Ellen Murray wrote:
“Since Monday, tensions in Israel have been growing rapidly. Rocket alerts sound on phones continuously throughout the days with over 1,000 rockets fired throughout Israel in the first 48 hours of conflict. From Tuesday evening to early Wednesday morning, Gaza sent well over 100 rockets to Tel Aviv. So that night was a long adrenaline-filled dream for the Aardvark Tel Aviv students.
On Tuesday night my roommate and I walked back into our apartment after a quick trip to the store down the road. My roommate began to put away her groceries and I opened my laptop hoping to finish the last of my school assignments. Not even two minutes later we heard yelling from the staircase. “Sirens, let’s go now!” I jumped up from my seat and my roommate ran out the door without shoes yelling at me to hurry up and follow her. Once we were outside we heard the sirens. We knew what that meant, we had 90 seconds to find shelter. We ran down the stairs of our building, down the street, and down some more stairs to the shelter where many Israelis followed. The locals all seemed calm because it’s nothing new to them, but you could feel the fear emanating from our bodies. Above us, we could hear the sirens blaring as well as rockets being blown up in the sky. So we made small talk with the other people in the shelter to pass the time and ease our nerves. Finally, a while after the sirens turned off, we walked back to our apartment.
This time we were going to be ready. We left windows open to hear the sirens, we backed a go-bag to take to the shelter, and we kept our clothes on and shoes nearby. The second wave was different though. Rocket alerts on my phone were going off like crazy all over Israel. I was sitting by the window when something in the air just didn’t feel right. I stood up and put my head out of the window to better hear the world outside, then suddenly BOOM. I heard an explosion in the sky but no sirens. I turned to my phone and students were telling everyone to wake up, but still, there were no sirens. I woke up my whole building, knowing what was coming our way. Then my roommate who was in another Aardvark building called and I asked her what to do and she said: “go now!” I stared at my phone confused until I heard the siren start right after so I yelled “Oh sh**! Come on y’all, let’s go!” I told her to be safe and that I loved her, hung up the phone, and headed to the door. We ran down the stairs of our building, down the street, and down some more stairs to the shelter shouting at people on the street to follow us for safety. Again we heard the crash of rockets and the howling of the sirens while we sat in a long dirty hallway waiting for Tel Aviv to be safe again. We talked to Israelis as we all sat there half-awake waiting to lay back down in our ‘comfortable’ beds. Eventually, the sirens stopped, the wave had finished and we were able to walk back to our apartment again.
When we walked back into the apartment, my roommate and I agreed to sleep in shifts so we could be extra cautious because we didn’t think the attacks were finished for the night. My roommate laid down on the couch and tried to fall asleep while I sat in my room on social media reading about Israel’s attacks on Gaza and Gaza’s attacks on Israel. I saw people celebrating the very rockets flying over my head. I was even receiving texts about how I am a settler Jew on stolen land and how Jews kill children in Gaza maliciously. It is devastating to see but antisemitism is not a new experience for me or my peers. I decided to engage in as many productive conversations as I could because it was the only thing I could control and the only way I could feel like I was helping. At one point I called my Arab friend from back home to talk to her because I knew we could have a meaningful dialogue. Just as my conversation with her was starting, rocket alerts began to blow up my phone and I heard another siren. This time it was not shocking, we all knew the drill. So, I yelled to wake up my roommate and told my friend I had to go find shelter now, and hung up the phone. I walked out the door and woke up the building again, making sure everyone was awake before I left. We sat half-awake in a basement hallway at 5 am wishing for the rockets to stop so we could finally fall asleep. We met even more Israelis in the shelter and had more great conversations. This time after the sirens stopped, we were hesitant to leave the shelter. It felt like there was not enough chaos for it to be over, but slowly we made our way back to our apartments joking about how we would see each other in a few minutes. Thankfully, we were wrong, and there were no more sirens that night. Some of us were able to get some rest before our safety meeting in the morning while others stayed up waiting for the next siren that never came. When the sun finally rose and the streets came alive again the adrenaline wore off and we were able to relax a little bit.
For me, I knew what I was signing up for when I planned my gap year in Israel. I wanted the Israeli experience this year, and I definitely experienced it. My parents and friends want me to come home early because of the tension, but my heart and soul definitely won’t let me. It is a privilege that I have a home where I know I can sleep safely each night. I could never leave my friends here in Israel early just to go back to that safety that they don’t have. This is their reality, and I’m glad I got to experience it and I’m thankful I am safe and everyone I know is safe. I believe that everything in life can teach you something if you let it, and through the sirens and my individual conversations over these past few days, I believe that no matter your identity, we all as people can agree that innocent people need to stop dying. Living through the conflict gave me a greater sense of responsibility in fighting for peace. Maybe opening up dialogue seems small but I am one person doing everything that I can and everything that I know how to do, and that has to count for something.”