By: Jill Max, Chair, The Associated’s Israel Engagement Center
I jolted out of bed to the sound of a siren blaring. Disoriented, I soon realized it was only an ambulance. It was 5:36 AM, and rather than attempting to go back to sleep for a few minutes, I put on my running shoes and headed for the boardwalk. As I made my way toward Neve Tzedek, the moon was darting in and out of the clouds over the beach and the sun began its ascent behind me. It was a beautiful juxtaposition and I stopped to take pictures.
Everything is familiar to me now in this city. I recognized my landmarks and knew how far it was to Rothschild Boulevard. The boardwalk was getting busy: many people were running, biking and walking.
On the way back, I took pictures of the memorial for the 2001 terrorist attack on a Tel Aviv beach disco. I started thinking about the differences between the Second Intifada and what is happening right now. In those days, Israelis and tourists lived with a different kind of fear. There was no way to predict when or where a person would blow himself up and nothing people could do to protect themselves. Now, while we still can’t predict where or when the next missiles will strike, we have the Iron Dome to protect and defend us.
Before we boarded our bus for the first time, we had a drill to prepare in case there was a siren en-route. We were instructed to leave quickly, but safely, and to lie on the ground, with our hands over our heads. To my relief, we didn’t actually lie on the ground (people around us would have been mislead by our actions). Anyone who knows me understands that I like to err on the side of being over, rather than underdressed. I was in a cute silk skirt with matching sandals, and I certainly didn’t relish the idea of ruining my clothes.
We made several interesting site visits around Tel Aviv, and in the afternoon, Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of Ha’aretz spoke to our group and answered questions for an hour. Following his talk, we had one hour to ourselves. As I walked out of the ballroom, I was greeted with a big hug from home. Maia Hoffman just happened to meeting with someone at our hotel, and discovered we were downstairs. We decided to have coffee at the rooftop restaurant. We sat next to the chef, Meir Aloni, while he was conducting a tasting with his team. Aloni is a rising star on the Israeli food scene. Maia had sent Aaron and me to his original restaurant, Caitit, in November. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.
As I was rushing out the door, already late for the bus, Meir was standing by the bar. He gave me a big smile, and I immediately introduced myself and told him that I loved both of his restaurants. He was both taken aback and flattered that I knew who he was. I was star-struck, and asked for a picture; he graciously agreed. It was worth the scolding I received for my tardy arrival at the bus!
We spent the evening in Ramat Hasharon, an affluent suburb of Tel Aviv. Members of this impressive community founded the first Israeli Federation, Takdim. After learning about the challenges they are facing to encourage Israelis to adopt a culture of giving, we divided into smaller groups and were hosted by local community leaders in their homes. I was so fortunate to be invited to the beautiful home of Vered Biron-Shavrit and her husband, Alon. A true power couple, connected to banking, finance and political circles, the Shavrits invited Israel’s Minister of Defense, Eli Yishai, to join us for dinner. We had the opportunity to ask him many questions about the current situation and ways that we, in the Diaspora, could be most supportive. He immediately thanked us for being in Israel and for sharing our experiences here with our communities. Each of the Israelis in attendance gave us concrete suggestions to support Israel immediately, particularly in the South. It was a lovely evening, cut short by our tour guide who literally rang the doorbell relentlessly until our hosts were forced to let her in! They even offered to drive us back to Tel Aviv if we chose to stay later.
It was a very long day. We didn’t return to the hotel until after 11:00, and I still had to pack and check out because we were leaving in the morning. I was overtired, and circling my room, flitting from task to task and trying to connect to family and friends while worrying about writing this post. I finally went to bed at 2:30, after deciding to save my writing for the bus ride.
After roughly 4 hours of sleep, I dragged myself, and my luggage to the lobby at 7:00 AM, and headed to breakfast. We had one final session before departing for the North. At 9:10, we made our usual pilgrimage to the buses and I immediately started writing this post. Suddenly, our guard ran onto the bus and started repeating, “Sirens, sirens, let’s go, everyone off the bus.” I dropped my computer, calmly exited the bus and looked up into the sky to actually witness the Iron Dome taking out several missiles over Tel Aviv. It was absolutely surreal. People were standing and watching the strikes, even taking pictures. I finally had to drag one of our participants by the arm into the building. “What the hell is wrong with you?” I hissed. “This is not a drill.”
Talk about a wake-up call.
Jill is currently in Israel on the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Campaigner’s Mission.