Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The "Real" Israel

I want to start this post by saying that I'm safe here in Tel Aviv. I know you have all probably watched the news, been on Facebook, and seen what is happening in Israel through many different media outlets. I just want to let you know that the media isn't always portrayed as it actually is here. Are there rockets being fired at Israel hourly? Yes. Is it a scary and unsettling feeling? Of course! But, we can't sit here and sulk in the negative... we must pick ourselves up and have confidence that everything is going to be okay. Let me start out by my experience with the sirens, rockets, and bomb shelters.

It all started yesterday after a day trip to what we thought was going to be the Golan Heights. Our program had originally planned to take us there to hike for the day, but last minute changed plans (tends to happen a lot here) and we did not end up going as far north. So, we end up in this random desert and they tell us we are going to hike. Now, we knew there would be some water included in this hike, but they told us maximum it would be up to our knees. Now, there's up to the knees for our 6'4 guy on our trip, and then there's knees for all 5'2 of me. Needless to say what it ended up being was water up to my neck! We had to "hike" our way through this river for about an hour and a half. Mind the fact that no one informed us to bring a bathing suit, change of clothes, or even a towel! It was probably one of the highlights of my trip because who doesn't love a little spontaneity to spice up a trip?!

While on the bus ride back, we found out that our madricha (group leader) Shira must be sent back to the reserves during this time of need for the country. So, we get back to the dorms at about 7:30pm on Tuesday night. I kid you not the second I put my key into the lock, I heard a noise. Now, this noise sounded like a combination between a tornado siren and when you turn the air conditioning on. I had assumed the negative of what this invasive noise may be, a code red siren. I immediately yelled to everyone on my floor. "What is that noise, hello is anyone here, help, what is going on!" Seconds later, frazzled Americans (myself included) ran into the bomb shelter on my floor of the dorm. Now, this bomb shelter is actually a dorm room for one of the people living here, so we had to pound on his door for him to open up. 10 minutes later it was all clear to leave and go back to our business.

I really cannot describe the thoughts rushing through my head as I entered a bomb shelter for the first time. Relief that we actually had a safe shelter to run to and fear of what could possibly happen. This is no Pitt bomb threat jokes anymore people, this is real Israeli life! Rockets from Gaza are being aimed at us and there really is no way to escape it. Israelis go on with their lives, they resume work, lunch, shopping, etc. I feel as if people here keep comparing ourselves to Israelis, but we really can't. This is our first experience with anything like this. It's okay to feel scared, nervous, anxious, or any type of emotion. Some people are internalizing this while others are more external with their feelings. How sad is it that Israelis are used to this? They don't flinch at a siren going off, but are prepared and know how to react since many of them have done this before.

For example, today I decided to go workout and go to the pool with a friend. This facility is walking distance from my dorm so we were close by if anything else happened. While at the pool, one of the lifeguards came and spoke to us. He showed us where the bomb shelter was without us even asking. He then said that if a siren went off, he would remain in the lifeguard chair. We asked why and if he was scared and his answer was basically that this is life for them and we just have to move on. He said he doesn't live his life in fear. So, my friends and I decided to do what we do best... get pampered! We went for pedicures and went on with our daily lives just as the Israelis do. And, it was honestly a great day.

I seriously cannot imagine life without the sirens, though. They are a warning signal and tell us to take cover. Israelis intelligence is literally insane and I cannot even wrap my mind around how this all works! We have exactly one minute to get to safety. Now, one minute is both long and short in my opinion. At least we aren't in the South of Israel where they have 15 seconds... just imagine. 15 seconds to find hiding. 15 seconds to grab your family and run. 15 seconds to duck and cover if that's all you have. So many people don't even have a bomb shelter or secure area to go to. We are lucky that we have bomb shelters on each floor of the dorm. When in doubt, I tell myself that I am safe in my dorm and that if anything were to happen, the safest place is here.

I woke up this morning to what I thought was a siren in my dream. When the pounding on my door intermixed with the dream, I knew it was real life. Time to head to shelter again! 8:30am this was just the greatest wakeup call. For the rest of the day, anytime I heard a police car, the wind, a horn, anything, it made me jittery. It was like the Pitt bomb threats except real. Any noise, I flinched. Any screaming I thought something was wrong.

But, in the end, we are all safe here. The media doesn't always portray what it is like here. Life does go on. And it will. Am I a little scared? Of course I am! Who isn't?! But, stuff can happen anywhere. You just have to pick yourself up and move on. I'm trying as hard as I can to go back to my normal life here. My routine and what I know. You have to make the best of situations and stay positive. This is what I've learned not only from being in Israel, but about life in general recently. You can't focus on the negative and things you can't change. But, you can stay in tune with what you do have control over.

Honestly, I never thought that me, a privileged girl from Highland Park would be seeking asylum in a bomb shelter. But you know what? These are the experiences that make you grow as a person. These are the stories you tell your family and friends. It's times like these where we all have to stick together and just keep thinking that everything is going to be okay. Because it will be. Just stay optimistic.

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