Everything was perfect. Down to the last flower petal. The beautiful sunshine cast perfect shadows, the tinkling laughter amongst the guests as they moved down the buffett, the soft sounds of classic songs playing in the background, the stuff dreams are made of. The bride was glowing in her gorgeous white gown as she smiled for photos with her friends as the groom dressed neatly in his navy suit was greeting his friends who had come from halfway across the world. The scene was taken from a fairy tale. Everything was truly perfect.
There was an electricity in the air, an intense energy that can’t really be explained. People stayed close to their friends and everyone tightly clutched their phone as if it could save them from some unknown force.
The ceremony went off without a hitch. The beautiful couple was married before their friends and family as planned with spurts of music and dancing to separate the various parts of the traditional blessings. Some loud planes passed overhead and the tension rose, but only for a moment. The sun set slowly over the hills as two became one and moved forward to a new phase in life.a
The crowd shuffled slowly towards the tent where the reception was to be held. The clinking of silverware on china and lighthearted chatter filled the room as the guest sat down to eat their appetizers that were quickly forgotten as the bride and groom entered and the dancing began. Despite the situation people were all too willing to let it all go to bring joy to the beautiful new couple. The first round of dancing finished and the crowd filed back to their tables for dinner and of course, to check their phones.
And then it happened. The cause for all the tension, the reason for the slight edge in the air, the reason to stay close to a phone suddenly became reality as a sharp sound pierced the air. It was the sound we had all feared. A moment of hesitation, a quick glance around, the sudden realization that the beautifully decorated tent would protect no one, a slight feeling of panic and then as if moving as one, the quests ducked under the tables. Laughter, not screaming, the ultimate expression of utter surprise even though this reality had seemed so inevitable just a minute ago. There was no way to properly prepare for this moment, to know how one would react or what the natural instinct would be. It was in this moment, in this incredible moment of combined joy and fear, that I experienced my first Code Red siren.
A friend grabbed my arm and pulled me under the table, and on the way down I of course grabbed my phone. As all twelve table members tried to fit under the table the true signs of our generation emerged. “Can you get a picture? My arms aren’t long enough!” “Common guys- code red selfie- it doesn’t get more interesting than this!” I of course was not innocent in the slightest as I worked to update my Facebook status while also trying to keep my head from hitting the table top.
“Hang on, aren’t we in a tent?,” asked my friend with his mouth full after somehow managing to bring his plate down under the table with him. “Um, yeah. Hence the no running for the safe room.” “So why are we under a table? If we get hit we are dead anyway.” A quick hush fell amongst us as we considered this reality and as the siren stopped ringing in our ears, instead of staying down for the required ten minute reprieve to ensure the rocket had already fallen we scramble out from under the table and rushed outside. If we were going to die anyway, we may as well watch the scene unfold.
We stood in the grass, huddled together for no reason other than the comfort of someone familiar nearby and searched the skies. “There,” said a guest, and silence fell as we watched the bright orange light in the sky grow larger as it approached. A rocket was flying towards our area and all we could do was watch.
A second light appeared in the sky, then a third and a fourth. Four rockets. Four rockets aimed at the center of the country with the intent to cause as much damage to property and human life as possible. Four rockets were headed towards a beautiful wedding, an event meant to be the most joyous occasion in the lives of the two people we were there to celebrate that night.
“Wait…Look!” Another guest, squinting slightly furiously gestured towards the four new lights that has appeared, moving quickly towards the four rockets. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Four explosions. Four showers of bright orange sparks. And then nothing. It was over just like that. I stood in the grass tightly gripping the hand of a friend, my mouth gaping slightly as I began to process what I had just witnessed. The Iron Dome and the incredible soldiers of the IDF had just shot down the rockets that could very well have taken the wedding celebration to an entirely different place.
A cheer ripped through the crowd and a round of applause for the miracle we had just experienced as our adrenaline levels began to return to normal. As we turned to re-enter the tent people began to call their loved ones to check in and let to tell them of the incredible scene that had just played out on what should have been a regular wedding on an average tuesday night in early July.
I stood frozen in my spot unsure of how to feel or react. So this is what it felt like. This is what it meant. This is what the residents living in the south of Israel experienced every time the siren went off as a rocket was fired from Gaza with the intent of causing as much damage as possible. Teetering on the edge of panic I took a deep breath and returned to the tent and of course, to my phone to update my Facebook status with the incredible story I had just experienced.
I returned home that evening, just an hours drive away, and heard from my roommates about their siren experience, running to stand in the stairwell of our apartment building because we do not have a proper safe room. A neighborly gathering, meeting new faces and greeting old friends as everyone tries to stay calm for the sake of the children who are hiding in their mother’s arms.
After exchanging stories and a quick round of phone calls I tried to sleep feeling utterly exhausted and completely drained. I tried to sleep. I really did. But sleep wouldn’t come. I could not get comfortable. I kept tossing and turning, rolling over to check my phone for updates, peeling my ears for the unforgettable, piercing sound that would have me once again running for cover.
This is life as an innocent civilian, a friend, a neighbor, a student, a new immigrant living with the fear of rockets falling on me, my friends and my family. This is life in Israel where the government and the IDF will do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of its citizens first. This is life where we hope and pray that the need for violence will end so our soldiers can come home. This is life where the center of the country finally understands the suffering of the citizens in the south. This is life where we will continue to fight until quiet can be properly restored and we can continue living and developing this incredible country we live in.
This is life with Hamas in your backyard. This is life under terror.
May we merit to see the end of the violence quickly with the assurance that the quiet will endure. Stay safe and keep praying for our soldiers.