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Firsthand Accounts of the War in Israel

missileThe war in Israel has affected the summer travel plans of many Scarsdale residents and their families. Some were already in Israel when the missiles started flying while others were scheduled to go and deliberated about putting off their plans or forging on. The people we contacted to sought to balance their wish to support Israel with concerns about their safety.

We spoke to Rabbi Jonathan Blake, head Rabbi at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale about the situation and here are his thoughts:

"I hear of course a mixture of emotions: anxiety about the conflict and its escalation, pride in Jewish and Israeli unity and in Israel's conduct of the war, and a reassuring theme from many congregants that life continues to go on for Israel even under difficult circumstances. Israelis are nothing if not adaptable in crisis: sirens, bomb shelters, and emergency alerts have become part and parcel of the daily routine and there is a sense of comfort in the experience being shared among the population."

We reached out to several residents who travelled to Israel and here is what we learned. Scarsdale's Lauren Rimland is now staying close to Gaza. She sent us the following email on Wednesday July 23rd:

"I am currently in Israel with my parents and we arrived last Friday, as war was already in progress. We have been staying at my Uncle's dairy farm which is in the 40 km zone from Gaza. We have had daily sirens sending us the shelter, sometimes as many as 4 times a day. My Uncle's house does not have a shelter, so we have to run to the shelter next door. We have only 45 seconds to make it safely to the shelter. Not far from the Moshav is an Iron Dome which we are able to see and hear the loud booms. At night we are able to see the Iron Dome in action as well. We constantly hear and feel the rockets coming from Gaza. As we sit in their house, you can feel the vibrations. Everyone is on constant alert. My cousins are always on their cell phones on group communications, making sure everyone is ok and also, where the last rocket landed if it was in their neighborhood, to assess the damage."

"I have a very large family here. My aunt and uncle and their six children all live here. Each of my six cousins have family themselves and three of the families each have a daughter currently in the IDF. One is posted at the Gaza border and another is at the home front. It is disconcerting to see my 19 year-old cousin show up at her parent's farm with her rifle when she was on leave two days ago. What is truly amazing is to watch my other cousin stay composed as the sirens go off. She calmly starts singing a song as she leads her daughters into the shelter. The little girls are 2 and 4 years old. If you ask them what to do, they will tell you where to go and what to do."

"I am in awe of everyone here and will take this experience with me. I will be adding this experience to one from 1973 when i was here for my older brother's bar mitzvah in December right after the Yom Kippur war. My uncles walked into my grandparents' house and put their rifles on my grandmother's dining room table. It feel like it is deja vu."

"One of my cousins joked and said I have become like an Israeli because I am constantly checking my phone for the latest news about where the bombs are landing."

"We are supposed to return on Saturday, but Air France has indefinitely suspended travel to and from Israel, so we are now trying to figure out how to return home. Hopefully all will work out without too much difficulty."

In early July, Laura Kline, a rising senior at Scarsdale High School, was on a trip to Israel with a Jewish Organization called 92Y Havaya International when she experienced first-hand the missile conflict that is currently brewing on the Gaza Strip. Laura explained that during her two-week trip, she heard six sirens and blasts from explosions on two different occasions. Her group even had to go to a shelter for protection. Although she did not hear the explosions everyday, Laura conveyed the situation as stressful and traumatic. According to Laura, "the first time we heard the missiles, two of my Israeli friends cried. It's part of their life style unfortunately. It's not something you get used to, but with the iron dome and the shelters, you'll be ok." Because she became friends with Israeli teenagers like herself, she was able to understand the trauma they endured as missiles were being fired into their home country. She then explained, "one of my friends left the south and moved to Shoham, and she had post traumatic stress when she heard the sirens again." On one occasion, Laura and friends became aware that a missile had blown up a grocery store they were shopping in earlier that day. Luckily, she was able to stay safe.

Scarsdale's David Landau explained that his 17 year-old son Andrew has been in Israel on a NRTY trip for the last four weeks. Despite the conflict Andrew has had a great time and NFTY sent daily updates to the parents back home to keep them informed of the kids' whereabouts and to allay their fears. For the first three weeks of the trip they were able to keep to their planned itinerary. However last week they changed their plans and missed out on seeing Yad Vashem and shortened their time in Jerusalem to 1 ½ days. Though Landau has not spoken to his son much he does know that he has heard the sirens. Parents David and Melanie Landau had confidence in the iron dome and in Israel and remained relatively calm. However, Andrew was supposed to come home this week and when his flight was cancelled he was rerouted to Zurich where he will spend the night before flying to Geneva to catch a plane home. They expect to see him on Thursday July 23 after his three-day journey back.

Recent college grad Bryan Gertzog returned on July 2 from a Birthright trip to Israel and a few BirthrightTripextra days in Tel Aviv. Here is what he shared:

"I got really lucky with the timing of my trip. Things started getting bad the day that I left, so I never really felt unsafe while I was there. I had an amazing experience on birthright and would highly recommend it when Israel becomes safer. I remember talking with the soldiers early in my trip about how the situation was relatively calm in Israel and had been for some time, with Syria being the biggest concen. Then news broke about the three boys being kidnapped and they knew right away that things might start to get worse."

And Monita Buchwald, sister-in-law of Scarsdale's Marlene Buchwald, is headed to Israel next week. She told Scarsdale10583 the following:

"We're expecting to leave in a week. We generally go to Israel every year to visit my husband Charles' family (his brother, sister-in law, their son (and daughter in law) and my nephew's 10 children. My brother-in-law lives in Bat Yam, a city South of Tel Aviv. He's an American who moved to Israel more than 40 years ago after finishing high school. Charles' parents moved there in 1973 but have since passed away. The focus of the visit is really just to spend time with family. I also have a very close friend in Jerusalem who I'll get together with. Our 29 year-old daughter Sarah is joining us on this trip. If possible, I had hoped to visit some art museums I've never been to. Since we travel there so frequently, we've seen everything touristy."

"For now, we haven't made any changes to our itinerary. I imagine, though, if the war is still on it will certainly restrict our freedom of travel. Additionally, we will really need to be aware of where bomb shelters are and how to respond to red alerts. That's certainly something we hadn't planned on."

"We're flying El Al but not sure about my daughter's plane because she's flying on US Air from Baltimore and at the moment, they aren't flying. Most of the time we will either be in Bat Yam, Tel Aviv or Jerusalem where our nephew lives. Our family is experiencing the red alerts and spending various amounts of time in safe rooms or shelters. Some have had to get out of their cars and lay flat on the road during an alarm, which is the standard operating procedure. While they are all trying to go about their regular lives, there is a sense of "battle.""

Did you go to Israel this summer? Share your experience in the comments section below.

Written by Joanne Wallenstein and Elizabeth Jacobs


#1 Support Israel Now 2014-07-24 11:51
Very good article Joanne. Thanks.

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