With summer travel and programs in full swing, Detroiters are experiencing the country at war.
Israel at war. It’s happened before and it will likely happen again, but when war coincides with your family visit, Birthright trip, a teen program or study abroad in Israel, the reality of what life is like for Israelis confronts you head on.
Though it’s hard to determine numbers, if you count the more than 100 Detroiters on Federation’s Teen Mission, close to 200 Detroiters may be visiting Israel now. Most of the youth programs have moved to the safety of Israel’s north. But other Detroiters, along with Israelis, are running to shelters when sirens blare.
None of those interviewed wanted to come home. All exuded pride in standing with Israelis in this troubled time. Here are their stories in their words:
Not Living In Fear
Sammi Fine, 22, West Bloomfield, Tel Aviv
They refer to it as the “Tel Aviv Bubble,” but earlier last week that bubble burst, and in the worst way. Tel Aviv is supposed to be a safe place, far enough away from the Gaza Strip to avoid any true contact with the animosity occurring. As we all know, multiple rockets have hit Tel Aviv, where I am currently living. I chose to live in Tel Aviv, and I am choosing to stay in Tel Aviv during this dramatic time.
I am fortunate enough to have been in contact with my parents and friends, who are supporting me through the experience, and although it is nerve-wracking, I am not living in fear. As an American, I am used to reading about these happenings on the news and through social media outlets. Being here in the midst of the madness is an experience I will truly never forget.
I have been woken up to rocket sirens, giving me seconds to find shelter. I have had to sprint to bomb shelters, praying that the Iron Dome intercepts these rockets and that no one is hurt. The hardest part for me during this time is not hearing the sirens or seeing the explosions, but knowing that this is “life” here in Israel. I don’t mean that everyone is running for shelter on a daily basis, but in the sense that at any time in this country it is a realistic possibility to be attacked.
I have a place to flee if I chose to do so. I could easily book a flight back to Michigan and pretend it all never happened. Israelis do not have that option. This is their home, and this is their reality. This experience has taught me many things — to appreciate where I come from, to live life to its absolute fullest as you never know what tomorrow will bring, but most importantly, a sense of pride and community.
The way Israel bands together, supporting each other through the worst of times is what makes this country so strong. I am proud to be here, and I am proud to stay here through the best and worst of times. No matter what, I will always stand with Israel.
Jerusalem Pretty Quiet
Ari Cicurel, 21, West Bloomfield, U-M senior, Jerusalem
I’m in Jerusalem doing security research on various internal security services, including the Shin Bet for the Israel Democracy Institute.
Where I am in the center of Jerusalem has been relatively quiet besides one rocket attack. (As he was messaging, another siren sounded.)
More noticeable in Jerusalem are the protests from every side of the aisle, from anti-Arab protests after the boys died to peace protests calling on both sides to stop fighting.
Writing From A Shelter
Anna Rubin, 20, Farmington Hills, MSU, intern at Lone Star Communications, Jerusalem
I am writing this from the bomb shelter of my apartment here in Jerusalem. This is my second time trying to write this piece as I have so many thoughts and emotions regarding life here in Israel amidst current hostilities. This is my third time having to run for shelter in the last week. I embarked on this trip with the expectation that my time here would be unforgettable. From Taglit-Birthright, traveling for a month with my mother and interning at Lone Star Communications, I have fallen in love all over again with the place I call my second home. However, this time my love for Israel has a different foundation.
With only four weeks left of my journey, I am beginning to really understand what made me want to come back to Israel for an extended period of time. This experience has made me appreciate Israel for more than its amazing sites and history. This time, I love Israel for its people and their sense of devotion and resilience.
There is no way to explain what it is like to run down six flights of stairs to reach a bomb shelter other than absolutely terrifying. However, when I emerge from the safe place and step out into the streets of Jerusalem, it is like nothing ever happened. Israelis continue on with their lives despite being constantly attacked and having to run to safety. It is hard for me to continue with everyday life knowing that at any moment a rocket could destroy it. When I talk to the people around me, who have lived with this reality for their entire lives, I feel comforted and reminded of why I love Israel and am proud to be Jewish.
