by Tori Weinstein
Israel Education Center Lewis Summer Intern
There is a certain vibe that exists solely in Israel. It’s warm, comforting, and welcoming. I have heard people talk about Israel this way my whole life, but I didn’t understand it until I was finally there, able to see it and feel it for myself. You see the beaming sun reflect off the lime-stoned streets of Jerusalem on Shabbat afternoon, the freshly baked challah and rugelach from local markets; you see 4,500 square miles worth of beautiful desert sand in the Negev – you see it all. You see smiles on people’s faces, joy in their eyes, and love in their words.
As much as I looked like a tourist on Birthright with my three liters of water, an “Illini” hat on my head, and a hamsa necklace purchased on Ben Yehuda street, I could tell the local Israelis still wanted me here. They wanted me to experience all of Israel too and fall in love with her the way they had. The seven Israelis on our trip made me feel like I belonged. I came back from my trip inspired, so thrilled to be spending my summer interning at the Israel Education Center as a Lewis Summer Intern.
It was an ordinary summer day for me when I
heard about the kidnapping of Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal. I was sitting at my
desk checking my email when my Facebook newsfeed, usually filled with
meaningless statuses, suddenly was overrun with posts linking to news articles
about the boys. It’s hard to believe how quickly war can break out, how fast
animosity can escalate to true hatred and violence. It’s hard to believe I was
just in Israel on an amazing Taglit-Birthright Israel experience, unaware that the
very streets I had just walked on would become dangerous territory in just two short months.
A whole month after the teens were kidnapped and murdered, I sit at my desk listening to the sirens go off every few minutes from the Red Alert: Israel app on my phone and I can’t help but picture myself in Israel at this very moment. The app sounds a distinct alarm that mimics the emergency sirens going off throughout Israel when a missile is on its way. This app brings Israeli supporters together from all over the world; it makes you feel as close to Israel as possible, to share in the fear experienced by Israeli citizens every day, without experiencing the actual danger faced by them.
I first feel immense sadness when I hear this alarm on my phone. I think about my friends spending their summers in Israel on a Hasbarah Fellowship or as a camp counselor at Kefiada with the Partnership Region of Kiryat Gat, Lachish and Shafir. I think of my dad, who is leading a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip right now. I think about my best friend Roye, one of the Israeli soldiers I met on my trip who is a combat soldier fighting in Gaza right now. I also think about the other six Israeli soldiers who were on my bus.
Whenever I hear my alarm go off on my phone, I immediately pray for the protection and safety of everyone under attack. Within 15 seconds, the sirens are blaring followed by a boom. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live in a country where you could find yourself in mortal danger in need of immediate shelter within seconds.
People here have adapted to a way of life that seems almost incomprehensible to those living in other parts of the world. They’ve swapped their leather loafers for sneakers and day camps and work days for bomb shelters; those sharing shelters have learned to sleep in their clothes, and long, warm showers turn into short cold ones. Worry and fear has become as mundane as brushing your teeth.
My dad likes to refer to this whole conflict as “mowing the lawn.” We are hoping that these occasional large-scale operations like Operation Protective Edge or Operation Pillar of Defense back in 2012 have a temporary effect to create periods of quiet along the Gaza border. However, just as freshly cut grass doesn’t last forever, I don’t expect quiet in the Middle East to last forever either.
Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal were kids my age, kids I could relate to. Being an innocent civilian living in Israel during this horrendous time, however, is something that I can’t relate to. As I vaguely tell my 10-year-old brother about the situation going on in Israel, he tries to relate to the innocent children living in terror. He confesses,
“Truly, I feel sad for all the residents and army workers living in Israel, especially the kids. I’m confused why there has to be bombs and wars in Israel. It’s not very difficult to throw away your missiles and live in a peaceful world. Why can’t there be peace?”