There has been relatively quiet over the past few days, largely in part to the 72 hour ceasefire, which ended with the fighting resuming Friday morning. No rockets have come to Tel Aviv since the ceasefire ended, which means I have yet to spend time meeting neighbors and strangers in the bomb shelters and safe rooms.
Sometimes when I think about the normality of most houses and buildings having a bomb shelter or, if not, always within a quick sprint to one, it seems crazy. Granted, they aren't much different than basements in Saint Louis, except for their concrete structure and purpose.
Once I got over the fact safe rooms in buildings were normal and vital to everyone's safety, did I realize that public shelters are everywhere with a great job of being blended into looking normal. If you didn't know any better, you would think these shelters are just concrete sheds that is painted nicely. These concrete looking sheds have typically have stairs that lead to a concrete bunker underground that serves as, you guessed it, a safe room from incoming rockets. Aside from the public shelters, one can always go to the stairway if you don't have enough time or their building doesn't have a safe room. The main goal while hearing a siren is to get away from windows or any room that has glass.
These shelters are everywhere; from schoolyards where children are kicking the soccer ball against it, to neighborhoods next to popular gathering places for families and friends. Every building seems to have their doors unlocked in case a siren goes off.
The other week I was walking home when I siren sounded. Even though I was only a block away, I didn't have time to go to my shelter so I walked into the closest building where a man was waving for me to hurry and enter. I didn't understand what he was saying but I had a pretty good idea. I joined a few of the tenants along with a mother and her two little children.
During this conflict, no matter where I go, I always look around and notice where the safest place to enter would be if I siren goes off.
When I was visiting in 2012, I had the opportunity to visit a community that was hit very hard during the 2012 operation in Gaza. This community is on the Gaza border and has also been one of the most under fire communities in the current conflict with most of the residents having moved to other cities.
In Tel Aviv we are fortunate. Once the siren is over, we can go out and continue on with our lives the best we can. After visiting this community in the south, though, I understand how life changing these rockets are and how important these shelters and Iron dome have been in saving lives.
I have said it before and I will say it as a reminder, some of these stories are not the most interesting - those stories can be found on the likes of major news stations throughout the world. I am just writing from what I see, what I experience, and what things have changed in my life as a result of my experiences throughout this conflict.
First, I want to apologize because I lied. I thought I would have more stories from Eilat, and I do. But those stories can wait as I have more pressing issues to share with you. The pressing issue on this post is something we are all familiar with, coffee. Over the years I have come to enjoy more and more. I even remember the first time I tried it having to wake up early to study for a 7 a.m. exam at school. But that coffee was weak.
Israeli's tend to stay away from the drip coffee that I drank back home, and favor the likes of espressos.
One thing Tel Aviv is known for are cafes. There are small cafes and large cafes, but all have one thing in common - they always seem to be busy.
Since I have been in Tel Aviv, resisting the smell of the cafes became harder and I eventually gave in to trying espresso-style drinks and this habit eventually turned into a daily routine here.
Since the operation has gone, I have found myself drinking more coffee. I don't know if it is specifically related to the situation but my coffee consumption has greatly increased. I remember right after the first rocket attack in Tel Aviv the first thing I wanted was an espresso, even though it didn't make sense to have one at 9 p.m. Since then, after every rocket attack or some situation near me, I always seem to be grabbing some sort of coffee to sip on.
It doesn't seem that I'm the only one that is drinking more coffee throughout the conflict. While a lot of places are less busy, the Tel Aviv cafe scene seems to still bring in a steady amount of business with customers always in the restaurant or ordering coffee to go. This is, of course, not including the coffee that everyone drinks in their home or at work.
I don't have any math facts to show if war-time coffee consumption goes up, but I'm sure there is a study out there somewhere.
Hopefully, once the situation finally slows down, so will my coffee consumption.
I will be honest, I needed to leave Tel Aviv, also known as, "the bubble," for a few days because I have been a little stressed out. I decided to join some friends of mine in Israel's resort city of Eilat on the Red Sea, which can be described as Israel's version of a smaller combination of Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Branson without the gambling.
Eilat is about 242 km away from Tel Aviv. Yes, you did read that correctly. I have switched over to the metric system, but for everyone reading this, it's 212 miles, or something a lot of us can understand, about 20 miles less than Chesterfield to where I went to school, Truman State University or from Chesterfield to Columbia and back.
When I told my mom, she expressed her dire need for me to stay home. However, Tel Aviv is significantly closer to Gaza than Eilat. As a matter of fact, Gaza to Tel Aviv is only about 45 miles whereas Eilat is about 262 miles. With that being said, our travel route did take us through areas that are constantly being under the threat of rocket attacks. Fortunately, we never experienced these throughout our drive. At times through our drive, we were only 10 minutes from Gaza, but that wasn't going to stop us.
Even though Eilat is far, it's not immune to rocket attacks. As a matter of fact, it has had several rocket attacks, one which hit the center of the city a few weeks ago. The difference from what I noticed is the location and proximity to Israel's neighbors, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, all of whom have a border along the Red Sea. Jordan is a few minutes drive and a stone's throw across the sea. Egypt is also a few minutes drive away, and the lights of Saudi Arabia can be seen in the distance at night.
