Lessons From My First Time in Israel Under Rocket Fire

On May 10, 2021 Hamas launched rockets from Gaza to Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh. While alarmed and praying for the people living and celebrating Yom Yerushalayim in Jerusalem, I wasn’t too concerned because I assumed the Iron Dome would prevent any rockets from hitting populated areas.

Avi Abelow live from the Kotel when the sirens sounded

While this turned out to be mostly true for Jerusalem, it wouldn’t be true for other parts of the country. Over the next two days, terrorist factions in Gaza would hurl over a thousand rockets all over Israel, specifically targeting Tel Aviv and communities in the Gaza Envelope.

Hundreds of rockets launched toward Tel Aviv

How did all of this affect me? I was walking outside on my way home when I started hearing the booms. The sky was cloudy, so I figured I wouldn’t be able to see anything. I received a text from my husband saying that half of his Zoom ulpan class had suddenly left running to their shelters. As I neared my street, the booms started getting louder. I looked around everywhere, but still was not able to see any rockets. When I finally came home and looked out our upstairs window, I was able to see the Iron Dome hitting rockets bound for Tel Aviv.

Video taken from our apartment in Eli

In the first 10 seconds of the video, you can see our Arab neighbors from Area A lobbing flash grenades (which exploded in their own village). They coupled this along with the Muslim call to prayer throughout the attack. Despite all of this, I was not afraid at all. Even when a rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome seemingly over our heads (not shown in the video and not actually over our heads. Israel is just THAT small of a country), I did not feel fear. For one thing, the sirens never sounded in Eli, but they did open several of the community bomb shelters just in case. But also, we were pretty much out of the immediate target zone. Thank G-d, I did not have to worry about my family since they also live in Eli, and my friends who live closer to Tel Aviv all reported they were safe in their bomb shelters. We slept that night with the window open to make sure we would hear any sirens, and have done this every night since.

This was my own personal experience during the attack. I know that for many others, the threat was much more severe for them. Hearing the sirens, having to run to the shelters, explaining to their young children why people are trying to kill them. They will have trauma from this event. Some people have lost their lives. Hopefully Israel will not lose any more.

Strange as it sounds, the situation was not unlike being under a tornado warning in Texas and Oklahoma. In both scenarios, you have a threat approaching you. In both scenarios, you run for shelter. And in both scenarios, you get low and cover your head. And sometimes, unfortunately, people die. Between the tornado drills in school as a child in Texas and having survived an F-5 tornado in Oklahoma, the concept was not new to me.

But there was much more going on than just rocket attacks. Arabs in supposedly coexistent communities started turning on their Jewish neighbors. The city of Lod was full of riots, Arabs throwing stones, setting cars, synagogues, and shops on fire, cutting power to apartment buildings, and throwing Molotov cocktails into apartments. The Israeli police was so overwhelmed that men from Yitzhar came as reinforcements.

In Beer Sheva, a TikTok video surfaced of Arabs in a drive-by shooting at Israelis at a gas station. This follows a couple of drive-by shootings at a bus stop near Kfar Tapuach within a couple of days of each other, one of which resulted in the death of a yeshiva student.

All over social media and on Jewish and pro-Israel news sites, Arabs have launched a massive campaign to use these attacks to their advantage. Everywhere you see sympathy for “Palestinians” and #savesheikhjarrah, but no care at all for the violence Israelis are going through. Many leaders worldwide are victim-blaming Israel for actually defending itself and not allowing itself to be annihilated. It is very isolating reading the comments, not just from the Arab horde but also from people buying into their propaganda machine. Finally! Finally they have a “legitimate” excuse to unleash their antisemitic hatred towards Jews. And this hatred is manifesting itself into more and more attacks against Jews all over the world. 

Despite everything that has happened, I do not regret making Aliyah for a second! And I will do everything in my power to push for as many Jews to make Aliyah as possible. At the end of the day, Israel is our home. If the situation develops into a war, it won’t be the first nor likely the last one. Israel has a lot of problems, the biggest ones glaringly evident now. But so does the rest of the world. No place is perfect, especially nowadays. But today, the world is after its Jews. We have to live somewhere, and I would rather live in Hashem’s land, under his protection, and under the protection of the IDF, than anywhere else. We must all come to Israel and work together to solve its problems. But we also must learn to treat each other with kindness again.

So what are you to do in case of a “Code Red” or צבע אדום?

