Ice Cream and F-16's

This posting was contributed by Pamela Ingram of St. Paul, MN, who is in Israel for a Solidarity Mission to southern Israel with other alumni and members of the National Young Leadership Cabinet and members of NYL's Ben-Gurion Society (read more about BGS). This posting came from her own blog about her travels.

Four days ago I came to Israel not sure how any one could live like this, constantly worrying about missiles and suicide bombings. I felt bad for the people living here, but as we were told in Sderot, you can’t get it til you are here.

My trip is about to end almost exactly as it started, overlooking the gorgeous blue of the Mediterranean from my hotel room. I am still seeing the mosque and the dolphinarium, the picture is the same but the view is completely different. I am different. I see the world through new filters. What seemed important, like a big deal 48 hours ago now seems so unimportant. Problems we have at home seem so small comparably. This trip has changed me.

As much as being here has shown me how hard this life is, I also feel like I have come one small step closer to understanding how people can live like this on a daily basis and thrive. When we started out on Monday morning many of us were kind of chilled by the security briefing and emergency drill we went through to prepare for the day. While I had had no hesitation at all in coming to Israel, I have to admit the severity with which our leaders warned us did give me pause. I wondered for a moment what I had gotten into, was the risk greater than I had given value to and was this a mistake. They gave us an out after the briefing, the chance to change our minds, I am so glad I didn’t take it.

Visiting an Ethiopian National Project site. Photo: Pamela Ingram
At that moment I would never have believed that a mere 30 hours later we would be laughing and joking while eating ice cream a few yards from where a grad rocket had landed that morning, but we were. For as unsettling as this area is, you also find normalcy in the abnormal very quickly. At first it seemed strange that so many of our meetings were held in reinforced rooms, that bomb shelters dotted the landscape and no one but us seemed to notice them, but today in Tel Aviv the scenery almost seems naked without them. Their quiet comfort of safety within 15 seconds makes sense now and their absence is eerie.

Noises have also changed. I hear a plane overhead and wait for the artillery fire, its going to take me a while to remember that sometimes a plane is just a plane. A cell phone ringing or a public announcement and I tense. There is no need to scan faces anymore, like I learned to in Sderot and Ashkelon, to try and decipher what our security guard Odet was hearing on the phone. If we needed to prime for action. It’s going to take some time to relax.

It is also going to take some time to learn to be alone again. It seems strange to not be around those I have shared this experience with. On January 31st many of the 20 of us were strangers, UJC is a large organization and it is hard to know more than a few people well, but by February 3rd we were family. We had shared moments and experiences that only we can understand. Dr. Katz at the trauma center in Sderot had a great term for it, “shared reality”.

That is what we have, a shared reality. We have parts of the story that no one else has heard, we have seen things no one else has seen, and that common bond forever unites us (as well as does Facebook *smile*).

-- Pamela Ingram