What is most shocking is the close proximity that Eilat, and Israel in general is to its neighbors. In the past, Eilat has been the subject and target to rocket and terror attacks from the Sinai.
The trip was relaxing and I did enjoy the trip, but that doesn't undermine the constant worry that Israel has faced in its past and continues to face. Living in Tel Aviv I go to beach, and beyond the Mediterranean is Europe, but as I walked around and looked up, I was amazed how close Israel is to the rest of her neighbors. At times I would look up and think how scary it would be if Israel wasn't only dealing With Gaza but with Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Fortunately, that's not the case, I was able to avoid the sounds of rockets for the weekend and have a well needed break.
This blog won't always be only about me, as I want it to be as much about me in Tel Aviv as it is about what I observe on a day-to-day experience through my daily routine.
Since I've moved to Tel Aviv, I stay busy. I wake up early to go to work and I don't return until late. This doesn't - and shouldn't - sound much different than most of our lives. However, as the situation has continued, I have been getting home later and later.
I've always enjoyed some sort of exercise, whether it was on an organized sports team or being a member of a gym. Participating in physical activities has allowed me to stay in shape but, more than anything, it has helped relieve loads of stress. As long as I've been in Tel Aviv, I have belonged to a gym. Before the current situation, I would go, do a little socializing and leave. Generally, the mood of the gym was relaxed while still serious.
Since the situation started, the gym has seemed to serve a different purpose for a lot of people as an escape and stress reliever. I know this is true for myself.
I was at the gym when the first rocket came at Tel Aviv and while it was a shock, people didn't seem as surprised that it could happen like it did back in 2012. During the first couple of days the gym was emptier than usual, which makes sense because members probably wanted to stay close to home, be with family, or were called up for service.
With only work to worry about, never experiencing something like this before, and being in a new country for only a few weeks, it brought on a lot of stress I needed to get rid of. I've successfully been able to do that by spending more time at the gym.
For people who don't understand, not knowing when a rocket is coming, even if it is only one, is stressful because it comes as a surprise without a specific target.
Here's a link that to virtual map of the distance of the rockets. Type in any city of ZIP code, and you will see the range these rockets cover. In my mind, not knowing anything is just as stressful as knowing something is going to happen.
The longer the conflict has gone on, the more people seem to attempt and succeed at getting back into a routine the best they can. Yes, there are times when the gym is less crowded, but this past week it has been just as, if not busier than I've ever seen it. The main difference is people are now always on their phone and the music is a little softer so you can hear the siren if/when it goes off.
During this time, the gym has served as an escape and stress reliever for me. Based on what I see, I can confidentially say it has and will continue to serve that same purpose for most of its members.
There is nothing like it and it has revolutionized this conflict: The Iron Dome. Most people who are familiar with the conflict have probably heard of it, but for those that haven't, and I won't get in to too much detail myself because I have little idea how it works other than saving lives, it is a missile defense system where, when a rocket is launched, it launches an "interception missile" that tracks down and takes out the incoming rockets.
There are several of these systems spread out across the country and the latest I have heard was there are seven.
In truth, if you want to know about it, I would recommend just to Google, "Iron Dome." There is so much written about it going into far more detail than I could ever provide.
What do I know from my experience with the Iron Dome? Two things; it's cool – no, it's amazing - and it saves lives. Israel will do whatever it has to do protect Tel Aviv as it is the cultural capital of Israel. Many compare it to the likes of New York, Miami, Paris, Berlin and London.
In Tel Aviv we have 90 seconds to find shelter once the rockets are launched and the sirens go off. It sounds like a long time, and it is when you compare to the time other cities have to find shelter, but it doesn't mean to take your time finding safety. Since you have no knowledge of when the siren is going to go off, you can be anywhere. For me, I've been sleeping, on the bus, walking home, at work, at the gym, or at a café. You never know and always have to be aware of the nearest shelter. Once you hear the "boom," you have to be cautious because the rocket only breaks up and pieces fall to the ground.
From public reports, most people are aware that every time the Iron Dome launches what is called an interception missile, it costs money. A lot of money. The system, which has been funded by the U.S., might be criticized for financial reasons, but I couldn't be more appreciative because of the lives, like mine, it is saving. These rockets that the system is intercepting are intended to kill and I couldn't be more grateful for the system.
I have been fortunate enough to get as close as you possibly can to the Iron Dome as well as catch the system in action.
In this video, you can hear booms after we saw the Iron Dome intercept the rockets.
This video was taken from my balcony as I was in the shelter. You can't hear the "boom" because of the siren, but notice the smoke that appears above the building. It's the Iron Dome intercepting the rocket. If you notice the trajectory, and the fact the siren was going off, it would have landed close to my apartment, which is a heavy residential area.
It has been quiet in Tel Aviv over the past few days. One reason was a humanitarian ceasefire on Saturday. But both, on Sunday and Monday, sirens have been going off constantly around the country.
