The first time I ever woke up in Israel was because of a siren. At the time, I didn’t even know there was a siren. All I knew was that there was pounding on my door and suddenly I was being rushed to a bomb shelter, unable to process what was going on. This was at the end of Tzuk Eitan. There was a rocket headed to Tel Aviv, and our madricha had heard the siren, even though we were too north and too suburban to be affected. The first time I woke up in Israel wasn’t natural—it was a direct effect of terror, stretching all the way from Gaza to Hod HaSharon.
It’s interesting to reflect on how my introduction to Israel was based in terror. Yet, in a way, by immediately encountering terror, I wasn’t able to even momentarily maintain my terror-free, American mentality. Rather, I was exposed to the reality of Israel.
The reality of Israel is that rockets and missiles are normalized. But how can you convey this continued trauma to people thousands of miles away? This phenomenon manifests in a notification on a phone—or it’s a siren that informs people that they have fifteen seconds to get to safety. When I was visiting Sderot last winter with Hasbara Fellowships, we talked a lot about these fifteen seconds. As we were discussing the importance of social media to share the truth of Sderot, multiple rockets were shot less than a kilometer away from us. We were in a secured building at the time, but had we been outside, we would’ve just had fifteen seconds to seek protection.
What can I do in fifteen seconds? I can tie my shoes, maybe wash my hands, apply a facemask, probably drink an entire bag of shoko, and scroll through the Red Alert notifications on my phone. In fifteen seconds, the people of Sderot and in the south of Israel can run to a bomb shelter. Imagine hearing a siren, processing the siren, and then realizing that you now have ten seconds to find a bomb shelter to avoid getting hit by a rocket. This is psychological and physical terror, yet in Israel it’s also just Monday.
This past Monday, while in class, my phone kept flaring with notifications from Red Alert, denoting a rocket attack and the location of the attack. This kept up throughout the night, and even when I woke up I was still getting these notifications. But there’s something about how familiar these notifications are that elicited an almost-numb response from me, even while presently being in the country affected. I feel guilty about not doing something, but it feels like there’s nothing I can do. It feels like there’s nothing Israel can do, without being criticized by the rest of the world. Israel is a modern, democratic country in which terror is a continued reality, and in the same way that I glance down at my phone and look but don’t act, so too the international community does nothing.
It feels like something should be done, yet at the same time perhaps this lack of a response is the correct response. For a split second as I read an alert, I’m angry and upset and sad. But then I go on with my day. Schools are closed in the South right now due to the incessant barrage of rockets, but normally, if there’s a rocket, the South does not stop. Everything continues, not just because rockets are a normalized occurrence, but also because pausing would be allowing the terrorists to win. By living, Israelis do not give in to the traps of terrorism. They are affected by these evil actions, but they don’t let them define their existence. This is the greatest form of resilience.
One of the strongest examples of life winning out over terror is through playgrounds. I’ve visited the JNF indoor playground and the outdoors playground in Sderot maybe three or four times. Every time I go, I’m overwhelmed by the importance of these spaces. The indoor playground enables kids to be kids, even while a trauma that no child should ever have to encounter occurs outside. In the outdoor playground, there is a colorfully painted snake that doubles as a bomb shelter, organically incorporated into the area. There is an incredible amount of resiliency in turning something meant for safety and security into a playground. Instead of accepting the impending threat of terror and stopping normal life and youthful joy by staying inside at all times, Israel has flipped the norm by creating bomb shelters within the core of children’s enjoyment. If children can play and laugh on top of a structure built in response to terror, then the terrorists don’t win. To me, these bomb shelter playgrounds are a statement to the terrorists and to the world that even in the face of terror, Israel will continue to be resilient and live joyously in the Jewish homeland.
Resilience is the greatest resistance.