By Jill Max, Chair, The Associated’s Israel Engagement Center
Last night, I walked to the beautiful Tel Aviv port (don’t worry, there are plenty of places along the way to duck and cover) and had dinner with two Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) staff members and four young adults from Baltimore who are participating in the Onward Israel program that The Associated subsidizes. The eight-week program matches college-age students with internships in Tel Aviv (and many other cities) that suit their educational or career-related pursuits. I knew half of the group, and I knew that all of them had anxious parents at home who were eager for reassurance that their kids were all right. Each one had a different level of comfort with the situation, but I was so impressed with their maturity and their ability to see this as a unique opportunity for growth. One young man shared his newfound culinary skills, while one of the girls was proud of her ability to take the bus by herself to her internship. They all spoke candidly of the challenges of being here at this time, but none of them was considering leaving. Sadly, a few of the participants did decide to go home, and of course I support that decision. This is not an easy situation to deal with on a daily basis, particularly without your family around.
This morning I had the opportunity to make two site visits with the director of the program and the internship coordinator. Both of the interns we visited expressed how much they were learning and how beneficial they felt their experience was for them. Their supervisors clearly valued their work and were very enthusiastic about their contributions. I couldn’t stop thinking about how different these experiences were than most of the one’s I’ve heard about at home. These interns were really part of the team, and felt valued. It was a great way to start the day!
I spent a few hours this afternoon with a dear friend who lives in Tel Aviv. Abraham Silver is one of the most interesting people I know, as well as brilliant. Abraham made Aliyah in the early 80s, a pioneer from Brooklyn who became a date farmer in the Negev. That, however, is not where his story ends. Abraham served in the Israeli army and reserves as an elite paratrooper, he is an historian, and is arguably the best tour guide I’ve ever known. Oh, and by the way, he got an MA in Architecture about a decade ago, commuting between Tel Aviv and the University of Pennsylvania. I first met him when our family traveled to Israel on the Associated’s Family Mission in 2007. Since then, every time I come to this land, I make sure to see Abraham. He is my touchstone to what is really happening here, my guide to a uniquely Israeli perspective on the situation, and aside from all of that, a wonderful father and adoring husband. I should also mention that his wife, Alisa, is a world-renowned brain researcher and was recently named Teacher of the Year by Tel Aviv University. Unfortunately, Abraham and his seven-year-old twins, Shiri and Libby were unable to attend the ceremony, due to the red alert.
It was 5:20 in Tel Aviv, officially Happy Hour, and I’d returned to the pool to relax and do some reading before my mission officially began this evening. The wi-fi was spotty, so I had trouble connecting to both my email and Facebook, but I was feeling content, enjoying my glass of wine and people watching by the pool. I had just begun to return an email, and as I was typing, the sirens started blaring. Several people around me were blissfully sleeping, and I moved efficiently from one to the next repeating, “sirens, sirens, get up, get up” (Note to self: I am a pretty cool cucumber in an emergency). The lifeguard quickly directed us to the stairwell, and we made our way down three floors. Once again, I had the opportunity to meet new people and to hear everyone’s stories about their experiences with the sirens thus far. After about 10 minutes, I was back in my chair (I took the wine with me) and enjoying the breathtaking view as the sun began its daily descent. The lifeguard confirmed that the Iron Dome intercepted two missiles over Tel Aviv. “Don’t worry, please enjoy your vacation: the Iron Dome has got us covered,” he assured me.
I’m sleeping with my balcony door open tonight, as I did last night. There’s a beautiful breeze and I find the sound of the waves soothing. And yes, it is easier to hear the sirens.
Jill is currently in Israel on the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Campaigner’s Mission.