But like I said before, these sirens can mean several rockets and are localized to specific areas where the rockets are going to land. Even though it might be quiet in my area of Tel Aviv, I am still aware of every siren that goes off throughout the day.
There is an application, called "Red Alert" that was created to go off the same time the sirens do. What makes this app so special is you can personalize the settings to alert you for specific cities, towns, regions, or all of Israel. Even during ceasefires, the app has had a tendency to go off several times an hour.
Personally, I don't need to set the app's settings to notify me of all the rockets because if you are in a city where a rocket is coming, the siren is going to go off. But I downloaded the app, as well as many people I know, to try and understand the amount of rockets are constantly being fired at the communities in the south.
I am aware that the headlines in the media frequently say, "Israel strikes Gaza," which is true. However, the citizens of Israel have been and currently are victims of rocket fire as well. Whether or not these are the most sophisticated rockets, which is a frequent defense of the use of the rockets, it doesn't matter. They still kill and are fired at communities all around the country to do so.
I highly recommend everyone that is not living in Israel to download the app to understand the constant bombardment of rockets that are blindly fired at communities with the intention to kill.
If you do decide download the app, which my mom has refused to do, when you get the notification, look up and figure out where you could run to safety in 15-90 seconds. Israel is a small country so depending on where you are in Israel, that's all the time you have to find shelter.
Tel Aviv has a reputation within Israel for being a "bubble." Like any big city, the mindset of the civilians can be different from the rest of the country. When I first studied abroad in 2012, Israel became involved in Operation Pillar of Defense. During this eight-day conflict, Tel Aviv experienced their first rockets in 20 years.
Fast forward to this past year where I consider myself to have become fully integrated and apart of the Tel Aviv, and in general, the Israeli culture and mentality. As I said in my original post, I live in Tel Aviv, but that doesn't mean I don't travel elsewhere. During this conflict, the whole country has been affected. I have experienced most of the rocket attacks from Tel Aviv, but the other day I was visiting a family friend when a siren went off.
To understand, every time a rocket is launched in your area, a siren will go off. These sirens are extremely localized, so if the rocket(s) are not going to land in your area, the siren won't go off. the reason I put the "s" of rocket's in (), is because every time a siren goes off, it doesn't mean only one rocket is coming your way, it can mean one, two, or even five at times. In general, over the past 18 days in Tel Aviv, I have experience around one to three sirens a day and remember, these sirens can mean multiple rockets.
This specific post is about last night, Friday, when I was in a city northeast of Tel Aviv, Kfar Saba, eating dinner at a family friend's house. As I was getting ready to be taken back to Tel Aviv, the siren in this town went off. As I later found out, Tel Aviv, which is only 13 miles away, did not experience a siren. In this town, you have 90 seconds to find the nearest shelter, so we ran across the street to a safe room where we could be protected from the incoming rocket.
All major civilian population centers in Israel are protected by something called "The Iron Dome." The Iron Dome is a topic for another post, but it is a missile defense system that shoots down incoming rockets.
The video included is from the rocket launched while I was in Kfar Saba. After the 90 seconds, the siren ended and we had not heard the "boom" that signifies the Iron Dome intercepting the rocket. However, you are supposed to stay in the shelter for five to ten minutes after the siren ends, and I am glad we did. A few seconds after the siren ended, I heard one of the loudest booms yet.
These booms are scary because the rockets do not have a specific target, and without the Iron Dome, they would land on your street, in your yard, and God forbid, on your house. I don't know where this specific rocket was intercepted in the attached video, but what I do know is it was close, it was loud, and if it wasn't intercepted, something worse would have happened.
I have been living in Tel Aviv, Israel for almost a year now. I could write a novel, and maybe someday I will, about all the people I have met and all that that I have experienced living in a world so vastly different, yet similar to the place I still consider my home – Chesterfield, Mo.
But those stories will have to wait for now because if you have not heard, Israel and Hamas, located in the Gaza Strip, have been at war now for the past 18 days.
Because it is not my place to say, and honestly, I feel it's very few people's right to say, I will not voice an opinion on who is right and who wrong because that is for the experts who have devoted their lives to studying and understanding this extremely complicated situation.
What I intend to do, however, and this blog will try to do so the best it can, is to only talk about my experiences and what I witness. I apologize for starting 18 days late, but through new updates, I look forward to integrating and providing you with old, meaningful stories and experiences.
Perspectives of any situation change when you know somebody caught up in a situation, versus only hearing about it on the news. I am not doing this for sympathy, publicity, to change your opinion or any other form of self-promotion, but instead, with the sole purpose of bringing another side of a conflict that always makes the news, to NewsChannel 5 readers and viewers in my hometown.
To clarify, my life is mainly in Tel Aviv, so please understand that I can't speak for all, don't intend to speak for all, but will try and give you a firsthand look into how this situation has affected my life and the people I come in contact with.
Finally, I hope I don't have to continually update this blog because it means the conflict is still going on. But, as long as this conflict is ongoing, I look forward to providing you, the readers, the most up to date information about my life, and what I see firsthand in Tel Aviv.