A Letter from Tel Aviv

by David Ya’ari

Last night at 6:45 pm, in the middle of dinner with our three kids at home, a siren blared reminding us that Tel-Aviv, the business and cultural center of Israel is now well in range of Hamas missiles.

Before moving to Israel three years ago from NY, Sivan and I knew Israel was located in a rough neighborhood. With Hamas terrorists in the South, Hezbollah terrorists in the North and a fundamentalist regime in Iran that has publicly called for its destruction, Israel does not have the blanket of security that the US, Canada, or other western democracies enjoy.

But nothing could have prepared us for the air raid sirens that first shook the city this past Thursday. I was driving home and our kids were at an after school program when the first siren went off. My heart dropped as I frantically tried reaching Sivan and the nanny by phone. Sivan, forgetting all danger, immediately ran from our home to ensure that the kids were safe in a bomb shelter.

Lesson in Theoretical vs. Reality. The last time a rocket fell in Tel-Aviv was over twenty years ago in 1991 during the first Gulf War. And while it was always theoretically possible, there is a vast difference between the distant potential that a rocket may someday be launched against you and the stark and harrowing reality of grabbing your kids and running for your lives to a shelter. No child,  father or mother should ever have to experience that.

Tragically, in the South of Israel, citizens have grown accustomed to this way of life. The infamous 15 second rule, which is the amount of time provided to get from where you are to a secure location, can mean the difference between life and death. In the South of Israel, more than 1 million people (the proportional equivalent of 46 million people in the United States) spend sleepless nights shuttling into bomb shelters. In the South of Israel, children at a day care center, the elderly at a nursing home, kids in an autism home, commuters on a bus, etc. all know that they have 15 seconds from the time the siren begins to blare until impact.

Just in 2012, more than 1,000 missiles and rockets have been launched at Israel. How has this been tolerated? Not one missile should ever be launched into Israel’s sovereign territory. I cannot imagine that the US, the UK, France, Germany, Russia, Brazil, China, etc. would tolerate missile attacks against its citizens.

But despite the fear, the people of Israel remain strong and resilient. If Hamas thought that missiles would break our resolve or weaken our union, they bet wrong. We are more determined than ever to defend our homeland and secure our homefront. The people of Israel live. And live vigorously.

Many of our friends have been called up for reserve duty and there is over a 100% response rate, meaning people are volunteering for reserve duty. The level of esprit de corps and camaraderie in Israel during a conflict is unparalleled. As a people’s army, both enlisted and reserve soldiers come from the broad economic and ethnic cross sections of Israeli society. Doctors, Lawyers, hi-Tech engineers, school principals, factory workers, small business owners all report for duty and serve together. In a modern day military of high tech gadgetry and satellite generated computer images, these every day people who put their businesses on hold and their lives at risk are still the real heroes.

And throughout the country volunteers are collecting toys for kids in the South, Musicians and artist are performing in bomb shelters, NGO’s are attending to the underprivileged and needy and Hotels, hostels and families are opening their doors to citizens of the South who want or need a respite from the incessant shelling. And we are bolstered by the incredible outpouring of support from friends abroad. Support from Jewish communities, Christian communities, elected officials, and other nations emboldens the justness of our cause in defending Israel against terror. In the past few days, politics and talk of the elections have been put on hold as the country unites behind our leaders to end the senseless violence launched by the Hamas terrorist regime against our cities.

Sadly, as I listen to the words and the bitter hatred of Hamas leaders, I wonder how this can ever end. My heart goes out to those innocent fathers and mothers in Gaza who are victims of their own poor leadership. They deserve better. They deserve a government that will protect its citizens; not use them as human shields to launch rockets from heavily populated areas.

In this never ending cycle of blame and competing narratives, Peace will come when the Hamas leadership cherishes life more than it celebrates death. Until then, we in Israel will stand behind our government, sit in bomb shelters if need be and continue to defend our homeland and our right to exist. And we will mow the lawn when the weeds take over.

To help lessen the fear for our kids, we have been telling them that every time an air raid siren goes off and we run to the shelter, they each get a candy. Last night after returning back to our apartment, my son Aaron turned to me and said “Daddy, when is the next siren so I can get another candy?”

May the pursuit of candy be the lasting memory for the children of Israel from this period. May the soldiers who defend my family, our country and our people find safe passage and swift footing. I pray for the welfare of the citizens across Israel and I pray that leaders on both sides exercise good judgement on behalf of their citizens.

David (Borowich) Ya’ari is a businessman residing in Tel Aviv and also the founder of Dor Chadash and the Council of Young Jewish Presidents in the USA.