Sometimes it’s hard for me to sleep at night. Maybe it’s because of the perpetual booms demanding my attention, squandering my attempts to rest. Maybe it’s the fears racing through my mind, taunting me that this current state of existence won’t ever cease. I roll over in bed, trying to tune it all out. I try not to think about Daniel, the 4 year old boy killed the other day by rocket fire after his family returned to their home near the Gaza border. I can’t help but think about the fallen IDF soldiers my age that my nation is mourning. I sigh exhausted from this mess and that’s when the 30 second siren rings. It takes me a moment to catch on and then my adrenaline kicks in as I run to move the residents of Aleh Negev to the bomb shelter.

I’m now used to it. I’m expecting it. I’m prepared. Whether I’m waiting for a bus or getting into the shower, I know where the bomb shelters are, and I know how to protect myself and my loved ones. The panic of rushing so many people in wheelchairs into the centrally located safe room always catches me feeling overly motherly. Hearing the boom of the Iron Dome intercepting the rocket on it’s mission to kill everyone in it’s path, I finally allow a breath to enter my shaking body. We got everyone in. We survived. Now it’s time to carry on with the day. Let’s sing a song, do a little dance, distract ourselves from the miracle that just took place.

And that’s how it’s been for two months at Aleh Negev, the residential rehabilitation village for children and adults with very severe disabilities located 18 miles from the Gaza border. All of us doing National Service here at Aleh Negev moved into the village in order to help; to run as the sirens sound, extend our normal working hours, to bring joy, and to support this amazing community in need. A community that provides us with so much fulfillment. The punishment for existing is an exhausting yoke to bear. The only alleviation is found in the pride of being part of the experience. I join in laughing with other Israelis finding humor in the darkness of this operation. It’s our natural therapy that enables our continuance. I am proud to support Israel not only with thoughts and prayers or a status on Facebook, but to literally be here in the land of my ancestors and to give all my heart and all my energy to helping the diversity of the people who inhabit it. I am proud to hear the news firsthand and in the process of the building history of Israel. I am proud of the unity found in the streets, in the care packages sent to the soldiers, in the projects of spiritually assisting our survival, of the volunteering for the wounded. The amazing stories of people reaching out to one another resonates the fact that this country is an extraordinary community.

Furthermore, I am proud that even in a war of self defense, we are still anti war as an entity of destruction. No one enjoys the rising death toll in Gaza. We bend over trying to warn them, to assist them with humanitarian aid, to agree to cease fires and then we pray that this will just end. The pain and destruction drifts in the wind, catching my nose by surprise for the sensations of war are foreign to this San Diegen. Contrasting the familiar trees and climate that makes me feel at home in this coastal desert, I dare to live in a location that boarders neighbors much more unfriendly than any other neighbor I can imagine. I chose to follow my dream and move independently to Israel because I wanted to actualize my link in the chain of my nation. Even when a link gets rusty in some sections or the tension pulls too tight, all the challenges help in sharpening one’s identity. It’s the zoomed out version of the picture that brings me comfort. It’s the future links that are depending on me. It’s the authenticity that I want to practice, guiding me to define myself by my actions.

Swimming upstream against the tide of anti-Israel events in America and Europe, I find myself feeling more safe where I sit here in the Middle East. I shiver reading the news of threats and hate pouring out against Jews via the Internet and street protests. I see the hypocrisy being spewed about the disproportional casualties caused by the Israeli Defense Forces while thousands of civilians are murdered in Syria and Iraq without a thought of reducing causalities.

I wrap myself in a blanket, staring out at the stars, totally and completely homesick. I could not miss my family more, but so thankful to have my sister Ilana in Israel with me. I miss the glorious San Diego summers and simmer with jealously at the photo updates from my family back home. I am forever connected to San Diego, awaiting to come back to my birthplace to visit. Nevertheless, here in Israel, I snuggle into my new home and whisper to the sky words of gratitude that I am in the place that I belong.