Life Under Fire
By Jordan Davis, Class of 2016
For the past two and a half months, I was blessed with the opportunity to live in Israel. Unless you’re actively avoiding the news, you know that Israel is under fire (#IsraelUnderFire). It’s true. It’s scary. But it’s not what you would think from how the media portrays it. It isn’t until you get to live it in person that you realize what life is actually like with rockets raining down on the very country you normally fight for on social media.
I toured the country from the Golan Heights to Eilat, volunteered with the IDF, and learned Hebrew at Tel Aviv University. In between swimming in the Dead Sea, hiking Ein Gedi and enjoying the Tel Aviv night life, a lot went down.
I heard the news of our three innocent boys being kidnapped while sitting in my hostel’s מועדון (clubhouse). Taken? Is this real life? All I could imagine is the scene from the movie Taken when Kim (Maggie Grace) is kidnapped from her friend’s cousin’s penthouse in France, and Bryan (Liam Neeson) travels thousands of miles to save his daughter from human traffickers. And I prayed that this unrealistic action movie would be real – that some heroic person would find the boys after tracking down the kidnapper with voice analysis, pinpointing exactly where he was from, and rescuing our precious souls. I prayed while the IDF searched the hills of Judea and the city of Hebron for two and a half weeks. But no heroic rescue was meant to be.
Since the day the boys were kidnapped, the atmosphere of Israel changed, and you could feel it. Before, it was fun and lively. While searching for the boys, it was sad – but a comforting sad, like every person in the country was there for one another. On Facebook, the Secret Tel Aviv group – a group meant for selling furniture or looking for a job in the Tel Aviv area – was filled with messages from random people I had never met, and probably never will, about how, as the Jewish brothers and sisters of the Nation of Israel, we will get through this together. Amazing.
After it was revealed that the boys had been murdered in cold blood by Hamas-affiliated terrorists, the families of the boys went into mourning, as did the rest of the Jewish People. Vigils were held almost every night in the town squares. When I got on bus 25 towards Shuk HaCarmel (Carmel Market), passing by Kikar Rabin (Rabin Square) I saw the candles lit, the flags being waved, and the boys’ pictures, surrounded by hundreds of people who were all there for each other.
But it didn’t end there – only there did it begin. Rockets began raining down like the rain that Israel prays for every year. Siren after siren – Moatza Ezorit Eshkol, Ashkelon, and Ashdod were given red alerts almost hourly.
I heard my first ever siren on July 8th, about 6:30 pm, while I was riding a Tel-O-Fun bike from my Tel Aviv University dorm in Ramat Aviv to the shores of Gordon Beach. I was enjoying my first bike ride in a while, with my headphones in, my water bottle tied to the back, and nothing but my bike and me in the bustling world around us. It was so peaceful – until that peace was broken.
As I approached Frishman Beach, a siren alarmed. I was in shock. Truthfully, I didn’t know what it was. I heard a loud buzzing and saw people run from the sandy shores of the water to the concrete buildings and parking structures. I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, turned to the man behind me who was filming the Iron Dome interception and said is that a rocket siren? Yes. Excuse me? Yes. The man wasn’t scared though. He came up behind me after answering my confused look and said “Boom!” He was making a joke of the situation, and as much as my heart started pounding at that second, I couldn’t help but laugh.
The siren finally stopped about two minutes later, we waited about 10 minutes more, and then beach goers went back to their lounge chairs, bikers went on riding, and the shoppers went back to the shuk. Yet I started crying. I called my mom, in tears over the fact that I just experienced probably the scariest moment of my life.
“Not Tel Aviv” they said, “It’s too far” they said. They were wrong. Hamas tried, and failed, but that didn’t stop them. After that, the sirens became a daily thing – 8 am before class or 5 pm after returning from the beach. It was like a ritual, and you knew exactly when to expect it. Traveling in Tel Aviv went from “Where’s the closest bus stop?” to “Where’s the nearest bomb shelter?”
If there is one thing I’ve heard more than anything else lately, it’s “Was it scary?” Yes, it was terrifying. And yes, it was dangerous. But it’s scarier to hear the sirens, truthfully, when the sound alone just makes my heart race. The rockets themselves aren’t so terrible, until of course they cause a casualty or severe damage, as they have many times. But thankfully, Israel is filled with geniuses who created the Iron Dome Defense System that is protecting thousands and millions of lives every day. And as if that’s not enough, the IDF is an amazing army filled with amazing soldiers. When my mom asked me to catch the earliest flight possible after that first attack, I said “No, mom. I trust the IDF with my life” and I always will.
It’s scary, there’s no doubt about it, but throughout it all I realized a few things. One, we are family. Every single person in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the south and the north – everywhere – was there for each other. Text messages from my Birthright soldiers came pouring in because as an American in Israel, rocket attacks are not normal, and they made sure I was safe and sound. Even the random people on the streets and even online were there if anybody needed. When someone asked, “Where are you from?” and I answered America, they immediately asked how I was doing and reminded me that this isn’t normal life, but it’s something Israelis have been through before and will get through again.
The second thing I learned – life goes on. You can sit there and cry every time a rocket is lobbed at the very spot you are living in, but then you are just wasting your tears and your time. Israelis are resilient. They didn’t let a rocket or two stop them from going to the beach, from going out, from living.
But in the end, the biggest lesson we can all take away from this series of unfortunate events is that the Jewish family is forever, life goes on, and this too shall pass.
Rutgers Hillel is proud to support our students, alumni, friends and family in Israel.
The Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement is driven by a core belief that a positive connection to Israel is essential for a strong, healthy Jewish identity. Through the Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement students develop strong connections to our homeland and the experience to be Jewish leaders.