The volatile conditions made traveling to Israel risky at a time like this. Would you believe me if I said that I felt safer there than in my own country?
From July 6 to 17, members of our Temple Bat Yahm congregation began a trip that would give us a new perspective of Israeli life. We were kindly greeted at our hotel in Tel Aviv by an array of fresh fruits, a welcome poster, and our first siren.
When the siren sounded, I was alone with my younger sister. As the grownup in the room, it was my responsibility to get my sister out of the room safely.
We found our parents, waiting calmly at the stairwell entrance. Together we descended fifteen flights of stairs to the bomb shelter.
When I asked my dad how he could be so calm in a moment of crisis, he said, “These rockets rarely hit their targets. Right now they’re just normal occurrences we’ll occasionally have to deal with.”
Everyone from our group made it downstairs safely. Shortly after, we learned that the Iron Dome had sent a rocket brigade that struck down five missiles above Tel Aviv while we were safely sheltered.
Our tour guide, Mike Hollander, assured us that the Iron Dome was a reliable piece of technology. “Because of the Iron Dome, the amount of Israelis killed in car accidents in one year is higher than the amount of Israelis who have ever been killed by a missile,” he said.
With the escalating tension between Hamas and the Israeli government, not a day went by without missiles polluting the sky, but like my dad said, they were just normal occurrences that we occasionally had to deal with.
The second time the siren sounded, we were first to the hotel bomb shelter. While we waited, the kids took funny bomb shelter selfies on their phones. They seemed to be more scared of losing their Wi-Fi connections than they were of the missiles.
I enjoyed watching how those who had experienced the sirens before comforted the first-timers. The way that those total strangers made each other feel safe was unlike anything I had ever seen before. People of different races and religions came together, bound by a common goal: to make one another feel safe during these tough times. This sense of togetherness and camaraderie made me feel like I was a member of a family that would do anything for one another.
Although the accuracy of the Iron Dome boosted our optimistic attitudes, the real sense of security came from each other. Never before have I felt so safe in the midst of a crisis.
I was amazed at how quickly everyone resumed their daily routines after they left the bomb shelter. Even after a siren, the feeling of togetherness never faded.
When my family went shopping in The Shuk in Jerusalem, the vendors thanked us for traveling to Israel during such difficult times. With the suffering economy, they were grateful for our presence.
On Shabbat, we had to switch synagogues at the last minute. The new synagogue was a single room, completely packed with people, but they were happy to make room for thirty more. Even the oldest and youngest people offered up their seats to our group. They did everything imaginable to welcome us into their congregation. The rabbi even translated portions of the service into English for our group. The collective singing and dancing to songs like “Hallelujah” made us feel welcome.
Truthfully, I had no idea what to expect on my first trip to Israel. I had learned about the religious divide in Jerusalem, but never could I have prepared myself for the lasting sense of belonging that I felt in Israel.
“When I’ve traveled before to other countries, I felt like an outsider looking in, but in Israel, I felt like I belonged,” said Sarah Schoenbaum.
The missiles in no way interfered with our travel plans or seriously threatened our safety. In fact, not a single person in the whole country was killed by a missile during our trip.
We were fortunate to have stayed in the safest areas of Israel, with structurally sound shelters and caring people. The Israelis who live closer to the Gaza Strip may only have fifteen seconds to find shelter after the siren sounds. I cannot imagine what life would be like, knowing that a single second could be the difference between life and death. I am so thankful to live in a safe country, and I pray for the safety of all those who live in constant fear of attack.
Despite the occasional siren, I had an incredible experience exploring the Promised Land. In Tel Aviv, we stood in the room where Israel became an independent country. We also explored the ancient Roman ruins of Caesarea, floated in the Dead Sea, and stayed on the Kfar Blum Kibbutz. I especially enjoyed hiking at Ein Gedi and placing my prayers in the Kotel. I had read so much about the Kotel, but being in its presence left me speechless. I was honored to place my prayers in the most sacred place for the Jewish people.
This trip brought me even closer to my temple family. I could not have asked for a better travel group. Even with the missiles and bomb shelters, my first trip to Israel was a beautiful experience. I cannot wait for my next adventure to the Promised Land. ✿
Hannah Schoenbaum is a sophomore at Corona del Mar High School and Co-Editor of her school magazine, Trident. She is an active member of the Temple Bat Yahm congregation. She enjoys writing, photography, filmmaking, and traveling.