Isabel "Izzy" Barr '12
After graduating from Transylvania in 2012, Izzy Barr moved to Israel where she is volunteering as an English teacher. She recently had a terrifying experience during Operation Pillar of Defense. She wanted to share her thoughts with the Transy community.
As a Jew and a Zionist, Israel has always had a large influence on my life. During my years at Transy, I felt these sentiments grow as I took my first trip to Israel, worked at Jewish summer camps and tried to help my fellow classmates understand my religion and love for Israel. I was about to graduate with no long term plans (other than to start working towards my goal of becoming an art therapist) when my friend from camp suggested that I apply to this volunteer program called otzma, which she had just completed. On this program I would study/learn Hebrew, volunteer as an English teacher and otherwise get involved in the community and also get to have an internship in either Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. It all made sense from there. I had wanted to go back to Israel since my trip there in 2008 with Birthright Israel- but wanted to do more than just visit- I wanted to learn Hebrew, completely immerse myself in Israeli culture and do something to better the Jewish state. With those goals in mind, I was accepted into the program and on August 21, 2012 I boarded a plane not just to Israel but to a world of new opportunities.
My first two months in Israel were my introduction months to Israel. I lived (with two other girls on the program in the world's smallest apartment) in a small sleepy immigrant town in the north of the country called Karmiel where I took weekly educational trips around the country, volunteered at a school twice a week and had Hebrew class for four hours a day four times a week. When I arrived I really came feeling like a new immigrant. I knew almost no conversational Hebrew, had trouble getting around the country and usually felt like I didn't fit in- as if I had a giant "AMERICAN" stamped onto my forehead. But I pushed through and slowly began to feel like I belonged and that the big stamp on my head was fading daily.
On November 14, I felt my initiation as a true Israeli begin. The day before, I had moved to Kiryat Gat, a small town in the south of Israel. I knew the risks of living in the south of Israel, especially living in Kiryat Gat where I would be living almost 40 kilometers from the Gaza border but I’d kept most of these thoughts out of my mind during my first few months in Israel. Since my arrival to Israel, the rockets from Gaza had been growing more and more consistent but I continued to not think about the potential for danger until Wednesday night – the 15th. My roommate, Aimee, and I had just returned home from working all day and running errands when our other roommates Eric and Vlad told us that Tzahal (Israel Defense Forces) had just killed Jabari, Hamas' chief of military operations and we couldn't leave the house for the night because of the severe amount of rocket fire that was happening all over the south. It's one of the worst feelings, sitting and waiting; I wrote in my blog that night:
"What are we waiting for? We're waiting for a lot of things, a phone call telling us we can leave the house, waiting to hear [a] tseva adom siren*, waiting to run to the bomb shelter, waiting to run for our lives, waiting to not be nervous"
We spent most of the night sitting together in the living room acting calm, but I was too nervous to fall asleep though I finally did around 3:30 a.m. My friends and family in America kept me company and tried to reassure me and tell me that I had no reason to be worried...
Until I was awakened the next morning by a loud siren and my roommates yelling "Aimee", "Eric", "Vlad", "Izzy" and "let's go". I jumped out of bed, automatically grabbed my phone and tried to put on shoes-when that didn't work I just picked them up and ran as fast as I could out the side of our house to get to the bomb shelter. This moment was easily the scariest to date. I remember being in the bomb shelter but not really knowing how I got there (running was such a blur and complete adrenaline) and not sure how long we sat in there. The next thing I knew I was being told by my program that a taxi was on its way to bring us to the office in Jerusalem and to pack a bag for 3-5 days.
It was absolutely surreal to be in Jerusalem. A few hours earlier I had been running for my life and there I was sitting on a popular street with everyone walking around as if rockets weren't falling all over southern Israel. I went to my cousin’s house for the weekend and waited for the news to say there was a cease fire that we were all hoping for and for the phone call that it was okay to go back down south, but it never came. On Friday a rocket hit outside of Jerusalem and that Sunday I was moved to Petach Tikvah, a suburb of Tel Aviv, to live with some people from my program, volunteer with them and wait for it to all, hopefully, be over. That week was spent in total limbo, as if I was on a bad vacation that would never end. I felt completely displaced with none of my possessions except the barest of essentials. It truly was the worst of times for me. I had no control over my life and even though all I wanted to do was go back to my little house in the south, all I could do was wait. When I found out about the bus bombing in Tel Aviv I hit over my limit, but I still got on a bus later that day- you have to understand something about the Israelis and the Israeli way of life – no matter what happens, life goes on. You learn that no matter what is going on you have to act like things are going normally, you persevere and then it gets better.
Earlier that week, before Operation Pillar of Defense began, I was in a seminar about the Palestinian conflict and we were asked what we would do if we were in a situation where we had anywhere from 15 seconds (like the people who live right next to the border) to 45 seconds (like me) to get to a shelter. We were asked: "would you make sure everyone was awake and then run or just run and protect yourself?. Everyone was floored by this question and a huge debate ensued. For my part and that of my roommates, it seems that the answer is yes. We all thought about each other for a few seconds to make sure that everyone got out of the house: Aimee opened my door and said my name, everyone was calling for each other and the boys didn't leave the house until they saw us girls running. I am eternally grateful for this for multiple reasons but the biggest one being that a rocket landed about 3 blocks from my house in someone's yard. The fact it was so close makes me think that it could've been my yard or my living room or one of our bedrooms but I try not to think about that. I think about how lucky I am to live with people who value others lives as much as their own.
Before I moved to Israel, I was asked if I was scared to move there and the answer was no. If someone asked me that during the operation I would've still said no and if I was asked right now if I am scared to live in the south, the answer as it always has and will be, is no. It's difficult to explain but Israel is a special place to me and one in which, no matter the situation, I feel safe and secure.
Two Sundays ago I got the hoped for phone call that we could go back home and since then everything has been great. I am excited to finally begin my life in Kiryat Gat and get to do what I came here to do. I'm back working in the school teaching and am working to become involved in the community. I am hopeful that this cease fire will hold and that, if not a lasting solution with the Palestinians, at least steps can be made in that direction.
If you are interested in learning more about this particular experience feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. I also have a blog that I update regularly with my day to day adventures and LOTS of pictures, it is lifesprouting.wordpress.com
*Tseva Adom when translated means 'Color Red' and is the warning sign that rocket fire is imminent. It is a high pitched siren with several tones and a female voice saying "Tseva Adom, Tseva Adom".