Nov 13, 2019  By Steven London  Category: Travel,

Stand strong with Israel: On family trip, rocket sirens a sobering sound

Greetings from Tel Aviv. For the past 10 days, my wife Paula and I have been taking five  family members on a tour of Israel. We have been here many times, but several of our family members have never been and two of them were last here 45 years ago.  The purpose of our visit is sharing our passion for Israel. We wanted our family to feel our connection to Israel, to see the wonder of this place, and to appreciate what it's like to live here today.

Starting in Jerusalem, we took our family through ancient and modern times, with visits to Masada, Sfat, and Caesarea, and visits to the Golan Heights, the port of Haifa, to Atlit (the British Detention Center) and the Ayalon Institute (the bullet factory). Our travels ended in Tel Aviv, a vibrant, modern, and metropolitan city with beautiful beaches, world famous corporate R&D facilities, art and culture, and tourists and business people from throughout the world. My brother-in-law, who went to school here 45 years ago, couldn’t believe his eyes.

Yesterday, we traveled through the Gaza Envelope, meeting with people living there, visiting the Sderot indoor playground built by Jewish National Fund, seeing the JNF-supported uniquely painted bomb shelters at almost every bus stop, and spending the afternoon with Yedidya Harush, the Jewish National Fund's liaison to Halutza, and his neighbors who live in one of the Halutza communities

In Halutza, JNF has supported the building of a health center, housing for the residents and playgrounds and other recreational facilities to improve the quality of life there. Yes, we heard explosions from across the border, but those were from ISIS and Egyptians fighting.


This morning, on their way back from breakfast outside our Tel Aviv hotel, our cousins heard the sirens and were rushed by hotel bellmen into the hotel along with everyone else who happened to be outside of the hotel. The streets of Tel Aviv quickly became still and quiet. Few people ventured outside for the next few hours. The news reported rocket attacks from Gaza with one or more rockets being intercepted by the iron dome on their trajectory to Tel Aviv. Our friend, Ophir, who lives in Ashdod, felt and heard the explosion of a rocket landing 300 meters from his home. More than 200 rockets were fired into Israel.  

Although he kept working from home, Ophir needed to return to his bomb shelter multiple times throughout the day as the warning sirens rang. Yedidya reported that he and his family also repeatedly had to return to their bomb shelters. 

Little did we know that less than 24 hours after our visit through the Gaza Envelope, when we were back in our hotel on the beach in Tel Aviv, that rockets would be fired not only into the Gaza Envelope, but would also be directed to Tel Aviv. 

Tonight, we know the rocket attacks may not be over. IDF helicopters have been actively patrolling the coastline. Our friends in the Gaza Envelope continue to be on alert for the sirens signaling additional rockets. But as the day progressed, Tel Aviv returned to the normal pace of activity.  

For us, this day has been unique. Experiencing the stress of the unknown. When and where will the rockets land? Where is the closest bomb shelter? Are our loved ones safe? But for all Israelis, unfortunately, this has not been a unique day. While rockets aren't fired every day, our friends here must always remain vigilant and be prepared for the next time. They live with this stress. Their children feel the stress. Yet they continue with their day to day lives, with strength, fortitude and humor. This is their everyday reality. 

Our unwavering support for Israel and everyone who lives here contributes to their strength. All of JNF's work contributes to a quality of life in the face of ongoing threats. It is with humility and pride that I can represent all of your efforts on behalf of JNF to everyone we meet here, especially during a time like this. I feel invigorated and re-energized to continue the work of JNF in Israel.

This trip has reinforced our passion for Israel. We are privileged to be the beneficiaries of an incredible gift. For 2,000 years, the Jewish people have yearned for a State of Israel. That dream, for which so many have given their lives, is now ours to enjoy. With that privilege, however, comes an awesome responsibility. We have the responsibility to do what we can to preserve this gift for our children and grandchildren and for future generations. 

For me, JNF is my pathway to carry out that responsibility. It is my way to contribute to the building of this still very young but incredibly successful nation. Let's turn the events of today into a positive and strong response. Let's reach out to our friends, relatives, and communities and encourage a renewed commitment to the work of the JNF.

Steve London is president of JNF in Boston. His involvement with Jewish National Fund began more than 30 years ago during a Tree of Life dinner in 1987.