Outrunning rockets on a family trip to Israel

I just returned two days ago from a multigenerational family b’nai mitzvah trip to Israel. Our family had spent a year planning this trip to celebrate the b’nai mitzvot of my children and my niece’s bat mitzvah. There were 18 of us all together and our numbers included the children’s two living grandparents. 

We arrived in Israel on Wednesday, July 2. It was our children’s first trip to Israel and thus an extra special occasion. As our plane approached our destination and the land of Israel first came into view, excitement and joy lit up my children’s faces. I then felt my eyes welling up with tears. I thanked G-d for being able to share this moment with my children and their grandparents. 

During our trip, we went all over Israel so the children could see and feel everything. Two thoughts were always with us wherever we went – hope and family. We all felt like we had finally come home to our people. However, on Tuesday, July 8, the previous peace and tranquility we had felt on our trip was shattered. 

It seemed for a while as if wherever we had just previously been was under rocket attack. That Thursday, we visited Rosh Hanikra. Our guide commented along the way how the Lebanon border had been very quiet and everything seemed ok on that front. As we were driving towards Tel-Aviv, we kept passing army personnel and tanks driving down the road. Later that day, we learned that rockets had been fired at Rosh Hanikra (the previously quiet border.) When we arrived at our hotel in Tel-Aviv, before the hotel would even give us our room keys, they reviewed the procedures regarding the bomb shelters and where they were located on each level. Only when we said we understood would they hand us our room keys. After a late dinner, our family was walking down on the beach in Tel-Aviv when we saw missiles being intercepted by the Iron Dome in the sky right before our eyes. After tucking our children into bed, we heard other missiles and booms that shook the hotel. 

Friday we went to Yaffo and were shocked by how quiet it was in the early afternoon. Our guide explained that many people just did not want to go outside. Our guide himself was waiting to receive his call that he was to report to the Miluim (Israeli reserves). That night was our last Shabbat in Israel. We were in the hotel dining room eating Shabbat dinner when the alarm sounded. In a flash, everyone got up and went into the secure space until the all clear was given. During the course of the weekend, we talked with many Israelis who said that this was their reality but they just wanted to be able to live a normal life without the fear and constant threats.

Saturday morning and afternoon we kept hearing the roar of Israeli fighter jets in the sky; very unusual because fighter jets only fly on Saturday (Shabbat) if it is an emergency. When Shabbat ended, we would leave to head back home. Once we were in the van on the way to the airport, we heard on the news that a missile had just been aimed at Tel-Aviv. My sister in law and her family, who were staying a little longer, were sitting in a bomb shelter in the hotel. Every few minutes the radio announcer was announcing another missile had been fired at the Tel-Aviv area including Bet Shemesh, where we went on a dig just days before.

By this point, the driver of the van was driving insanely fast (even by Israeli standards) because he was literally trying to outrun the missiles. When we finally pulled up to the airport, the sirens were going off and we learned that a missile had been aimed at the airport. We got out of the van in time to see the Iron Dome intercept the missile.  Thank G-d for the Iron Dome and its 86 percent accuracy.

As we went into the airport, I stopped to kiss the ground and tears were overflowing from my eyes, blinding my vision. I felt so horrible to be leaving my people and my family during their time of need. We all entered the airport with a very heavy heart. I also kept replaying in my mind what the tag line on the Israeli news has been for a week: “A nation under fire.” 

As we boarded the plane to Chicago, I was reminded of my original feelings on our trip of hope and family. My hope is that the rockets will stop terrorizing Israel so that the people of Israel can lead a normal life. I feel I have left a part of my heart in Israel with my people as they continue to endure this daily terror. It is an unimaginable situation until you are actually embroiled in it to understand what it is like to literally be under missile attack. You also cannot just sit back and assume that the Iron Dome will intercept every missile because it is not 100 percent effective. Hearing the sirens, sitting in a bomb shelter and seeing a deadly missile seeking your destruction intercepted in the sky chills one to the bone. My family and I pray that the missiles will stop and the Israeli soldiers will be returned safely to their families very soon.

Dena Levy is JUF Young Women’s Board member.

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