“Are you okay? are you with someone?” A stream of texts from concerned friends reaches my phone amidst the first round of rockets to hit us, in what would end up being a week of terror in Tel Aviv.
My partner and I just finished making dinner, an arbitrary Netflix re-run plays in the background, and faintly it begins to start - the ominous sirens that Israeli’s are all-too-familiar with. We sit for a moment, waiting to see if the pattern of alarm is constant or falls up and down in undulations that signal an incoming missile strike.
Down the siren goes, and on it’s ascent we grab our dog and hide in the bedroom. We don’t take this all too seriously, we’ve been through it before and we don’t pay attention to the news. We don’t realize that tensions are high in Jerusalem - and as I count each boom, that rattles my house, I realize this is far from normal. At the count of 20, I start to feel scared, this isn’t normal and it isn’t stopping. All night, as sirens blare we wake up and count the explosions until eventually in the early morning, finally, thankfully, they stop.
The next day we find out that the terror group Hamas, fired 300+ rockets at Tel Aviv,100 fell upon their own citizens in Gaza, and 200 were intercepted by the Iron Dome, Israel’s missile defense system. Everyone works from home that day, we’re all scared to go out.
The following days, the sirens sound only periodically through the nights. We continue to count, half asleep. One boom, two booms. Boom, Boom. four. We’re safe. Each explosion symbolizes the Iron Dome, spreading fragments of missile across the sky.
Thursday I returned to work. Greeted by only the few coworkers who choose to come in, we discuss what might happen next, if things will escalate. Our minds aren’t really on our tasks. I try to drown out the worry through my headphones, listening to anything upbeat and light.
But sharply, I look upward to my boss waving me down - The siren has started, this time in the middle of the day. We all run down the stairwell towards the basement. The lovely cafe staff, the man who greets me in the morning, people I’ve never met, office dogs and their owners - we’re all together looking upward - as if somehow we can see through the concrete slabs above us to watch each missile fall. Unsure if it’s over, we tentatively creep our way back upstairs to continue the day.
Each evening, and any time we leave home my partner and I stream our locations to each other. I keep a map of shelters loaded on my phone and plan my route around the city accordingly. Each siren brings with it a new set of stories from friends - some post videos of a mass of strangers fleeing down a street, others explain how they’ve created a game with their little kids to help reduce the trauma of war. Neighbors shelter passers-by in their homes as people run from a cafe.
One afternoon, on our way home from the beach, upon the backdrop of a perfect blue sky we notice a constellation of small puffy clouds. We stare up through the windshield and quickly realize what we’re seeing. My friend Shlomit turns on the radio and immediately pulls over - we’re watching bombs explode above us. Everyone driving, quickly stops against the barricade and gets out of their cars. Sheltering between metal and concrete, the hot pavement burns against our stomachs as we lay on the ground. Boom, Boom, Boom the sound is encompassing, but I can’t help but watch as the Iron dome chases down several rockets, leaving trails of white through the sky.
Each explosion brings us closer to the end of it, and we get back into the car and start driving. It’s going to start up again, we can feel it, and we don’t want to be here while it happens again. I text my partner, we’re not far off. Shlomit, my most badass friend, isn’t phased; she’s been through this shit before, much scarier situations and for a lot longer. She chauffeurs me home safe just as the next round starts. We listen from home, again, counting the explosions...later reading that one of those bombs fell in Ramat Gan, killing one man - the area it fell, far too familiar, much too close to home.
This situation continues for two weeks, a relatively short time, but it manages to manifest a collective hyper vigilance I’ve never seen before. This may sound absurd, but for two weeks I didn't feel as foreign - as if this experience is some kind of initiation into what makes Israelis Israeli. People find a kind of unity with one another, not against Hamas or Palestine, but for each other. For a short moment in time, Tel Aviv feels like a community.
I’m not going to share my opinion on the politics of this situation, because frankly it doesn’t fit into a nice little box like people would prefer. War is shit, civilians suffer and the powerful prosper. But for two weeks Tel Aviv showed me it’s capacity for compassion, and I’m thankful for that.
I hope 2021 continues peacefully.
As a traveler who has seen a handful of Asian cities and fell completely in love with every single one of them, Beijing left a lot to be desired. The city left me feeling unusually lost and isolated. This all faded when we made our first few steps into one of the Hutongs.
Golden dogs and stand guard upon red, gold, turquoise, and cobalt backdrops. Stone fountains sit motionless, without water to run through them. The Imperial Garden floods you with greenery and you understand why it sits beyond the Gate of Terrestrial Tranquility.