Aliyah, Day 72

Coming on aliyah has been a dream for many decades and over seven years ago I started a countdown calendar that began with Day 3,052 …

We have now been here 72 days and experienced the joy of arrival and the heartbreak that every Israeli is enduring. We were overwhelmed as to how the country unified itself when three young boys were kidnapped; my wife, Zenia, and I were constantly following the news on every source we could connect to. We participated in daily prayers, we supported the soldiers by supplying snacks to various units; Zenia was at a women’s study session outside of the late Naftali’s home when the news broke of their murder. We shook, cried and hugged each of our grandchildren a bit tighter each of the nights during this period. We joined with our community and stood with Israeli flags as Gilad’s body came past our community on the way to the cemetery, each community along the route did the same in support of the family.

In the last week, we have prepared our “safe room” in our house. It is in our basement and has a bed, phone, a few chairs, water and snacks. The door to the room is steel and the window is covered with a steel cover and it has special lighting and ventilation. If a siren is heard, we have 90 seconds to secure ourselves in the room. If we are outside of our house, the schools and synagogues have bomb shelters that are open 24 hours a day.

Last Tuesday night, leaving Jerusalem, we heard the end of a siren. Wednesday morning we could hear an iron dome shooting down a rocket over Tel Aviv (we live about a 40 minute ride from both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv). This morning, I was in Tel Aviv meeting with the Jewish Federations of North America campaign chairs and directors mission, which include JUF’s Sherryl Steinberg and three of our lay leaders. As I entered the hotel the siren went off; hundreds of guests huddled together in the lower level of the hotel while others were in stairways. Some were in clothes, and others in swimwear or robes. We heard a large thud and knew the iron dome was at work. All of the mission programming was changed so they would only be in places where shelters were available. Their visit to the graves of the three boys was cancelled as the cemetery had no shelter.

As I was walking on the street a few hours later, another siren went off and everyone in the street took shelter in the backs and basements of store. I heard another thud from the iron dome.

You try and go about life normally, but there is no normalcy; all of our friends and neighbors have children or grandchild in the army. Today, our community is preparing food for 150 soldiers for two Shabbat meals. As soldiers were called up with no warning, collections are being made to supply them with the basics of underwear, socks, toiletries and snacks.

This past Sunday a group of kids came to our community to get away from their constant time in shelters. Neighbors are housing family that just need a break from the constant barrage of missile attacks. Our agencies on the ground, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee are busy helping the elderly, providing medical care, moving the kids around the country out of harm’s way and providing whatever is needed to assist our people. Their work makes us all proud

As I am writing, I just got an emergency emall from our community. (Yes, we are on an emergency alert list.) The neighboring community, a 10-minute drive from our house, was alerted minutes ago by sirens. We were notified and told that the sirens here are in working order, if need be.

It is hot tonight, but we will probably sleep with our windows open to listen for the siren; in the next few days we will be getting gas masks.

Whenever I come to Israel, the guide always says, “you have come at an interesting time” …  yes, we came at a very interesting time, but we came as Jews and Zionists, and we have always supported Israel from afar. Now is our opportunity to stand strong with the people of Israel to protect our Jewish homeland.

Each of us must remember that the work we do is holy; we are the connection for tens of thousands of Jews in Chicago to Israel, and it is for us to stand strong with Israel.

With a Prayer for the safety of our people,


Jeffrey Cohen

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