Editor’s Note: Like most Israelis, Evan Wertheim was surprised when he heard air raid sirens blasting across Tel Aviv last week. Evan, who grew up in Dunwoody, made aliyah in 2007. He attended Dunwoody High School and, along with his parents and two sisters, belonged to Temple Emanu-El. Today, Evan lives with his fiancée, Yaara Taasan, in the Yemini Quarter of Tel Aviv. The Jewish Times contacted Evan and asked if he’d detail for our readers what it’s like to live in a country under attack. Here’s his first-person report.
I’d really like to emphasize that what I’m experiencing in no way compares to what the residents in southern Israel near Gaza are living through. That said, the best way for me to convey what’s happening, and to share my feelings, is to detail where I was when rockets began falling over Tel Aviv.
Waiting for a boom
We were at home last Thursday night (Nov. 15) and Yaara was packing, getting ready to fly to the U.S. All of a sudden the sirens went off and we looked at each other.
I suggested we get on the floor, away from the windows, and put our hands over our head. We don’t have a miklat (bomb shelter), so I knew that was the best thing we could do.
We stayed like that for about a minute and Yaara asked me how we’d know when it was all clear? I told her that the sirens would go off and we might hear a loud boom. Well, that’s what happened.
I felt a rush of emotions and I called the U.S. to let my family know that we were okay. After a little while, my heart rate slowed down and later that night I drove Yaara to the airport.
Pushing fear aside
I decided when I woke up on Friday (Nov. 16) that I wouldn’t let the fear of rockets dictate what I did. So I spent the morning exercising and relaxing. I was at home, eating lunch, when the sirens went off again in Tel Aviv.
I had already turned the couch in our living room to face towards the windows and I got down on the floor behind it. This time, for additional protection, I pulled a small mattress over my body.
I know that the mathematical chances of being struck by a rocket are slight. I figured, however, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. I again heard a boom, then checked the radio and web and found out that no damage had been done in the area. That night I went to services at my Beit Knesset (synagogue), and had a pleasant evening.
In Search of Normalcy
On Saturday morning (Nov. 17), I picked up my friend Leora. For the last five years, ever since I made aliyah, we’ve run a 5-kilometer race together in Ramat Hasharom, just northeast of Tel Aviv. It’s a tradition we’re both proud of and Hamas wasn’t going to stop us this year.
On the way there, Leora told me that her husband had been called up for reserve military duty in the middle of the night. He got the call at 12:30 a.m. An hour later, Leora put her two young girls in the family car and took her husband, Ariel, to a nearby army base.
Before saying goodbye, she asked Ariel if she should go through with her plans of running the race later in the day. His response was that, of course, she should run. And that’s what we did, along with several thousand others, enjoying the day and leading a relatively normal life.
That afternoon, I was playing in a biweekly kickball game in Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv. My friends and I had already decided that if air raid sirens began going off we’d dash for cover under a nearby bridge.
Sirens did begin blaring toward the end of the game and we all made it to the bridge. Fortunately for us, and several others in the area, a new defensive system had just been installed to protect the center of the country. Several people said they had heard the “Iron Dome” go off and seconds later we saw a flash in the sky.
Think about it like lightning and thunder. First you see the flash (of a defensive missile) and then you hear the rumble (of the missile wiping out an incoming rocket). All I can say is that the “Iron Dome” is absolutely incredible and has saved numerous lives across the country. I’m thankful to the U.S. and President Obama.
The Need for Peace
I remain worried for all my friends, family and co-workers that have been called up for reserve duty. We’re all bracing for a ground invasion, but have no idea what will be. I’m no military expert, just a regular guy, but I don’t really see what good can come with invading Gaza.
What we’re going through in the merkaz (central Israel) is really small when compared with the hundreds of sirens that have gone off in the south and the thousands of rockets they have faced over the years.
I also need to say I haven’t lost my humanity and remain thankful that I’m a common Israeli and not a common Gazan. Gaza must be absolute hell. I don’t feel bad for Hamas or any of their leaders. I do feel bad, however, for the children and other innocents in Gaza who are injured or killed. But that’s what happens when terrorists store munitions among the civilian population.
Meanwhile, I find myself thinking didn’t this just happen four years ago? Are we doomed to be at war every few years? Are we insane? Clearly there’s a better way, coming up with some sort of negotiated peace.
Is it tricky that Hamas controls Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank? Do we live in a time of great political insecurity in the region? Yes to both questions. But that doesn’t mean that chances for peace should be diminished. We may pray for peace, but our government does very little to achieve it. We need to continue pressuring Hamas and negotiate a deal with the PA.
I do my best not to let Hamas scare me; they don’t deserve my fear. That said, I do fear for the future of our country. I cringe when some Israelis tell me that peace is impossible.
I think they need a short history lesson. It was only six decades ago when the U.S. helped defeat the Axis powers. Germany and Japan were our enemies, but today they are two of the United States’ closest allies.
Rockets continue falling over Israel. But I remain hopeful. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?