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New Jerseyans in Israel carry on despite conflict
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New Jerseyans in Israel carry on despite conflict

Former New Jerseyan Dr. Aryeh Kontorovich, who made aliya in 2007 and now lives in Be’er Sheva, grew up in the former Soviet Union for the first 10 years of his life. That experience contributed to his belief that Jews living outside of Israel are “at the mercy of their hosts, who are not always hospitable,” he said. “Living in a Jewish state, I feel safer than anywhere else.”

Nevertheless, Kontorovich described Hamas’s latest attack as “very disheartening.” Ben-Gurion University, where he is an assistant professor of computer science, closed until after the cease-fire, and he and his wife and young children were holed up in the house for a week. His brief forays outside — to pray at his synagogue or pick up essentials — were interrupted several times by warning sirens. Some missiles fell within a dozen yards of his shul.

Kontorovich lived in Plainsboro, West Windsor, Princeton, and East Windsor, where his parents live, and earned his undergraduate degree at Princeton University.

During Operation Pillar of Defense, he told NJJN, “we weren’t so much fearful for our lives because the reinforced rooms are built to withstand missiles. It was just the constant feeling that we were being targeted that was so disturbing.”

Hamas, he said, his voice rising with emotion, was not shooting “at a military installation; they were shooting at civilians from behind a human shield. They sent several missiles at a time just to make interception difficult.”

When concerned NJ relatives called for updates, Kontorovich struggled over his responses. “A part of me wants to say it’s not as bad as it sounds, but another part of me says it is as bad as it sounds. It sounds crazy, and it is crazy. Can you imagine having rockets fall in parts of New Jersey?”

While the cease-fire enabled him and his family to return to their normal activities, it’s certainly not a relief, he said. “This is the end of a cycle that is bound to repeat itself in another few months or a year.”

A lot of Israelis, he said “are angry about how abruptly we ended this campaign. Many of us have the feeling that Israel was forced to react in an overly restrained way, partly due to pressure from the U.S. administration. As a result, Israel wasn’t allowed to create a proper deterrence to Hamas’s capabilities.”

Former New Brunswick and Highland Park resident Gila Paran lives with her husband and three children in Ashkelon, where she is a psychiatric nurse at the Barzilai Medical Center. She is a graduate of Rutgers Cook College.

“We don’t have enough safe spaces in the hospital, so when there’s a missile alert the patients are not safe,” said Paran, who moved to Israel in 1984. “In two days, we had to have 30 patients in our ward transferred to other hospitals or released.”

While Paran worked with patients suffering from acute stress reaction, the emergency room was flooded with people injured in attacks (including a man who had to have a leg amputated). Others suffered from cuts and broken bones from falling while running to shelters. An elderly woman sustained a hematoma after a blast caused her to fall out of her wheelchair.

As the attacks on Ashkelon escalated, the Paran family dog, Nachman, ran away. “He came back two days later, after there was a quiet night with no attacks,” she said. “But he’s scared and doesn’t go out of the yard by himself anymore.”

Max Mallet of Fair Haven was in the middle of a Hebrew lesson in Ashdod when his ulpan teacher got word of imminent Hamas strikes on Ashdod. Mallet and his fellow participants of the Israel Teaching Fellows program were asked to return to their apartments and prepare to evacuate.

The group was halfway to Tel Aviv by van when they heard that a rocket had been intercepted over Ashdod not long after they had left the southern Israel city.

“It was the first of many to come,” said Mallet, who teaches English at an Ashdod elementary school as part of the fellowship. 

Mallet stayed with friends in Jerusalem, returning to Ashdod four days after a cease-fire ended the latest round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. He blogged about his experience as part of a volunteer project with the International New Media Center in Jerusalem, a joint program between the Jewish Agency for Israel and MASA Israel, which brings young Jewish adults to Israel for work, volunteer, and study programs.

Around 8 a.m. on Nov. 17, former Livingston resident Rochelle Safir D’Antonio was milking her goats on her farm in southern Israel when she heard the screech of rockets overhead.

Second later, two missiles landed to her left, and a third fell to her right, missing her and her 16 goats by about 550 yards. As the smoke billowed above, D’Antonio huddled protectively around her bleating goats.

Although D’Antonio and her animals suffered no injuries, the stress of the constant barrage of missiles on the Eshkol region where she lives — about six miles from Gaza — left lingering effects.

“Rockets were falling two to four times a day. It was impossible to sleep. And when they didn’t fall on the Eshkol region they spread the love around and fired it somewhere else,” said D’Antonio, who moved to Israel in 1976. “I have developed a thick skin after living here so long. But many of my goats prematurely stopped producing milk from the shock.”

When Shira Pruce, who made aliya from East Brunswick, left Be’er Sheva to stay with a Jerusalem friend who is a fellow graduate of Rutgers, she described her escape in a blog post about her “reflections as a war refugee.”

“We were in no shape to pack, having had no sleep for 24 hours, and we were probably too tired to drive,” she wrote. “We arrived in Jerusalem, with only one air raid siren catching us in the car on the way.”

Pruce, 30, moved two years ago to Be’er Sheva, where she lives with her partner Omri and her dog, who is named — appropriately — Jersey. She said her first experience with a rocket attack was terrifying. It was the middle of the night, and she realized she did not have a key to her building’s safe room.

Since then, the rocket attacks have become routine but no less scary. On Sunday, when she was already safe and sound in Jerusalem, a rocket fell in an area near her home where she regularly walks Jersey.

On her blog, she wrote: “At least once every hour we would hear the soul-piercing whine of the air raid siren, announcing incoming rockets. We grab the dog, run down the stairs, and enter our neighbors’ back door to the bomb shelter we share. With tired half-smiles we warmly greet them, and we pack into the small room, with our dog and their dog, and we wait. The siren goes on for 15 more seconds. Sometimes in the case of multiple rockets the siren will be run two or three more times in a row. Then we get quiet, waiting to hear the release of the Iron Dome, our anti-missile messiah.”

Asked how her family in New Jersey was taking her ordeal, Pruce said her parents are Zionists and very supportive, but it is hard for her family to understand why she insists on staying in a war zone.

“I tell them I love Be’er Sheva, and this is my home,” she said.New Jerseyans in Israel carry on despite conflict

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