On May 11 at 8:47 p.m. in Tel Aviv, I heard a siren ring throughout the city I have called home since moving here for college last year. My friends and I ran to a bomb shelter, something most of us had never thought we would have to do in our lifetimes.
I landed at university in Tel Aviv for the same reason many international students do: I took a gap year in which I experienced Israel and everything it had to offer internationals and I decided it wasn’t time to leave. I never imagined, however, that during a time when I was supposed to be experiencing new people and ideas, I would also be experiencing war.
For the duration of a week, two to three rounds of rockets per day were fired onto my city by terrorists from Gaza. I spent many hours hiding in bomb shelters together with fellow students. We sang classic Israeli songs of unity, like “Gesher Tzar Meod,” (The World Is a Narrow Bridge), while hearing the Iron Dome intercept rockets which were meant to kill innocent Israeli civilians, including students like myself. Hearing these rockets intercepted, I became aware that moments later, just an hour and a half drive from me to the south, innocent civilians in Gaza would be dying as well, at the hands of a war instigated by their own leaders.
One night, I found myself running again to the closest shelter as the sirens rang, only to find it locked. Israel had not experienced an attack in the very heart and center of the country since 2019, when just a few rockets were fired into Tel Aviv and prior to that, since the 2014 war. Many of the shelters were not opened since no one had expected any attacks on Tel Aviv. My friends and I had to run up and down various floors until finding a shelter that was open. Sometimes, we just hid in the secured stairwells.
In one shelter I interacted with students from Arab villages in the north. These fellow students had friends in Gaza, and I heard second-hand of the threat Palestinians face from Hamas. I cannot imagine the fear of those who aren’t warned with sirens and don’t have time to find shelter. Israel says Hamas is using Palestinians in Gaza as human shields, which is a war crime.
When not in the shelters, life was anything but normal. That week, everyone on campus was not only anxiety ridden, but full of tension and debate. Although having a close group of friends by my side throughout this experience made it far more bearable, it was still traumatic. While out for coffee with a friend in the center of the city, 30 café patrons and I became silent upon hearing a plastic bag explode. At that moment, I finally understood how Israelis have been living their whole lives, under the constant psychological stress of knowing that at any moment, their lives and the lives of their families, friends, and children could be under threat again.
One of the most striking things about the last few weeks was the way we all spoke to each other. Among the students’ group chat, people of all different backgrounds exchanged ideas and beliefs about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, often in argumentative tones. Glued to my phone as the messages came in, I watched arguments unfold between students like myself who adamantly support Israel, and students who refuse to denounce Hamas and their actions.
The latter, who have benefited greatly from the country they chose to study in, were attacking it even as rockets were being fired at them from Gaza. This was heartbreaking. Even worried for my own safety, it was important for me to vigorously defend Israel and its right to defend itself when attacked. Some of the peers with whom I disagreed began to somewhat understand my view. This inspired me to continue sharing my concerns and understandings regarding Israel, misinformation and blatant propaganda circulating on the internet.
Even worried for my own safety, it was important for me to vigorously defend Israel and its right to defend itself when attacked.
Many of my friends from New York have reached out to me and asked how I am doing after the attacks. I can only say yes, I am fine. I am fine due to the incredible system Israel has in place to protect those in the country. My entire mindset, however, has changed. I am now much more aware of the incredibly real threat Israel faces from Hamas. Before this experience, I had heard from relatives and friends who have lived in Israel their whole lives what these attacks are like. Now, it is no longer a story I read in a text or in some newspaper article; it has become my reality.
I am not discouraged after experiencing these events firsthand, I am empowered. There can only be light ahead in the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as it does not feel like it can get any worse. And now, with the privilege of having two more years of studying here in Tel Aviv, I hope to continue to represent American Jewry in the fight for finding peace between the only Jewish state in the world and the rest of the Middle East.
Batya Goldberg is a first year student at Tel Aviv University’s International program studying psychology. She is originally from Brooklyn.
Debates over Israel, experiences with anti-Semitism, challenges with mental health– college students have a lot to wrestle with as they build their Jewish identities and find their Jewish community. The View From Campus is a column for college students to tell The Jewish Week, and you, what their worlds are really like. Want to write for us? Send a pitch or draft to Mara Swift at Mswift@70facesmedia.org.