Lisa Starr
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Flying under rocket fire: A love story

It was inconceivable that I would fail in my mission to see my terminally ill father. Just before liftoff, the sirens began to blare.
A scribbled retort from dad (courtesy) against a background of rockets from Gaza and Iron Dome interceptor missiles, May 14, 2021. (Anas Baba/AFP)
A scribbled retort from dad (courtesy) against a background of rockets from Gaza and Iron Dome interceptor missiles, May 14, 2021. (Anas Baba/AFP)

“South Africa is red, red, red, ” declared the travel agent. “You can apply for permission to visit a sick relative, but you’re probably wasting your time. Permission is only being granted to attend parents’ funerals.”

It was inconceivable that I wouldn’t succeed in my mission to see my terminally ill father and, after multiple rejections and intervention from my furious daughter, my appeal was approved.

Picture the scene. After spending all day worrying about predicted rocket fire, and anticipating complications getting to the airport, this passed without incident, as did check-in and boarding. All my worrying seemed to be for nothing…but I spoke too soon.

Our plane began taxiing down the runway at 1:00 AM only to suddenly stop for what the captain anticipated to be a brief delay.

And then we heard the sirens. Everyone switched cellphones back on. Red alerts everywhere and my family and friends all messaging me from shelters. Through the plane window, we watched three rockets being intercepted in quick succession, and reports came in of a building on fire.

The captain taxied back to our bay and, after an agonizingly long wait, regretfully announced that our flight was canceled. It was too unsafe to fly. Devastated, I got my hand luggage down, thanked the apologetic Ethiopian Air stewards, and passengers began disembarking.

The date was the early hours of 13th May. My late grandmother’s birthday. My father had always been her favored son. I silently prayed that somehow, against near impossible odds, she’d get me to South Africa in time.

Suddenly, miraculously, there was another announcement. There was a break in rocket fire. They were checking the runway for damage and, if it was intact, we could possibly fly.

There was a sudden rush of activity as we hurried back to our seats and cabin crew prepared for a quick departure before attacks resumed.

Finally, after three hours on the ground, we were off. I only just made my connection in Addis in time, and only because the connecting flight had been delayed. Mine was one of the last flights out of Israel.

“I braved rockets to get to you,” were my first words to my ailing father.

Esophageal cancer had destroyed his vocal cords, and he could no longer talk, but he picked up a pen and paper and wrote in reply:

‘I braved death to wait for you.”

And so he did.

Baruch Dayan Ha’emet.

May his memory be a blessing.

About the Author
Lisa is a not-so-new South African olah who manages, for the most part, to see the bright side to life in Israel. Always happy to inspire, inform, share, and entertain, she's easy to track down hanging about her 'Israel 101' Facebook group. Consider this an open invitation to meet up there.
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