Waking To Sirens
Ben Krawitz, 21, West Bloomfield, U-M senior, Tel Aviv
I’m in Tel Aviv for the Israel Tech Challenge. Sirens wake me up most mornings. Yesterday, I was woken at 8:15 to a siren, today at 7:50. I’ve seen a few rockets get shot down by the Iron Dome, which has been pretty crazy. People here have been going along with their typical day, but some people are also scared and stressed.
When a siren sounds, sometimes when people are in buses, they all get out and run to the nearest place. We have two minutes until impact if a rocket were to drop. Some places more south have like 15 seconds. My trip leader was called into the IDF reserves, and most of our weekend trips have been canceled. When a siren sounds, we also have to crowd into a stairwell in the morning, all still wearing our sleeping clothes.
Life Goes On
Tilly Shames, executive director, U-M Hillel, Jerusalem
I am in Jerusalem with a group of Hillel professionals studying at the Shalom Hartman Institute, which has been an ideal and cathartic environment to process this past month in Israel: the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli boys, the murder of a Palestinian boy and now the rockets on Israel and operation in Gaza.
In our third time in the shelter, we were quickly joined by an Orthodox Israeli family strolling past the Institute on Shabbat afternoon and a secular woman walking her dog. We waited out our time in the shelter like family and then re-emerged to the courtyard and went on our ways, knowing we will never see each other again. Life goes on quickly after here.
The streets and restaurants are still packed, and the Taglit Birthright Israel buses are everywhere. There is a great deal of comfort and checking in with one another in our Hillel group, and checking in with students we know are here on internships and summer programs. There is no judgment toward our peers who feel fear and those who do not, those who want to stay and those who want to go back home.
While I am grateful for the opportunity to understand this side of Israel, I am also grateful that I will have the luxury to return to Michigan and not worry about the next time I will hear a siren.
Proud To Be In Israel
I am living here for seven weeks studying at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. My husband, Carey, our almost 3-year-old daughter, Ilana, and I have an apartment that does not have a miklat (bomb shelter or safe room), so when there is a tzeva adom (red alert), we cram into our tiny bathroom (big enough only for a toilet and a tiny sink) because it is the only room in the apartment without a window. We are on the top floor, however, so in a direct hit, we would not be spared.
My daughter gets terrified when the siren sounds and asks why we are all sitting in the bathroom together, and we say that we just want to be close. We are not comfortable having her in a different room at night, so she has been sleeping with us. Even so, whenever she hears any loud sound she asks in a panicked voice, “What’s that?” And most heartbreakingly, “I’m scared.” We tell her Mama and Daddy are here and will keep her safe, and we pray that we are telling her the truth.
I have never been more grateful for AIPAC, knowing that they were instrumental in the U.S. Congress’ decision to fund the Iron Dome, which has saved countless lives in Israel this week.
The Israelis seem quite nonchalant about this way of life, ready to run into a safe room or stairwell at any time, even into the building of a stranger or, if there is no building nearby, to lie flat on the ground with their hands covering their heads. I was told by Yossi Klein HaLevi, a well-known Israeli writer, that it is not nonchalance as much as it is compartmentalizing.
I can see this even in myself. Last night, we had our nanny taking care of Ilana, as well as Neil Michaels’ two children. Neil [cantorial soloist at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield also is studying at Hebrew Union College] and his wife, Stephanie, were going on a tour with my husband and me. The tour was supposed to be mainly the rooftops of Jerusalem, but ending in a wine bar. At our first stop, the YMCA, we got stuck in the elevator to the roof, as there was a tzeva adom. We ran to the basement when they got us out to wait for the rockets — two were intercepted by the Iron Dome and two fell in unpopulated areas — while frantically trying to reach our nanny to make sure the kids were OK. After that, we left the tour, passing a bride having her wedding pictures taken, to head home to check the kids, who were fine.
