Allyson Altit

Israel. Before and Now

"There's no place like home" Dorothy
'There's no place like home' - Dorothy (courtesy)

Israel – Tel Aviv – 2016

Many years ago a friend said to me, “Allyson, you know that Israel is in the middle of a jungle,” I didn’t get it.

It was the year 2016, one of my daughters lived in an apartment right next to Kikar Rabin. Rabin Square is located in the center of Tel Aviv. It was always quite impressive, the sun shined brilliantly on the oversize square; but it’s the vibe of peace that would hit me. It’s a main square for local Tel Avivians to hang in at almost any hour, especially at sundown. In every corner, and between the fountain and lily fish pond, benches and chairs were offered for relaxing in the square. I thought it would be crazy noisy, given the location, as it remains a popular venue for many rallies, musicals, and events of all kinds. I was wrong, it was mellow.

Across the street from Rabin Square was my first stop, to buy fruits and vegetables. Unexpectedly, the guys in the market were speaking Arabic between each other but, as the Israeli clientele streamed in, they switched to perfect Hebrew. The strawberries, cases of them lined the entrance; they couldn’t be resisted from the temptation of their scent. Neither could the barrels of cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes. Their colors were so bright, easy to envision in my salad. This is the neighborhood fruit store, it’s owned by Arabs, Arab Israelis. They insisted on carrying my packages across the street to the apartment because my purchase was too heavy for me to carry. The guys wished me a Shabbat Shalom (peaceful Sabbath,) and would see me next week, “Inshallah,” (God Willing) they said.

Later in the day my daughter confirmed that I went into the right place for the fruit and veggies. She also mentioned that the guys there are cool, and many people really do get along around here. At times if she is short a few shekels, credit is given without a second thought. There is more to the story in the Middle East.

Freedom is the prominent vibe that is experienced in this country, it’s always been quite evident through different sides of Israeli society.

During this visit I wandered to the other direction down the same block, and just minutes away is the Yam (beach.) I parked myself in view of the volleyball games on the sand, and windsurfers, who ride the waves all year ‘round. There is also dancing on the boardwalk that draws a lot of attention. I stood watching for nearly an hour, the people danced from happiness, as the smiles radiated all around. This can be seen every Saturday (Shabbat) morning.

I was surrounded by peace in every direction.

When I made my way towards Yafo, I discovered a mini city inside the bigger city of Tel Aviv. I stumbled upon Arab Israelis who were into their big game of Shesh Besh (backgammon.) They are serious players as their gaze didn’t wander off the board, they had many spectators. Many Israelis wait in line across that street to buy pita baked with Zatar (a tasty herb,) the smell makes it irresistible.

Farther down the road I went for what is reputed as the best hummus in this country. The entire area of Yafo is a feast for the eyes. It has the blend of Israelis and Arabs living around ancient ruins, a story filled Shuk, and the calmness of the Mediterranean green sea as the backdrop.

This is Tel Aviv, so many sides to Israel. I encourage you to explore the inside of this remarkable city. Then move onto another side, on Israel’s Northern border. There the view is inclusive of Syria in the background and Lebanon in full view of the Israeli children playing at the playground as they giggle along. The north may be my favorite corner of Israel, it is near the borderline, and the air is fresh and feels delicious, coupled with a sense of peace. The energy is intense and its effect is calm.

Shalom, the common thread through the region, this was always the reality, in my view. A year later I made aliyah.

Fast Forward – NOW – October 2023

I live in Israel now, this has been my home for the past six years since making aliyah. At this moment I am involved in another side of the story in Israel.

It’s been 10 days of war and I don’t know if I can describe how everyone is functioning collectively or individually, so it seems. The people and the country of Israel are remarkable. Ten days ago the unthinkable and unheard of slaughter and torture stormed upon innocent babies, young children, young and older adults, and the elderly that were just living life peacefully; all of this cannot be comprehended at all-ever. The kidnapped are on every normal person’s mind 24/7. The entire scene is difficult to convey. Some sort of barbarians that live in a jungle, indubitably, have invaded our space here in Israel.

