My first experience in Israel was when I was 16 year old on the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program, and I fell in love. I fell in love with Israel. So much so that the moment I returned to the US I knew I would come back for my junior year abroad. And I did. I did even though it was during the Second Intifada. I did even though I had to drop out of my university and re-enroll for my senior year. And I did, because I have never felt more at home than I have in Israel. Don’t get me wrong, I love Minnesota, and love that I had the opportunity to grow up in such a warm Jewish community in St. Paul. But I never felt quite right in Minnesota or any of the other places that I lived, except for in Israel.
While living in the US I surrounded myself by as many Israelis as possible and was calling my friends in Israel constantly. No wonder that I ended up as the Israel Education Coordinator, working with the Baltimore Jewish community and its sister city, Ashkelon. In fact, when I made aliyah a little less than two years ago, I almost moved to Ashkelon, but in the end I chose Jerusalem. As a religious Jew I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else.
And now my country is under fire. Not just in the south, but in the center, and in the north. The rockets are coming both from Gaza and Lebanon, and there is no sign of them stopping. I’ve been through this before. Last year, with Operation Pillar of Defense, and just having been in Ashkelon during a time of relative quiet. The year before I made aliyah, I took a group of teachers to Ashkelon and on our last night the Tzeva Adom (color red) siren went off and we had less than 30 seconds to get to safety. Except that we were in a restaurant with glass walls and no bomb shelter. So everyone in the restaurant pushed up against the one supporting wall and waited for the two booms, the two rockets that fell less than one kilometer from where we were eating. And this was not a time of war. This was just an average day for anyone living in Ashkelon, with the ongoing possibility of a rocket attack.
Today, in Jerusalem, there are rockets flying into Ashkelon sometimes at 5-minute intervals and for the last two weeks there have been a few near Jerusalem. One rocket that the Iron Dome intercepted less than five blocks away from my apartment. My apartment in a 75 year old building with no bomb shelter, where my secure space is down on the ground next to retaining wall with no windows. But the worst part after a rocket attack is the waiting. After you hear that first Tzeva Adom, every sound that is even slightly like it, makes you jump. And after that first one, you wait and wait in a constant state of anxiety for the next one. I always have to remind myself that acts of terrorism are meant to make you change the way that you live, and in Israel we don’t do that, we keep living, keep going to work, and keep praying that our soldiers don’t have to go to war. Because if we did live in a constant state of fear, then they would win, and that is not something I can live with.
What gives me hope is going to work every day and seeing the amazing work of my colleagues in the field to provide emergency services to children, elderly, and people with disabilities who live in range of the shortest rockets. What gives me hope is the support from Jewish communities throughout the US and around the world. And what gives me hope are the groups of Jews that continue to come to visit Israel regardless of the situation.
My hopes and prayers continue to be that the situation (the Matzav, as we call it here in Israel) will come to an end soon and that our soldiers will not need to put their lives on the line. I also pray that all of my Israeli brothers and sisters all over the country remain safe and stay strong during these difficult times. From Israel to Minnesota, thank you for your support.
Ariela Lerman is originally from St. Paul and made aliyah in 2012. She currently works at a large Jewish nonprofit organization in resource development and runs her own gluten-free challah business – Challaluya.