On Running, Rocket Fire and Roller Coasters

How a trip to Israel during the recent Gaza War unexpectedly changed my life. 

The author standing at the top of Mount Gilboa in Northern Israel. 

I would describe myself as a very fearful person. I’m afraid of doing a lot of things that my friends have no problem doing. For example, I am terrified of roller coasters with loops, and I’m very nervous about speaking in front of a large group of people. You might be thinking I’m a wimp because you do these things all the time, but that’s really how I used to be until a summer program in Israel changed me.

I made my first trip to Israel last summer on a camp tour called TAC Israel. Despite only being able to stay for two weeks out of the planned month, the trip was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I got sick and spent a night in the Emek Medical Center in Afula. After I was discharged, I didn’t recover enough to continue the trip so the camp had no choice but to send me home. I was devastated that I had to leave all my friends in Israel, but I agreed.

I got in the car for the drive to Ben-Gurion Airport. In the car were my camp counselor, the driver, his wife and baby. It was about 7 p.m.; I was exhausted so I dozed off. Little did I know that soon my life would be changed forever.

We were driving on Highway 6 when I was awakened by a scream. The driver’s wife was panicking and pointing up at the sky. I just woke up so I asked what was happening. All of a sudden, a bright flash lit up the pitch-black sky over Tel Aviv. I knew right away what was happening. The rocket, launched from Gaza, looked like a big firework. But I knew this was no firework.  Everybody, including myself, started to panic.

The cars on the highway stopped and people started to get out.  The driver pulled over and yelled at all of us to get out. There I was, standing on the side of Highway 6, one of the busiest roads in Israel. But what struck me was how all the cars just stopped right in the middle of the road. I felt a tug on my shoulder. It was an Israeli with his family. He spoke English and he told me and my counselor to go with him.

We hopped the guardrail and headed down a small hill to sit under a bridge. The driver’s wife was crying. I was somehow calm; I didn’t move a muscle. It is one thing to watch rocket fire on the news, it’s another to witness the weaponry first-hand. I looked up and saw the Iron Dome, Israel’s anti-missile system, fire two missiles to intercept the rocket. Seconds later, the lights under the bridge went out.

The Israeli grabbed me and told my counselor and me to go with him to the guardrail on the side of the highway. He didn’t give a reason why, but we went anyway. We jumped over the guardrail onto the highway and crouched against the rail. A couple of seconds later, I heard a loud boom followed by a sizzling sound.  The Iron Dome successfully shot down the rocket. But we worried about other rockets that could be launched so we stayed in place.

I huddled on the highway with the Israelis for a good five minutes until the lights came back on. We got into our car but we couldn’t make it to the airport, so we returned to Camp Koby in Northern Israel, where my group was staying. My flight was rescheduled for the next day.

After resting at home I went to the New Jersey YMHA-YWHA camp in Milford, Pa., that I’ve been attending since I was 10 years old. One of my favorite activities is kinesiology — the study of the way humans move — in the science center. I have known for years the Israeli counselor who runs the program. I went into the science center and told her about my whole ordeal in Israel. Then I asked, “How can you live with the fact that every day you risk being hit by rockets?” I will never forget what she told me. She looked at me for about five seconds and replied, “We’re used to it.”

I thought about what she said and realized that her words had more value than I initially thought. Even though the Jewish people in Israel are constantly attacked by rockets, they remain. They are loyal to their land and would never think about leaving. Israelis know that every day could be their last but they don’t even think about it. I asked one of my Israeli friends the same question and he responded, “If we leave, that means Hamas wins.” The Jewish people will always remain in Israel, regardless of any threat that faces them.

The Israeli attitude made me feel like I was a wimp. Why should I be afraid of roller coasters with loops when Israelis fear for their lives? The Israelis don’t care if their lives are in danger; they get out and make the most of every day. They inspired me to conquer some of my childhood fears.

Two weeks after returning from camp I rode my first loop roller coaster on the boardwalk in Ocean City. I am also presenting every few weeks to the 25 students in my science research class.  Looking back, I never would have expected that I would conquer my fears by going to Israel.Air Jordan

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