Israel Update

Israel Correspondent Kyla Gersten enjoying her time in Israel. 

Kyla Gersten, Israel Correspondent

The weeks since the high holidays are increasing and the weather is getting colder. It is now what the Israelis consider to be ‘winter’. It has started raining and the temperature has decreased from a sweltering 90 degrees to a cooler 60 which the Israelis think requires their heaviest winter jacket. Among this weather change there is still an impending sense of caution in Israel and specifically in Jerusalem.

The past couple weeks in Jerusalem have been very scary. Siren after siren, notification after notification, stabbing after stabbing. The violence in Jerusalem has been happening for a couple months now but has only really intensified over the past couple weeks.

On the one hand, the high holiday season was an amazing time in Israel, and on the other, the holidays were clouded with the sense of increasing terror attacks.

Celebrating the new year in the country of the Jewish people was such a powerful experience, but was slightly mellowed by the murder of innocent Jews in the West Bank during the holiday. Yom Kippur in America is one of my least favorite holidays but in Israel it was such a fantastic experience. Our group had the opportunity to sit in the middle of the usually extremely busy intersection right outside of our apartments on the night of Kol Nidre. We sat there and sang Jewish songs and took in our beautiful surroundings of Jerusalem and the silence of the lack of cars on the streets. Another highlight of Yom Kippur was seeing Bibi Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, walking home from Kol Nidre services surrounded by many soldiers. Right before Yom Kippur was the last time that I have been to the Old City of Jerusalem and the last time I saw the Kotel. Since then, we have not been allowed into the old city because of the danger of the large amount of terrorist attacks there.

After Yom Kippur, Sukkot was upon us and our group went on a trip to the Negev Desert. This was an intense three days in the desert where we hiked all day in the hot sun and slept in tents at night. I’ve slept in a tent only one other time in my life and doing this for two nights in a row seemed like a very long time to me, but I had the opportunity to get closer with many of my friends. One of my favorite parts about the trip was that as we were traveling the desert we were celebrating the holiday of Sukkot where you build ‘huts’ to commemorate the idea of the Jews as a traveling tribe. We were living through the past of our ancestors as we were making new connections with our peers around us. After Sukkot, Simchat Torah was a welcomed ending to what felt like the never ending holiday season. Simchat Torah was like nothing that I have ever experienced. On the night of Simchat Torah I went to an orthodox minyan where the hakafot lasted for 45 minutes. There was intense dancing and singing for the entirety of this time and I was sad when I had to leave three hours later to eat dinner. The energy and the spirit in the room was nothing that I had ever felt before, the women’s side of the mechitza got a Torah to dance with and the women were holding the Torah, jumping up and down, and weeping out of pure elation and excitement. It was truly an amazing experience that I hope I will have again in the future.

During the entirety of the holidays, and especially as they came to an end, there was always the thought in the back of my mind of what was going on in the city around me. After the days of Shabbat and Yom Tov where I hadn’t seen my phone for over 24 hours, I grabbed my phone scared of what notifications I would find. After the holidays ended the terrorist attacks only worsened.

I was not truly scared until three weeks ago when I was sitting in the courtyard outside of our apartments and I received a text from our program director. It read, “In the past 10 minutes there were two incidents in Jerusalem. One in East Talpiyot and one on Malachi Street. Please text back your name and where you are.” As I opened this text, I began to hear sirens outside that did not stop for the next 20 minutes. I knew that I was safe within the walls of our complex, but these two terrorist attacks happened just minutes away from where we live and on bus routes that we take to get to school every day. I didn’t know if my friends who were not with me were okay. I felt like I had no control.

Up until this day, I knew that if I avoided the areas of tension in Jerusalem like the Old City and East Jerusalem, nothing would happen to me. But, this day, when these terrorist attacks happened so close to where we live, there was no definite way to avoid it anymore. I never knew what would happen to me when I got on a public bus. There were no guarantees and that was the scariest part. For the weeks after the stabbing, tensions were raised and multiple stabbings happened in Jerusalem and in Israel as a whole every single day. Luckily, within the last week the tensions have calmed down and there have been many less terrorist attacks but this is mostly due to the hard work and extremely courageous dedication of the police and Israeli soldiers. Many soldiers have been called in from their posts to come stand on the corners of the road and check the buses to make sure more terrorist attacks do not occur.

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Although I am no longer scared, I am extremely aware of my surroundings. I don’t listen to music while I’m on the bus because I want to be sure that I know what is going on on all sides of me. When I’m walking on the street, I’m cautious that I do not stand too close to the side. I make sure that I am always with a friend when I walking somewhere at night. I now know how Israelis feel because I am living it. I know that no matter what anyone’s political view is, this violence is the not answer and needs to be ended immediately. This is not the way that a nation should live.

Despite everything occurring in Israel, there has never been a time that I have wanted to leave due to the violence. The recent events in Israel have left me, not with fear but with an even bigger sense of pride. Israel is our homeland and I am so thankful and grateful that I get to have this amazing experience all year. Despite the violence, I am still living my life with my normal routine and having an amazing time on this once and a lifetime opportunity.