The weeks that followed:
During my first siren experience I was alone in my daughter’s apartment listening to the news in Hebrew as the Prime Minister (Bibi) spoke live with the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon; who was in Israel for the wailing sirens that occurred daily and even more frequently in the southern cities in the country. As the siren sounded, my daughter called me from the bomb shelter at her office to make sure I was inside. She guided me through the routine; take my key and go into the stairwell for safety. In less than 60 seconds I had felt the building shake from two enormous ‘booms’. While I stood in the stairwell on the phone with my 26 year old daughter, she comforted me as I cried. I was shocked and scared as I could not believe that this is what the citizens of Israel are subjected to and expected to live with as part of daily life in Israel. As I was crouched down on the floor, the 53 year old baby that I had turned into, a neighbor from the floor above came over to me. He was an older Israeli man that spoke perfect English to me and had heard me on the phone with my daughter. He came to comfort me and assured me that I was not alone and that we will all be fine. The neighbor instructed me to meet all the other neighbors on the third floor the next time the siren went off because he reminded me that we are all in this together. He told me he wanted to be sure that all the neighbors were out of their apartments and huddled together on one floor to take care of each other. This kind man then proceeded to show me on his iPhone the actual interception which were the ‘booms’ that I heard from somewhere in the sky. In the most calm manner, he explained to me that those loud booms are actually what we want to hear because that simply means that once again, the Iron Dome that Israel has acquired to protect its citizens, was working.
The second siren happened while I was sleeping in the same room with my daughter. Suddenly at 2:30 a.m., I heard the wailing siren and immediately awoke my daughter who was in a deep sleep. She went into a robotic like behavior as she threw a towel around her to cover up. With no shoes, she told me we have to get out of the apartment and head to the stairwell or the shelter. I felt the shock and disbelief at this siren warning us that a missile was coming in to Tel Aviv; clearly I still was not used to this torment that my daughter had begun to view as a part of life in Israel. I grabbed my phone and was dressed in my sleeping T-shirt and followed her out into the stairwell. I felt sick to my stomach from the surprise of a siren at that hour. Once again the important sound of the boom occurred and the tenants automatically went back to their apartments and supposedly back to a normal night of sleep.
My third siren experience I was alone once again. My daughter had called me prior to the siren to tell me she was walking home from work. In the beginning I felt uncomfortable with her walking, but she explained that this is how she makes her way home and that if a siren were to sound she knows the drill of running into the nearest shelter. I was, of all places, in the bathroom when I heard the siren; I actually thought I was hearing things. At 6 o’clock at night, when many Israelis are commuting home; this apparently had become one of the favorite times for Hamas to send missiles to add to the torment. This time I was really fed up. I just could not believe that three weeks later and in the middle of the so called ‘cease fire,’ this was still going on. That was just another face of this war, one of the things that the media does not sufficiently cover or reveal. How during a supposed truce, the terrorists will continue on with their attack; a cease fire meant nothing to them. Instead of hundreds of rockets they may only send 50 during that time frame, it is beyond sick.
From the first morning to the last days of my visit, I would go out in Tel Aviv to begin my day with a two hour walk. The first week I went over to the beach. A typical July in Israel usually means a packed beach, even in the winter mornings the beach is busy with people doing their workout routines. It felt empty compared to all my other visits over the years to the beach. The Israelis weren’t around and the tourists were obviously missing. People were staying close to home; it just wasn’t worth the stress or the urgency to get into a bomb shelter when a siren would inevitably sound.
The second week I had changed my direction and found a route where many local Israelis were walking and biking to work,many gathering at coffee stands and reading the headlines of the latest news out of Gaza. I soon realized that life definitely went on in Israel; it was just that the people were totally consumed with the war. That was the topic of conversation at every minute of every day. Whoever I met up with, our conversation was either about if there was anyone you were related to on the front lines and of course analyzing what was going to be of this “situation” and when or how could it end. The conversation was always about how many soldiers were injured and who was killed. About the sons, the young fathers, friends, brothers, husbands who left their pregnant wives at home, and also the young men who were engaged to be married over this same summer. Those tragic stories, this significant part of the face of this war, is unfortunately not exposed in the US media or anywhere else for that matter.
Everyone felt each other’s pain and we all cried a lot over the weeks of the war as intimate stories of the soldiers that were killed were printed in the newspaper daily and told on the television every night. The thousands of people that attended funerals of the lone soldiers, 20,000 at a time, was something I had never heard of. The country was united in a way, that up until this point in my life, I had never seen anything even close to this in the world. It was as if everyone was related; one giant family; that is what Israel always was and truly is.
The emotions I had felt at this time of such crisis in Israel were intense. I witnessed the people in Israel in addition to myself feeling more compassionate than I ever thought was possible. The amount of volunteers that left days of their work behind to go to the border, to where the soldiers were waiting to put their lives on the line, was remarkable. Volunteers raised funds in order to purchase items and foods for those soldiers, and the amount of food and items the soldiers were given was overwhelming. Food stations were set up to provide them with home cooked meals. It was in abundance and a beautiful thing to see everything that was donated. Those were the moments that brought a smile to everyone’s face.
The day for our return to New York had arrived and of course, I did not want to leave. Israel had shown me the most remarkable and inspirational people, a people that have no choice but to fight the miserable face of the terrorism for a land that belongs to them and to the Jewish people. The Israelis have accepted this burden because they have no choice; they want to have their own country. A country that all the Jews in the world can call their home the same way all other nations in the world have a country to call their own.
The Israelis have sacrificed much too much for this. This is how they are all raised; to be devoted to their home. The stories of sacrifice are endless and they are the saddest stories told. However, one thing they also have in common is that at the end of each sad story there is no regret. The soldiers that were lost were proud and so are their families proud of them. While these families are faced with such devastation at the loss of their loved one, they teach each other how to carry on because the soldiers are carrying out an obligation to the country. And when a life is taken, this is something that although incredibly difficult to deal with, is admired and respected because of the passion and patriotism that every Israeli possesses.
My husband and I left Israel with a very heavy heart and remain with a longing to return to a land we call home.