Former St. Louis Federation official: I didn’t expect to see rockets. Then they came.

The sirens rang out. My wife, Sima, and I and our youngest daughter calmly — well, one of us calmly — went into our little laundry room, which doubles as our shelter. We had a hard time differentiating between the washing machine noises and the sirens and booms.

Rockets+seen+fired+from+the+Gaza+strip+into+Tel+Aviv+and+central+Israel%2C+May+11%2C+2021.+%28Tomer+Neuberg%2FFlash90%29

Rockets seen fired from the Gaza strip into Tel Aviv and central Israel, May 11, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Michael Oberlander

I sit here with the windows wide open on a beautiful May evening, thinking about my fellow Israelis living in the southern part of the country that have been under rocket attack for the past day and praying for the speedy recovery of those hurt and mourning those killed in Ashkelon. I spent the evening on a work call with people back in the United States and described the “line” that divides the South from the rest of the country. My colleague and I discussed how life doesn’t really change for those of us in the mercaz (center) of the country and the North when the rockets are aimed at the South.

Michael Oberlander

And then 9 p.m. came, and just as Hamas threatened, the rockets came too. The sirens rang out. My wife, Sima, and I and our youngest daughter calmly — well, one of us calmly — went into our little laundry room, which doubles as our shelter. We had a hard time differentiating between the washing machine noises and the sirens and booms. (Stupid me decided to throw in a load of laundry at 8:30 p.m.)

We have no idea if the explosions we heard were from rockets that landed or missiles intercepting those rockets.  Fenway, our dog, was far less anxious than I thought he would be.

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Our phones keep vibrating with updates from the Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel and many, many amateur videographers and correspondents.

We just learned that a woman in Rishon Lezion was caught outside and died in the latest rocket attack, and at least seven others (including a 5 year old) were injured. I said the prayer upon hearing that someone has died:  Baruch Dayan HaEmet (Blessed is the True Judge).

One of our friends lives alone a few blocks away in an apartment building, and her neighbors invited her to come to sit with them if she is nervous to be alone. One of our daughter’s friends opened up his house to let strangers in off the street to find shelter.

The WhatsApp group for the “American” synagogue started “blowing up” with reassuring messages for new immigrants and hints about using the bathroom in between barrages and bringing phone chargers to the shelter.

We read about caregivers helping the elderly get to safe areas and remain calm. Sima is checking in on her students at the Alexander Muss High School. And we have video chats with the kids. And we get messages from friends in Yokneam and Megiddo as well as in St. Louis checking in on our welfare.

This is the first time that we have experienced rockets while living here and with children in uniform serving in the Israel Defense Forces. They are safe and serving our people, proudly.

At times like these we need to be especially grateful for the many men and women who are dedicated to protecting the Jewish people. I need not describe the videos of the Iron Dome missiles that are reminiscent of a video game or sci-fi movie to be thankful for the support and friendship of the U.S. government and military, under many different administrations, who strive to help Israel maintain her military technological superiority.

At times like these, I am often asked about what people can do in St. Louis. (Unfortunately this happens too often.)

First, keep yourself informed from Israeli news sources and not just foreign news reports. In addition to the Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel, Haaretz, Arutz Sheva, YNet, and Israel Hayom all have English sites. Share your concerns with your friends and family in Israel, and with each other. These times are anxiety inducing and keeping concerns pent up is not healthy. The Jewish Federation of St. Louis supports programs here in Israel that provide counseling to those impacted by these attacks. Your gift to the Federation, no matter the size, is a great way to show support for those of us in Israel and provide direct assistance to those in need. And, pray for the injured and our security forces and mourn with the families and friends of those who were killed.

I look forward to welcoming you when you visit Israel, soon!

Michael Oberlander served as chief philanthropy officer for Jewish Federation of St. Louis from 2016 to 2019, when he immigrated to Israel. He and his family now live in Ra’anana in central Israel.