There is no doubt that everyone is leaning on each other and are supporting our Zahal-IDF, with a tremendous amount of pride. Listening to the news and updates about the war like a hawk-how could anyone detach or even want to. Additionally, we are all crying in unison, over the lives lost and hoping and praying for the return of all the innocent kidnapped people. People are doing all that they can for the half a million Israeli citizens that are displaced, many from awful destruction and the ongoing terror in and around their homes. Volunteers are in abundance and also donations of all kinds, necessities for the people that lost everything are given from the heart. The relief centers are overflowing with lines to volunteer and sort it all out. There are long lines to donate blood too. An impressive effort by everyone, however and wherever they can help encircles us. The soldiers, the reserve, heroes of Israel, all stepped up to serve without hesitation and obviously are totally motivated to get an important mission accomplished for the safety of Israel and protect its people.

Everybody has the same somber look cast over their face along with tears in their heavy eyes. There isn’t a person that isn’t either directly or indirectly affected from one or many deaths that surround us. The building next to where I live has two families that are sitting shiva. In one home a young husband and father to an under two year old was killed at the beginning of the battle and another young adult was slaughtered at a peaceful concert. We went to pay our respects and this experience was a first; to express my condolences to such a young mother that is now widowed was a terrible moment -I shook her hand and attempted to be comforting and in that second I was speechless, for there are no meaningful words to say to her. She is obviously gutted from such a loss.

This is the vibe. It is eerily quiet, in between the sirens, the sobbing and shining sun. I feel that personally I am floating through this nightmare, trying to-dare I say accept the terror we live with-the coping mechanism within me is somehow functioning. Fear does not take me over but restlessness and constant worry and concern has taken over my mind. I hear the Iron Dome interceptions loudly booming near my home and take it calmly? No-I am not calm-I am becoming trained to live under fire, as we are under attack. During the night I wander through my apartment and look outside my windows-the view is open-so I try to look for the activity in the sky and in the middle of the night I hear our fighter craft on their mission. When I lay in bed I think I hear explosions or is this just the remnants of the day-etched in my memory bank now. More so during the day any unusual loud noise of a truck, the sound of a police or ambulance siren has all become incredibly magnified. If a door in my house should suddenly slam itself shut from the breeze flowing through, my heart races for a moment. I am on high alert.

We have all seen and heard the numerous evidence showing this sickening, vicious and most brutal slaughter of the victims that were Israelis, Jews, and non Israelis alike. The disgusting creatures, who are called terrorists, tortured, beat, abused, burnt and ripped apart precious human beings as if they were nothing and nobody. Each innocent soul was cherished, they were loved and adored by so many-the loss is overwhelmingly painful, huge. Every person here feels the heartbreak and punch in the gut constantly, from all the death and destruction-this is when a country is like a giant family.

The bubble that I felt blessed to be caught up in has burst for me and all of us in Israel. The only thing I can say is that I am confident that Israel and the Israelis and the Jews everywhere will survive this catastrophe too. We have the will because we were blessed with that genetic component in each of us. It cannot be seen but it can be felt. This is what drives us all. We have history in the department of disaster that stems from hatred and ignorance from others, coupled with the intent to wipe us off the earth. We will come back, stronger than before, united no doubt and feel the safest in Israel, as it always has been the most secure place, in my opinion.

I must express to anyone that reads my writing here: please do your part, no matter your roots, as a human and normal being. Educate yourselves about the conflict if you need to. Dig around and find the many reliable sources out there on google. Additionally, stand up for truth and the facts in life. Do not be silent and timid-this is the time to overcome because believe it or not the act of terrorism and the thousands and thousands of sleeper cells living near and around everyone will not spare a person, or any other country. If you happen to be a Jew, get out there and be proud of your heritage. Millions have suffered in life just for being Jewish, do not disgrace this part of your legacy.

Several dear friends and family members abroad have asked me if I will leave Israel, or can I leave Israel-but the bigger question is simple-do I want to leave Israel? In a heartbeat I have answered everyone. No. Israel is my home and I love it very much. Yes, it may be ironic to some but this place remains my comfort zone, my happy place, the passion runs deep as with so many people here and so I am in it-as one dear friend said to me-she always knew-for me-I am here for the long run.

There’s no place like home.

About the Author
Allyson Altit is from New York. She has worked in the travel industry for over 30 years as a leisure specialist. Her area of expertise is in European destinations and Israel. She has been involved with charity work for the Hadassah organization as well. In 2009 she graduated from Queens College majoring in Jewish studies. She has just completed writing her first novel...
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