When I left New Jersey for my gap year in Israel this September, I could not have imagined that it would entail being awakened up by a missile alert siren on a Sunday morning and running to a bomb shelter.
I attended Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, where each day we were exposed to the love of Zionism and Eretz Yisrael. My school encouraged me to take a gap year in Israel before college and ultimately led to my decision to spend this year at the Israel Experience at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan.
At Kushner, every morning after prayers, a student would present “Israel News.” This news would far too often include that Israeli cities in southern Israel had been targeted by missiles from Gaza. However, living in the safety and security of the United States, I could not truly relate to what my brothers and sisters in Israel were going through. That changed the morning of Nov. 19.
As sometimes happens, I forgot to set my alarm clock. I sprang out of bed at 10:30 a.m. and instantly realized that what had awakened me wasn’t my alarm. It was a warning siren: long, loud, high-pitched wails signaling that a missile may land in your vicinity. When Israel had launched Operation Pillar of Defense a few days earlier, to restore security to residents of the South, reports indicated that Ramat Gan was likely out of rocket range. Still, we had been instructed to be on alert, and now I understood why.
Suddenly I was in fear for my life. As quickly as I could, I threw on my slippers and robe and ran for the bomb shelter next to my dorm. A few moments after reaching the shelter I heard a boom, and then the sirens stopped. We waited until our staff allowed us to leave the shelter. A thick smell of smoke permeated the air; I looked up and saw two trails of smoke in the sky. The Iron Dome system had intercepted what was later reported to be an Iranian-made Fajr-5 missile shot out of Gaza by Hamas.
But my experience was only a taste of what a million and a half Israelis have gone through on a near constant basis. According to IDF reports, since 2001, close to 13,000 rockets and mortars have been fired from Gaza into southern Israel. The residents of towns that border Gaza have only 15 seconds from the start of the warning siren to make their way into a bomb shelter, as opposed to the luxury of the 90 seconds that I had in Ramat Gan.
I am now determined to stand up for Israel and inform my peers on the issues. At Bar-Ilan, we receive Israel advocacy training and support from Hasbara Fellowships, an organization that educates students to stand up for Israel on American university campuses and through social media. Hasbara Fellowships gave me clarity to communicate what I experienced to people back home and use it as an opportunity to spread awareness.
Each of us can be active for Israel simply by sharing our experiences via Facebook, Twitter, blogs — and after my experience, I felt a real responsibility to do so. Simply by sharing, I had put a familiar face on the situation to my friends and family back in U.S. and around the world.
I received dozens of responses from friends I haven’t heard from in years, and I could tell I was making an impact. From that point on, I started posting brief updates about the operation. Whether I posted about the number of missiles shot into Israel, or shared an IDF photo or video, I was a medium, giving these ever-so-important bits of information exposure to an audience that would not otherwise have received it. It felt good to make a contribution to the defense of Israel, a place and a people that have done so much for me.
The missile affected me in a manner Hamas never could have conceived. I am now more driven than ever to bring light to the issues affecting our nation. Regardless of where I am — whether it be in Ramat Gan, on a university campus in the United States, or anywhere else — I will stand up for Israel.