  1. PREPARE. If you have a Mamad (bomb shelter) room in your house, stock it with supplies: food, water, radio, tools for defense. Consider having a bed or two there for children to sleep. Do not fill this room with junk. You’ll need as much space as possible to fit your entire family (and possibly neighbors). If you don’t have a Mamad, practice going to the local community bomb shelter yourself. See how long it takes you to get there and what you can do to decrease your time. Have a plan in place to quickly grab your children and pets. Have clothes and shoes nearby that you can quickly put on if it happens in the middle of the night.
  2. When you hear a siren, hurry (but don’t run!) to your local bomb shelter and stay there until at least 10 minutes have passed since the siren has stopped. Make sure the door is closed and locked (but if someone you know is trying to get in, please let them inside), and pull the metal shield across the window. Get low to the ground and cover your head.
  3. If you don’t have a shelter, or it is too far away before the rockets can reach you, stay indoors and find the most structurally secure area of the house (stairwell, doorway, bathroom, etc.). Stay away from windows as the glass can become lethal debris.
  4. If you are traveling outside and cannot make it to a building, lay down on the ground as flat as you can. Preferably in a ditch or against a wall, making sure to cover your head. Do not stay inside or next to your vehicle. Hamas likes to target cars and busses with their anti-tank missiles.

DON’T RUN- we see many times people get hurt during a siren not from the rocket, but from people running. Not unlike Meron, a stampede happens on the way to the community shelter. Older adults also fall and break their hips, making it impossible for them to reach safety. Stay calm and quickly make your way to the shelter, but don’t run.

The following information was provided by Nefesh B’Nefesh, and I’m sharing it with permission from the author:

Never hesitate to call the NBN Answers and Advocacy Department at *3680.

The Home Front Command (פיקוד העורף / Pikud HaOref)

The task of the Home Front Command is to assure the best level of preparedness possible for the population of Israel in safety procedures. It is important to stay calm and follow the instructions given by the Home Front Command. The Home Front Command has a website in English and a multi-lingual information center that can be reached by dialing 104 and is open 24 hours a day.
The Home Front Command sounds a siren based on your area as a warning. See the directives listed by the Home Front Command on what to do at any given time using the website or information listed above. Know how much time you have based on your city/region to seek appropriate protection.

DOs and DON’Ts to Consider:
1. DO stay calm
2. DO continue with your daily activities to the best of your ability
3. DO be aware of the needs of family members; address fears and concerns appropriately. Not sure how to speak to your kids about a security situation? See https://www.nbn.org.il/aliyahpedia/getting-started-planning-aliyah/family-aliyah/talking-to-kids-about-terror/
4. DO stay informed through English news sites as YNet in English, JPost, and Arutz Sheva
5. DON’T be a news junkie. It is important to stay informed but staying glued will lead to greater emotional stress
6. DON’T keep your children home if you haven’t been directed to do so. All schools have proper protocol, including the ability for a child to speak to a therapist if they are having a hard time
7. DON’T hold back from seeking out help! Security situations affect everyone in different ways
Natal – Israel’s trauma center – 1800-363-363
Eran – Emotional crisis hotline – 1201
Nefesh B’Nefesh support – *3680

Supporting a child’s emotional needs can be challenging while managing your own. Consider some of the below to help your family maintain a sense of security within your home:
1. Be a good role model: The parents’ response is a model of how to deal with the situation.
2. Recognize Emotional Needs: Give children the attention they need and recognize their emotional needs. For example, if a child starts to cry, let her know that this is normal behavior in the given situation.
3. Talk About It: In order to encourage your child to talk about her emotional needs, share your own feelings about the situation
4. Talk Frankly: Adapt the information and language so that your child is able to understand the situation.
5. Define family Roles: Talk to your child about what is expected of her, and what she is expected to do during an emergency. Give her ‘jobs’ that will make it easier for her to cope with the situation.
6. Filter the information and take charge of the ‘remote control’. Do not expose children to pictures and information beyond what is necessary (this is equally important for adults!)
7. Be aware: Pay attention and notice if your child is distressed. If the situation does not improve, don’t hesitate to obtain professional assistance.
8. Strengthen the family unit: Create a supportive and embracing family atmosphere, with an emphasis on ‘being together’
9. Take care of yourself: Pay attention to your own state of being and your degree of exhaustion. Don’t forget to look after yourself so that you can be a stable anchor for your children.
10 . Stay calm: In emergency situations, parents are the most important resource that a child has. A child interprets their reality through the eyes of their parents. Calm parents are a guarantee for a calm child.

The Ministry of Health, Kupot Cholim and the Chosen Center have opened a special hotline offering emotional support:

Merkaz Chosen Ashkelon
Merkaz Chosen Sderot
Merkaz Chosen Chof Ashkelon
Merkaz Chosen Sdeot Negev
Merkaz Chosen Sha’ar HaNegev
Merkaz Chosen Eshkol
Merkaz Chosen Lev Yehuda
Merkaz Chosen Binyamin Region
Merkaz Chosen Etzion Region
Merkaz Chosen Shomron Region

Header photo credit: Anas-Mohammed / Shutterstock.com

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