Jerusalem, Israel – November 20, 2012
Shema Yisrael. (Hear O’ Israel).
The words that I rushed through this morning.
Never again will I do that.
Today was normal. Well, not totally normal. For one thing, I was in Israel, in Jerusalem. That’s definitely something special, and it is not something that is usual for me. I live in New York, and I am a proud American citizen; however, Israel is always on my mind and in my heart and soul. It also wasn’t a normal day in Jerusalem for me. Most of the time when I’m in this holy city it’s for vacation and to visit family. However, the purpose of my visit this time was to choose a seminary for myself for the following year. The day was not routine, but I was having a wonderful day learning about the particular seminary I was visiting.
That all changed very quickly. Sometimes, it takes just a short amount of time to make the largest impact on our lives. Sometimes, it’s not about the years you spend at a certain school or the hours you try and decipher the meaning of a text. Sometimes, your life can change in the blink of an eye, and the most formidable experiences for you will happen so quickly you have to take a step back and realize what just happened. That is what I intend to do, and I invite you to listen in on my thoughts.
At 2:15 p.m. I left the seminary I was visiting during lunch break to go for ice cream with a friend who was studying in that seminary. I knew the seminary was located near Emek Rephaim, a street in Jerusalem with many restaurants and cafés, I wanted to get a sense of the seminary’s neighborhood, and I REALLY wanted ice cream. It wasn’t just any ice cream- it was a special kind of frozen yogurt they only have in Israel. It’s so special because I never get it in New York, and at that moment all that I could think about was my froyo. What would I put in my froyo? Would I go for the healthier option or the more fattening kind? At which store would I get my froyo? THESE were the important questions of my life at that moment. These were the thoughts I had running through my mind because at that hour THAT was the important decision I had to make. Little did I know that in 15 minutes these questions would be so irrelevant it would be almost embarrassing that I had them.
I entered the froyo store, contemplated what I wanted to buy, and after an extended period of time finally decided on the semi-healthy, semi-not so healthy, option. This was after all my favorite ice cream, they didn’t have it in New York, and I was due for a treat. I ordered my ice cream and waited for the man at the counter to fill my order.
And then I heard it. The ambulance a couple of blocks away. Unfortunately, someone must have gotten hurt and needed to be taken to the hospital in an emergency. The siren, I mean, that’s what I heard. A pretty usual sound for someone who lives in a big city. Although it should have evoked more emotion from me, I was used to hearing ambulances and didn’t think much about it.
Except, it wasn’t an ambulance. It wasn’t that “someone” who was hurt and needed to go to the hospital who was in danger.
It was I who was in grave, grave danger.
A man, whom my friend knew from her community back in New Jersey, went outside to listen to the siren. It seemed to stay at the same tone- not get closer or farther, louder or quieter. When he returned through the open glass doors of the ice cream shop, he told everyone that it was indeed the most dreaded word in the Hebrew language, an Azakah (warning), otherwise known as a “Tzeva Adom” (“code red”).
An Azakah in Jerusalem??? How could that be? Would Hamas, the terrorist group operating in the Gaza strip, think of attacking a city that is half populated by it’s own people? Would Hamas attack the holiest city in the world? Would Hamas attack the capitol of the State of Israel? Would Hamas put me in danger- what did I ever do to them? I am an American citizen, a Jewish girl, and the biggest supporter of peace. What did I do to have Hamas fire a rocket at me?
But there was no time for these thoughts. Only after the incident did I have time to reflect on it. When I heard the siren was an Azakah, I went into full-blown panic, practical mode. “Aifoh Hamiklat?” I shouted. (Where is the bomb shelter? The safe house?) Aifoh Hamiklat? But the man at the ice cream shop just looked at me and the people around us and said sorry, we don’t have one. “You don’t have a bomb shelter???” The thing I knew about a rocket attack was that I had to run as fast as I could into a bomb shelter, to protect myself from getting hit. But there was no bomb shelter, for me and for everyone else.
We were doomed, that was it. There was no bomb shelter. We had NO protection whatsoever from an incoming missile.
But without thinking we acted according to protocol. It wasn’t something we had to contemplate or consider; it was almost automatic as though we didn’t have control over what we should do. We lay down on the floor, along with the other customers and put our hands over our heads for 90 seconds.
That’s how much time we had learned it would take from the moment we heard the siren until the moment the rocket would fall.
The amount of time it took me minutes beforehand to decide whether to have chocolate or vanilla.
The amount of time I now had to pray with all my heart and soul for mercy from the Creator and Controller of the world.
Words that this morning I rushed through and seemed so trivial were now the words I relied on and depended on to save my life. This wasn’t something I needed G-D’s help with like doing well on a test. This was my LIFE. This was everything in the world to me in 90 seconds. This was my family, my friends, my house, my world, my passions, my aspirations. This was me. Raw, scared, and insecure.
Never in my life do I think I said Shema so fervently, and never in my life do I think Shema will be the same routine every morning. I was in a situation where I realized that my life is totally, one-hundred percent, in the hands of G-D, that I could do nothing to protect myself, and that in 90 seconds everything could change. I was “forced” to depend on G-D for salvation, and I realized how he really is in control. The chance of a rocket falling on me was just as high as the chance of it falling in an empty field. But what was to say it would fall in the field? Ultimately, the perpetrator was hoping to hit as many Israelis as he could, including ME, and I had no control over its direction.
Now I finally understood what my best friend, a resident of Ashdod (a city in southern Israel), and every other citizen of this wonderful country was going through on a daily basis. Except they are able to move on and lead their daily lives after rockets are pummeled on their cities every day. After 2 minutes I stood up, knowing the coast was clear, and thank the Lord Almighty, I was safe.
As I got up, some Palestinian teenagers started laughing at me because I had laid down on the floor. Did they think I was silly for trying to save my life? Did they not realize that 2 minutes ago they were in the exact same danger as I was? Did they not comprehend that their own brothers were sending rockets in their direction? Could they not understand that Hamas’s rocket launching is so sickening one cannot think about anything else? Were they stupid? Their brethren didn’t care if they died also, as long as some Jews or Israelis were killed along with them! These thoughts filled my mind.
The man behind the counter handed me my ice cream. Ice cream? Ice cream? Are you serious? I’m going to have an ice cream now? Am I going to sit and enjoy a treat when only minutes ago my life was in danger? But I had to eat the ice cream. The ice cream was more than a sweet food. It was a symbol of daily living in Israel under rocket fire. After every single siren I am sure that every child feels the exact same way that I did- my heart was pounding out of my chest, I could barely breathe, and my hands were shaking. But yet, all these children are expected, just as I was, to take a deep breath and move on and eat an ice cream.
So there it is. My life changed in 90 seconds. Although it was the most petrifying moment of my life, it was probably also one of the most inspirational moments of my life. All it took was 90 seconds to put my priorities in check and understand what it is like for someone to be living under constant rocket attack. I got a glimpse into the life of an Israeli child, a glimpse I hope, because of good times, never to have again, but a glimpse that was so important for my growth.
Shema Yisrael Adonay Eloheynu Adonay Echad.
The words that will forever mean something so much more to me.
The words that may have saved my life.
The words that helped me understand.
The words that soothed me.
The words given to us by G-D.