The four of us then headed out to an incredibly beautiful dinner. A perfect night in a garden, great friends, wonderful food, lots of laughter, trying to keep busy the part of my brain that immediately asked for the location of the miklat.
I am proud to be here, living in Israel, the Jewish state, at this tumultuous time. We are being bombarded by rockets simply for being here and being Jewish. Hamas continues to have total disregard for human life, trying to maximize civilian casualties on both sides for its own political gain, while the IDF is trying to minimize civilian casualties on both sides, dropping leaflets warning Gazans to leave their homes before a strike.
This is our homeland — the only country in the world that we can be sure will take us in and protect us with all of its might. I am a part of the Jewish people, the people of Israel. That has never felt more true. May God bless us and protect us. May God’s face shine on us and be gracious to us. May God’s face be lifted toward us and grant us peace. Amen. ■
Rachel Gottlieb Kalmowitz| Special to the Jewish News
Dealing With Students
Noah Zucker, 21, West Bloomfield, Mizra
We are staying in Mizra [close to Nazareth, in Detroit’s Partnership2Gether region of the Central Galilee], which is thankfully out of range of all the rockets. I am here for a program where we teach English to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders as a pilot program for the eleventh month of public education in Israel. [Ten others from Michigan are part of the program.]
Because of our safe place, I personally have not been too scared. At school, we had to do a missile attack drill where we lined up our students and took them to a shelter, and that was a pretty awful thing to have to do and think about.
We also have 10 Israeli teacher mentors with us on the trip and two were called up, so that also hit close to home as we watched them pack up and leave.
Each morning, the principal starts the day with a morning meeting and usually brings up the situation and says how we should all be hoping for the safe return of the soldiers as many of the students have parents or siblings in the army.
One time we also asked what the students thought, and listening to what they had to say was hard as most of it had hateful undertones, like one fifth-grader who said to burn all of Gaza to the ground.
I have been able to keep in touch with my parents through email, Facebook and Skype, so all is well on that front. Overall, it has been amazing to see how Israel pulls together as a community during this time.
Volunteer First Responder
Hanna Berlin, 21, Farmington Hills, U-M senior, Ramat Gan
For six weeks this summer, I am participating in the Magen David Adom volunteer program. My job is mostly to assist the medics and paramedics in treating and transporting patients. I have been doing shifts on the ambulances for about two weeks now.
I live in the Tel Aviv University dorms and volunteer at the Ramat Gan station, due east of Tel Aviv. Three days ago, I was sitting in the back of the ambulance with a patient. As we were driving to the hospital, I heard a loud siren go off and watched as the driver pulled to the side of the road and saw other cars on the road pull over.
I barely thought anything of it as I was more concerned about using my very basic Hebrew skills to communicate with the patient in the back. I just figured there was a fire or other large emergency nearby. Only after we had dropped the patient off did the Israeli youth volunteer with us explain to me what the siren was.
She said she was very concerned because that’s the first time she had heard the siren go off in Tel Aviv in years. I became very anxious to get back to my dorm and asked the driver to take me home. Although I had heard the news about the murders of the three Israeli teenagers and one Palestinian teenager, this was the first time the reality of the situation hit me.
Later that night there was another siren, but this time I was prepared for it and was less frightened. There is a bomb shelter on every floor of the dormitories. Just this morning, I was riding a city bus home as I returned from a night shift on the ambulance. I could barely hear the siren in the background as the bus driver pulled over and everyone exited the bus. As we huddled next to the edge of the road, we heard three large booms. We turned to the sky and saw a single, small white cloud. I later learned this was the aftermath of the Iron Dome intercepting the missile.
Our program coordinators gave us the option to stop volunteering or to even go home, but all of my peers and I felt more motivated than ever to stay in Israel and to continue volunteering with the ambulance service.
During the last three days, I have heard the siren go off about five times. I continue to seek shelter each time, but I actually feel very safe due to the efficiency of the Iron Dome. I am eager to continue volunteering and, for the first time in my life, feel like I am really making a difference in the Jewish community. ■
Keri Guten Cohen | Story Development Editor
JN Intern Michael Higer contributed to this report.