90 Seconds – My first bomb shelter encounter

My first month stay in Tel Aviv consisted of interning daily, going out with friends, meeting new people, and experiencing Israeli culture. Not once had the idea of going into a bomb shelter or running for my life gone through my head. I laughed when my trip leader showed us where the bomb shelter was in our dorms our first day because I would never need that. It was just a protocol and precaution that they needed to take. Nothing would happen and we were safe in Tel Aviv.

July 8, 2014 proved me wrong. I was on my way back from a day trip in the Golan Heights with my group. Minutes before, my trip leader received a call that she was required to go to the reserves. In shock, all twenty-four of us did not know what to do. How was it that our madricha, Shira,was sent back? She was one of us, in our little Onward Pittsburgh family. What would we do without Shira by our side as both a friend and a mentor? We finally reached our dorms after what seemed like a never-ending bus ride. As I unlocked my room, I heard something go off. I was not sure what this unbearable noise was so I immediately started screaming to get someone’s attention on my floor. The noise sounded like a combination of a tornado siren and a fire truck. I had assumed the negative of what this invasive noise might be, a code red siren. Seconds later, frazzled Americans (myself included) ran into the bomb shelter on my floor of the dorm. Ten minutes later, it was all clear to leave and go back about our business.

I really cannot describe the thoughts rushing through my head as I entered a bomb shelter for the first time. Relief that we actually had a safe shelter to run to and fear of what could possibly happen. Rockets from Gaza are being aimed at us and there really is no way to escape it. Israelis go on with their lives, they resume work, lunch, shopping, etc. I feel as if people here keep comparing ourselves, Americans, to Israelis but we really can’t. This is our first experience with anything like this. It is okay to feel scared, nervous, anxious, or any type of emotion. Some people are internalizing this while others are more external with their feelings. How sad is it that Israelis are used to this? They don’t flinch at a siren going off, but are prepared and know how to react since many of them have done this before.

I seriously cannot imagine life without the sirens, though. They are a warning signal and tell us to take cover. Israeli intelligence is incredible and looks out for the safety of everyone. We have exactly a minute and a half to get to safety. Now, this time is both long and short in my opinion. At least we are not in the South of Israel where they have fifteen seconds… just imagine. Fifteen seconds to find hiding. Fifteen seconds to grab your family and run. Fifteen seconds to duck and cover if that’s all you have. So many people don’t even have a bomb shelter or secure area to go to. We are lucky that we have bomb shelters on each floor of the dorm. When in doubt, I tell myself that I am safe in my dorm and that if anything were to happen, the safest place is here.

But, in the end, we are all safe here. The media doesn’t always portray what it is actually like. Media is skewed always towards one side or another, which is unpreventable. Life does go on. And it will. Am I a little scared? Of course I am! Who isn’t? But, stuff can happen anywhere. You just have to pick yourself up and move on. I’m trying as hard as I can to go back to my normal life here. My routine and what I know. You have to make the best of situations and stay positive. This is what I’ve learned not only from being in Israel, but about life in general recently. You can’t focus on the negative and things you can’t change. But, you can stay in tune with what you do have control over.

Honestly, I never thought that me, a privileged girl from Highland Park, Illinois would be seeking asylum in a bomb shelter. But you know what? These are the experiences that make you grow as a person. These are the stories you tell your family and friends. It’s times like these where we all have to stick together and just keep thinking that everything is going to be okay. Because it will be. Just stay optimistic.

About the Author
Alexis Miller is originally from Chicago, currently at the University of Pittsburgh studying Applied Developmental Psychology and Social Work. She recently spent two months in Israel interning and hopes to return next year for an extended stay.