How one Israeli teen is navigating the uncertainties of life during wartime


This article was produced as part of JTA’s Teen Journalism Fellowship, a program that works with Jewish teens around the world to report on issues that affect their lives.

Alma Doron is afraid of her alarm clock. She’s been afraid of it since Dec. 21, when she  had to run off a public bus on her way home from Tel Aviv after she got a notification on her cell phone that a missile was approaching the area. She fled for safety in the stairwell of a nearby hotel and since then, she jumps whenever she hears something that sounds like a siren.

That’s not the only way that the war in Israel affects the 18-year-old. Doron avoids public transportation and limits her participation in nightlife.

For teens in Israel, life in war time means a lingering feeling of uncertainty. As of 2023, just over 30% of the country is under 18. Activities that used to be filled with joy are suddenly performed with caution, such as hanging out with friends, going out, enjoying live music, and more. 

A week or two after the bus incident, Doron was supposed to return to Tel Aviv from her nearby town to go out with friends. “I didn’t want to,” said Doron. “In my head, being on a bus in Tel Aviv means missiles, so I try to avoid it.” She ended up canceling her plans.

When the war broke out in October, Doron was visiting family in Mexico. Deciding it was too dangerous to return home, Doron and her family relocated to the suburbs of Chicago, where she lived for six weeks with a cousin who’s from the area. Returning home to Mevaseret Zion, Israel, in mid-November, Doron is working to recover some normalcy.

According to Israel’s National Council for the Child, there was a 33 percent increase in diagnosed anxiety among boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 17 in the first three months after Oct. 7, compared to the corresponding period in 2022.

That has been coupled with a shortage of pediatric mental health professionals. According to the Council for the Child, children can wait eight months or more before meeting with a psychiatrist in the public health system and four months in the private sector.

“For most of these kids, this will have been a ‘lost year’ leading to academic gaps and serious social setbacks,” said Ofer Bavly, vice president of Chicacgo’s Jewish United Fund, where he leads the Israel office. He also cited “marked increase in vagrancy, drinking, drugs and problematic behavior including sex and violence” as Oct 7’s mental impact on Israeli adolescents. 

Though many aspects of Doron’s life have changed since the war, her school is also trying to maintain a sense of normalcy. “We still had tests, we still had homework, we still had to come every day to school, which is kind of surreal because you wanna go volunteer and you wanna go help, but we have to come to school,” she says. 

This adherence to the schedule felt ludicrous to Doron after learning her friend, a classmate, was among the kidnapped on Oct. 7. “It felt really, really weird that she’s in Gaza, and I’m sitting in class learning math,” Doron said, adding an expletive to express her frustration. “It felt so unrealistic for us to be studying for an exam. We still had deadlines, we still had to submit finals.” 

She understands the psychology of what the school was trying to do — provide structure amid the chaos — but she said she struggles to complete her schoolwork while Israel wages war on Hamas in Gaza, a little more than 30 miles away. Business as usual might be a good tactic for younger kids, but is frustrated that the school wasn’t giving the older kids opportunities to go out and volunteer. 

“Younger grades need a routine to help them not think about the war, but it’s kids our age who can actually do stuff,” she says. Elsewhere, some Israeli teens have been recruited into volunteer efforts since the war began. 

For her part, Doron spends her Wednesdays after school volunteering at hotels, supporting the anxious kindergarten children of families who have been relocated away from the conflict zones.. She was unsuccessful in convincing her school to mark her absences as excused. So far this year Doron has missed six days due to volunteering. Her school eventually banned these absences and now she volunteers after school only. 

She’s unbothered by the unexcused absences on her record. “The country needed a lot of help, and the school didn’t give us opportunities for it,” she says. 

Doron is also preparing to enter the Israel Defense Forces next year. She’s getting herself into a more “military-based” shape by doing things like army crawls and climbing. Though she doesn’t plan on being a combat soldier, “you still need to be good,” says Doron. Additionally, in the IDF, mandatory exams are required depending on the role one applies for. Although Alma has been studying diligently, these exams draw on a wide range of subjects, from computer coding skills to knowledge of Israeli history.

Before Oct. 7, she wasn’t thrilled about the secretarial roles the military commonly assigns to female enlistees, but now, she says, she’ll do whatever Israel needs.  “You can’t just fight with a few soldiers, you need the people who do the small jobs,” Doron said. “I just feel like I have to go. It’s my country, I need to protect it,” she says.

Doron said life is clearer for her now in some ways. When living is defined by the overshadowing presence of danger, priorities become more evident. “Life is much more simple,” she says. 

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