are losing everything. I can only speak for myself, an American immigrant living in Tel Aviv.

I’ve been running to bomb shelters for less than a week, and already have a newfound understanding of just how long one day of wartime really is. Running from rockets—particularly when you’re outdoors—is one of the worst feelings a person can experience. I can only describe it as a toxic adrenalin rush, a purge of anxiety from the pit of your stomach spilling out through every nerve in your body. And yet, many would chastise me for even writing these words, because I am not “entitled” to feel any fear. After all, I have the Iron Dome to protect me. The blessed Iron Dome. What would we do without it? There’s a good possibility I might have left the country by now.

The Iron Dome allows us to continue going about our regular lives. At least, those of us not living in the south. We continue to go to work, exercise at the gym, relax on the beach, and gather with friends in cafes and bars. Then there’s a rocket siren, and I see the subtle difference between the Israelis and the immigrants. Some Israelis are so confident in the Iron Dome that they don’t even go to a bomb shelter. I’ve seen some hot shots mocking their friends who start running when the siren rings. They say we have nothing to fear, and maybe they’re right. But even this small taste of what the citizens of the south are enduring around-the-clock has been a shock to the system. I don’t know how they are able to live like this. But I have the utmost respect for them; without them, where would Israel’s southern border be?

For those of us in the center of Israel, the rockets aren’t so bad when you’re indoors. What’s stressful is when you’re caught outside, with no bomb shelter in sight. This happened to me on Thursday, when a few colleagues and I left the office to pick up some food for lunch. On our way back to the office, the siren rang out. We were too far from any building, so we ran to a makeshift construction site and crouched underneath a leaning sheet of metal. The siren roared in our ears. My friend James—a British immigrant—knew I was scared, so he hovered over me to make me feel more secure. As the seconds slowly passed, we braced ourselves, squeezing together tightly. My friend Shira—an American immigrant—bowed her head to the ground with her tiny hands crossed over her delicate blonde head. I looked at the three of us and thought, how did three immigrants from the richest countries in the world end up in this absurd, dangerous situation?

Even with my head down, I could hear the rocket whizzing through the air above us, and like a flash of echoing thunder, the Iron Dome intercepted it with a loud BOOM. The explosion vibrated through the air. Slowly, we looked up and saw the cloud of white smoke directly above us. As the tension slowly seeped out of my skin, an overwhelming feeling of gratitude left me weak. There were people out there inventing miracles to save our lives. To save my life. Someone had invested millions of dollars, brains, resources, and Gd knows what else to protect me. I had never felt so grateful in my life.

My friends and family ask me if I’m going to leave, but the thought of being away and worrying feels worse than actually being here. Granted, it would be nice to get a good night’s sleep without waking up in the middle of the night, panicked that I may have missed a siren. It is hard to truly relax. I’m jumpy. Every sudden loud noise or motorcycle whizzing by gets my heart rate up at marathon speed. I’m starting to imagine hearing sirens when there aren’t any. My husband and I sleep with the A/C blasting and the window open, since it’s 100 degrees and humid but we don’t want to miss a siren. We wake up with a jolt in the morning with Hamas as our new alarm clock. I check the news on my phone dozens of times a day. Is this what life is like for the people of Sderot? How do they do it every day?

One thing’s for sure—NO American would tolerate this for a single day. If people in New York City were running from rockets, do you think America would show any restraint? When I think about it, it’s easy to feel helpless. Hopeless.

But there is something we can do. The residents of the south desperately need financial help. Many of them cannot work in these circumstances, and don’t have enough money to buy food for their families. They live off credit at the grocery store, racking up large debts. My friends and I started a campaign called “Straight to the South,” where we are raising money to pay off the grocery store debts of needy families, and buy food vouchers for needy soldiers. Please like our Facebook page, where you can see pictures and stories about the families we are helping. We are making a difference, however small, and hope to help as many people as possible. Please donate to this crucial cause and help us spread the word—time is of the essence.