Visiting Israel Amidst the Terror Attacks
Federation CJA CEO Deborah Corber is visiting Israel this week and sharing her thoughts with our community.
I arrived in Beer Sheva later than planned due to a couple of garden variety car accidents that lengthened the drive by about 75%. Arie Levy, Federation CJA’s Director of Israel & Overseas, met me at the hotel, and I had 20 minutes to check in before joining him for a visit to Soroka Hospital, which is treating the victims of Sunday's central bus station attack.
Just as I was about to return to the lobby to meet Arie, I heard a piercing noise that sounded eerily like birds, and glanced casually out the window. What was unfolding was a false alarm, but one that looked just like a terrorist attack. The sounds I had heard were not from a gaggle of birds, but rather the high pitched screams of dozens of people on the patio below, running frantically in all directions. Two men with guns drawn were running across the patio toward a perceived danger (which I could not see) and it was obvious to me that they were people running to help, rather than to harm.
It didn't seem possible that barely 20 minutes after arriving here, something like this could be taking place right outside my window. Arie messaged me to stay in my room until I heard back from him, which I, of course, did. What had happened, in fact, was that the hotel was hosting two celebrations, and one party had innocently fired some kind of confetti-throwing gizmo that sounded - you guessed it - like an explosion.
On hearing the commotion, Arie - who happened to be armed - ran (of course) - toward what he assumed was danger. He found several terrified children, paralyzed from fear, who had become separated from their parents during all the chaos, and he guided them to a safe space on another floor while trying to calm them down until he received the "all clear".
People here are on edge. The latest violence is different because it is coming without even the 15 - 30 - 45 second warning of a siren... because it is coming from within. This is no way to live. From what I can tell after only half a day, most Israelis are facing this fear with their usual bravery, but it is hard not to wonder about the longer term effects on the psyche. When 8-year old children cannot be calmed because they are convinced that the noise they experienced was a terrorist attack, well, it doesn't take a degree in psychology to realize that damage is being done in subtle, yet profound ways.
And yet, as I write this, I can see and hear (from the very same window) the joyous sounds of a wonderful wedding celebration; the one that got off to a false start at 5:15 p.m., but which now continues joyously into the night. That's what people do here: they pick up and carry on.
The visit to Soroka Hospital was a moving one. I spent an hour or so with senior medical and administrative staff discussing tangible needs (they need to build a bomb-proof neo-natal intensive care unit, because you just can't go racing down the hall with a 600-gram preemie hooked up to all manner of life-saving machines whenever the siren sounds), as well as the psychological effects of living and working in an unpredictable environment.
I met with several soldiers and policeman in the orthopedic wing, recovering from gun-shot wounds to their limbs. They were surrounded by literally dozens of family and friends (one young soldier seemed to have his entire unit present in the room), upbeat, encouraged and encouraging, and offering food to anyone who entered the already over-crowded room. One severely injured 19-year old soldier, who suffered gun-shot wounds to his liver, was in a medically-induced coma, from which the doctors were expecting him to emerge in the coming hours. His father took my hand in his and said, “Don’t look sad, my son is going to be fine. This is the best hospital and these are the best doctors and we are really fine. Thank you so much for coming to bring wishes!” And like we have seen on similar occasions, Israelis, to a fault, are grateful to know that they are not alone; that fellow Jews around the world are thinking of them, willing them to be safe, praying for their recovery when they are hurt.
Visits like the one to Soroka Hospital serve as a powerful reminder of the ties that bind us to our family in Israel. And, like the plaque that that hangs on the wall (see in the photo), they remind us of the concrete and meaningful ways that we can - and must - continue to be steadfast in our support of Israel.
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