While home by herself, Anat Suissa, 17, of Ashkelon heard the all-too-familiar sound of sirens signaling rockets from the Gaza Strip destined for the Israeli seaside city. As she waited in the bomb shelter around 2:15 p.m. on July 16, she heard and felt a huge explosion.
“This time was different,” she thought, trying to compose herself.
She did not sustain any injuries. Unfortunately, her house did.
She was alone and frightened, she recalled. She was overwrought with exploding emotions but plowed forward with the incredible opportunity, despite poor circumstances, to speak to the scores of national and international media that was gathering outside her house waiting to unravel the latest breaking news.
“When I spoke to the media, it was the first time I left my house, and I was shocked at how quickly the media arrived,” said Suissa, whose hometown is a sister city of Baltimore.
Turning to the situation that has plunged much of southern Israel into chaos, Suissa sounded frustrated.
“This is not a normal reality that people have 30, sometimes 15, seconds to save their lives,” she said.
To the news crews, which included Israeli and international stations from Australia, Germany and the United States, she told of her and her neighbors’ fear. She also urged every Israeli to run to a bomb shelter as soon as a siren is heard instead of running outside to see the rocket itself.
After they saw Suissa’s bravery on television, Israel’s economic and foreign affairs ministers, Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Lieberman, respectively, paid a visit to the Suissa home.
Sigel Ariely, the Ashkelon-based director of the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership, could not contain her excitement, as she spoke of the next generation coming forth and leading, not just in front of the Ashkelon or Baltimore communities, but in front of the Jewish state and the wider world.
“Our teens are our future as a community, as a partnership and as a country here in Israel,” said Ariely, “and I think by watching Anat turn a horrible situation into an impactful situation shows just how bright that future is.”
Michael Hoffman, chief planning and strategy officer at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, said that The Associated sponsors an array of teen leadership programs, both in Baltimore and Ashkelon, all with the overarching goal of creating “advocates and ambassadors who can promote the cause of Jewish life.”
“We have seen how she has represented the State and people of Israel,” Hoffman said of Suissa, “and in moments like these, we are seeing the fruits of our collective investments.”
“It makes us stronger when we hear about rallies in support of Israel like the recent rally at the JCC in Baltimore,” Suissa said, recounting the people and community she became so connected to through her Diller Teen Fellows experience. She urged Baltimoreans to “speak for us and tell our stories because it’s your story too.”
Justin Hayet is an area freelance writer.