As I prepared to leave Santa Rosa to travel to Poland and Israel, many friends and family members wished me safe travels and an incredible summer across the world.
And an incredible summer I had indeed; I made new friends from all over North America, visited breathtaking historical sites, and experienced the Holy Land’s culture from North to South.
Yet something about leaving the U.S. stuck with me: I felt like most everyone who wished me goodbye focused on my safety. I’m not complaining that people seemed to care about my well-being, but it was peculiar to me that people worried so much about my security in the world’s only Jewish majority state. I’d been to Israel before, although I had yet to lose all my baby teeth at the time. But I’d always hear how people felt safer in Israel than in the States, despite whatever external force the IDF would be fighting off at the time. So I had to find out for myself. And throughout the majority of the trip, I felt just the same as I would at Camp Ramah in Ojai, California. So despite the geographical difference, I felt as comfortable as I do every summer. It wasn’t until I went to Sderot, the southernmost Israeli city bordering the Gaza Strip, that this sentiment began to change.
The night before my Israel Advocacy track was scheduled to go there, I heard that a rocket was fired into a rural area just outside the city, which was shocking to hear during a recent period of relative peace. Of course I knew details about the political climate, but you can’t really understand the situation until you see it for yourself.
Touring the city, I began to fully realize how Israel isn’t just about eating schwarma or Chasidim walking to Shul, but that people do live in a constant state of threat and distress. Every apartment in Sderot has an attached bomb shelter. We saw videos of kindergartners walking to bomb shelters like they do it every day. It hit me the hardest when we visited a playground and saw giant caterpillar-shaped tunnels that doubled as a shelter; if kids stood beyond a certain point in the structure, they’d be safe. Yet, despite all that may have seemed life-threatening, what I heard about Israel stood up to the test. Shortly thereafter, my group hiked up a small hill and looked out over a road into Gaza. Just a mile or so away from me was a place where I wouldn’t be able to live as a Jew, to live free of hate and terrorist threat. I turned around, and really felt as safe as I ever had.
And I know I’ll cherish the day, whenever it is, when I get to return to Israel. You won’t need to worry about me then.