This past week, nine people were shot and four killed in a Tel Aviv shopping market in Israel. Citizens made the decision to go out for the evening, get dinner with their family, go shopping with their friends... But the decision they didn't make was to be right in the middle of a shower of bullets. At least nine lives were changed that night, not to mention all of their loved ones and the people who witnessed the attack. Most people outside of Israel see that on the news and consider themselves lucky that it doesn't happen in their country. They're lucky they weren't there and lucky they don't have to deal with those kinds of things daily.
As I watched the news, stomach churning, body shivering, hand over my mouth out of fear, all I could think was, "I need to be there."
I'm not an EMT: I cannot medically help anyone. And I definitely do not have a death wish -- quite the opposite actually. So why do I sit on my couch, tears of pure terror streaking down my face in waves, yearning to be in Israel?
When I was a senior in high school, I made the decision to spend a year before college in Israel. Before I left, people warned me to make sure I was careful because, "Israel just isn't as safe as America." I had visited Israel before but I had never lived there. I didn't know any better, so I believed it. I got on the plane to leave for my year of growth, worried that I would have to spend a good chunk of it in a bomb shelter, cowering.
As soon as I got to Israel, my fears were immediately wiped away. I ended up turning my year into a year and a half and making the decision that I would live in Israel for the rest of my life.
Me in Givat Washington, Israel.
If you're analyzing my decision, it might seem like Israel is super safe after all. Maybe the media exaggerates. Maybe there isn't always a fear that some extremist could come up and stab you or shoot you. Maybe all the bomb scares are nothing to worry about. Maybe the shelters to protect from rockets are just for show. It's the only way the decision to spend more time in Israel would make sense, right?
Wrong. Unfortunately, all of those things are true. They really happen. People do get stabbed and shot. Buildings need to be evacuated and every bomb threat needs to be taken seriously. The bomb shelters get used, in some parts of the country more frequently than others, and I personally have had to hide in one with the hope that if the rocket did come near me, the concrete walls would protect me. In fact, it is easy to argue that the media doesn't portray the half of it.
So again, when I hear about this on the news, why would I feel a pain in my core that I am not there?
Someone once said to me, "If someone in New York or L.A would leave their house with a clown nose on, they would be able to walk down the street, get coffee, hop on a bus, and make it to work without anything more than a few odd looks. However if someone in Israel were to put a clown nose on, they wouldn't make it ten steps without someone asking them why they were wearing it."
In Israel, there is an immense sense of community that doesn't exist in the same way in other countries. It is the type of environment you get in a small theatre group or on a sports team where everyone, whether they know you well personally or not, feels responsible for you in a familial sense. Israel is much larger than a sports team, yet the same type of environment exists. The sense of community doesn't discriminate against who you are, what you do, or where you came from. In Israel, everyone looks out for everyone else. No one is left uncared for.
We can see it in the way that thousands and thousands of people flocked to Sarah Litman's wedding, which was held just two weeks after her father and brother were murdered by a terrorist. The people of Israel wanted to show Sarah that she is a part of their community and they wouldn't let her down on her wedding day.
We can see it in the way the nation responded to Ezra Schwartz's brutal murder in a terrorist attack. The entire country of Israel rose up in a mix of despair for the loss, anger, and a show of strong support for the Schwartz family. Ezra was a part of the community and the entire country treated it as if it was a loss of their own: and we care for our own.
I'm not sure exactly what the reason is behind the sense of community. I could speculate, but honestly, that isn't the point of this article.
Regardless of where the community comes from--when you live in Israel, you are a part of it. The population of 8 million is now your family, and whether they know you or not, they will take care of you.
The show of community and support throughout the country is what makes it feel so safe when you are there. Just like when we are younger and we hold our mom's hand while we get a shot at the doctor and suddenly we feel invincible. Sure, we still feel the needle go into our arm and it feels like pain, but we don't fear it because we know we have someone who cares about us there looking out for us.
In Israel, everyone is family. No one is left without support. When someone is hurting, when someone needs that hand showing them they don't need to fear because they have support, eight million hands are extended.
So yeah -- I want to be in Israel. Especially during the trying times. Because in life, when we see a difficult or dangerous situation, we stay far away: with one exception. When we see someone we care about in difficult or dangerous times, we can't get there fast enough to stand beside them. So how when I sit on my couch, sobbing over lost lives, can I reconcile the fact that I am in America while my family desperately needs me in Israel?
I want to be in Israel so I can stand beside the rest of the community, making the showing of hands eight million and one.