In Israel, local Jews discover that life goes on


Izabella Tabarovsky was sitting in her Hebrew class in Jerusalem last week, when her teacher said, “ ‘You never forget your first siren,’ ” recalled the Silver Spring resident, who was in Israel on a three-week program. “ ‘The rest of them kind of blend together,’ ” the teacher told her students.

On the walk to her apartment after class, Tabarovsky spoke on the phone to her mother, trying to reassure her that, despite the hail of rockets landing in Israel from Gaza, she was not in any danger.
“Jerusalem is holy for them, too,” she remembered telling her mother. All of a sudden, she heard “a very penetrating sound” and told her mother she had to hang up.

That was her first siren. “It kind of comes out of nowhere, and yet it’s everywhere,” she said. It quickly dawned on her that, although she had been told many times she had 90 seconds to get to a safe place, she didn’t know where to go. She was alone on the street.

She ran to her apartment, hoping one of her roommates would be there to guide her. One was, and they huddled in a stairwell until the sirens stopped. They heard two booms. That was the work of the Iron Dome, she said. “I myself did not really feel real fear. I just got frustrated.”

Washington-area Jews in Israel during the fighting found that life goes on, and, like Israelis, they learned to deal with the sirens, explosions and damage from rockets.

Although some in Tabarovsky’s program decided to leave Israel early, “I didn’t do it. It didn’t feel right,” she said. “It felt like it would almost be a betrayal,” she explained.

Laurie Friedman of Bethesda also had no intention of letting Operation Protective Edge ruin her trip to Israel with the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project. She understood that her itinerary had to be reworked because of the bombing, but “I had this sense of determination,” she said.

Most important, Friedman decided that Hamas was “not going to take away the beach from me.” She did spend her time at the beach in Tel Aviv, vowing like Israelis do, that Hamas was “not going to change our lives.”

Friedman is home now. “It gets to you. I feel a little guilty that I left,” she said, adding she wishes she was still “there to be one of the people standing up” for Israel.

Adam Stravitz of Fairfax has visited Israel at least 10 times, and said he experiences a different side of Israel each time. This trip, a 10-week business and technology internship, has opened his eyes to the danger Israelis experience, he said by phone.

“The other day, I was biking, going to Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and the sirens went off. I threw my bike on the ground, looked around, and followed the people who were running from their cars” to a shelter, Stravitz said.

“It was a little scary when you hear the sirens and hear a boom. But you get up and get back to life, and I went back to the museum,” he said, adding, “It really hits home, you really feel it. But at the same time there is a sense of unity” in Israel.

Julian Sadur’s trips to the bomb shelter also helped him understand life in Israel. The Rockville teen was visiting a kibbutz with a Birthright group, when he experienced his first siren.

“It was 6 a.m. and everyone was running to the bomb shelter. I was in disbelief, realizing that a few seconds ago everyone was sleeping and now people were running for their lives,” Sadur said. “It was scary when the alarm goes off. Everything stops, there is a big boom and then there is pure silence. It’s the quietest thing I have ever heard.  

“It was the most surreal thing in the world and most people in the U.S. don’t get that experience,” Sadur added. “It was the highlight of the trip because it shows what Israelis deal with.”

Madeline Wilks’ family didn’t let the missiles and sirens prevent them from celebrating their daughter’s bat mitzvah, but they had to quickly adjust their plans. Their original intent was to celebrate in Tel Aviv, but they soon found out that their trip to Tel Aviv had been canceled and their cantor, who was to conduct the service, had left the country.

“Luckily our rabbi and cantorial intern from Temple Shalom [in Chevy Chase] were also traveling in Israel,” she wrote in an email to Washington Jewish Week. Her daughter did become a bat mitzvah, but in Tiberias, in a small synagogue at the hotel in which they were staying.

“We ended up having 10 minutes to get ready,” she wrote. Rabbi Michael Feshbach and cantorial intern Emily Myer “saved the day and officiated at our emergency bat mitzvah.”

Rather than a DJ and music, the family had ice cream at an outdoor market, calling it “the nicest bat mitzvah we had ever attended.”

The Dekel family also was in Israel for a family simcha. Tammy Dekel’s father, who lives in Israel, was turning 80, and the family wanted to celebrate together.

The Bethesda resident said she noticed that many Israeli parents turn off the television to lessen their children’s anxiety, and everyone is always on their cellphones, before, during and after the sirens.
“You hear one boom and then you hear the next, quieter, boom. That’s the Iron Dome. Then everyone starts calling to see who was near” where it happened, she said. “Everyone is on high alert. There is no doubt about it,” but they don’t change their plans.

“Everybody is going to work. Kids are all going to summer camp. There is the feeling that we’ve done this before,” she said by phone from Israel.

While Dekel’s mother was speaking to Washington Jewish Week, her 13-year old daughter, Karen, asked to speak to a reporter. “I just get very upset. I just don’t understand why they are doing this,” said the North Bethesda Middle School student. “They are trying to kill us, and I don’t know why.”
She described herself as scared, but “I guess I am going with the flow.”

Suzanne Pollak is a WJW senior writer and Alexa Laz is WJW’s general assignment reporter.

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