All I hear are sirens.
It’s 6 a.m. Sunday morning. No time to find my shoes or glasses in the darkness. Instinctively, I immediately throw off my blankets and run out of the room. I join the pack of bleary-eyed people forcefully pushing their way into the bomb shelter.
I’m startled but not surprised. For the past week, these air raid sirens have been routine — an average of about two sirens a day.
I’m an 18-year-old American participating in the International Science Summer Institute (ISSI) at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. There are 80 students — 19 of whom are American — from 17 different countries. We were flown to Israel to do scientific research at Weizmann for a month. Our projects range from studying mouse neuron remodeling to measuring the properties of the Higgs boson.
I heard about this program from my sister, who was an ISSI participant during the summer of 2012. She came back with dozens of stories and incredible photos of places like the Judaean desert, Dead Sea, Jerusalem, and Eilat. Before I left for Israel, I asked my sister if I’d be safe. She jokingly replied, “Please, you’re gonna be living in Rehovot. It’s a quiet, boring science town. Nothing is there besides Weizmann. Nobody would ever shoot rockets at Rehovot because it’s not worth it.”
It turns out she was completely wrong. So far, my experience has been dramatically different from hers due to the escalating conflict with Hamas. I’ve watched the Iron Dome intercept rockets directly over my head. Shrapnel has fallen in multiple places on Weizmann’s campus, including the front of the physics building and the swimming pool. A couple ISSI participants have gotten minor injuries from running to the shelter early in the morning. Our parents are constantly calling and texting us, begging us to come home.
I constantly feel jumpy because I never know when I have to drop everything and run to the nearest bomb shelter in fewer than 70 seconds. We’re forced to be always prepared for air raids, and we’ve begun to find ourselves nervously asking each other questions like “Did you hear that? Was that a siren?” while doing lab work.
After a week, we’ve almost gotten used to the frequent rockets and sirens. Ironically, we’ve probably grown closer because of them. For us, a trip to the bomb shelter is incomplete without taking an obligatory selfie photo (“shelter selfie,” for which we’ve assigned the hashtag #shelfie). We call ourselves the Iron Dome Fan Club, write silly Facebook posts, and note that Hamas must be soccer fans because there were no air raids during the World Cup final. I guess deep down inside we’ve all learned that humor is an effective way of helping us cope with scary times.
We’ve also learned how important it is to act immediately and take necessary precautions. We do everything we can to get to a bomb shelter in 70 seconds. We all sleep with unlocked doors. We shower as quickly as possible. We sleep with two pairs of shoes near us. Because the Iron Dome is awesome, but it isn’t perfect.
There have been talks of a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, but as of this morning, only Israel has accepted Egypt’s ceasefire proposal. Hamas is still firing missiles. In the time that it took me to write this paper, I’ve been interrupted by three air raid sirens in Rehovot.
Experiencing the constant threats of missile attacks is overwhelmingly different from reading online articles and watching the news from the comfort of my home in the United States. I never would have expected a science camp to turn into a war zone experience. I don’t know what the endgame is for Israel and Hamas, but I do know this: every time the air raid sirens go off, we all hope that it’s the last.