TAU Faculty and Students Share Their Experience of Life Within Missile Range

America's Jewish Council for Public Affairs hears about living under rocket fire

On the heels of "Operation Pillar of Defense," the recent confrontation between Israel and Gaza, the annual leadership mission of the US-based Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) visited the Tel Aviv University campus in December. There, faculty and students within Gaza's missile range shard their experiences of life under rocket fire, saying that although the intensity of conflict may fluctuate, the missiles never truly stop — even for an official cease fire.

Maayan Brodsky, an MA student from the Department of History who grew up on a kibbutz mere miles from the Gaza border, said that missile attacks have become a part of daily life in the last decade. "You hear about it in the media when it gets intense, but it's there all the time, reminding us that we don't get any rest," he said of the constant barrage. "We seem to be living in huge shelters. Every house has a safe room, every school has been rebuilt."

The message was not lost on JCPA members, who pledged support for Israelis living under these difficult conditions. "We have come here to learn — and we will go back to tell our communities and our political representatives that there are real people behind these stories," said Larry Gold, Chair of the JCPA.

As the representative voice of the American Jewish community, the JCPA leads a yearly mission to Israel in order to further the organization's goals of safeguarding Jewish rights in the US and around the world, advocating for the security of the state of Israel, and promoting a socially just society with harmony between peoples of different religions, ethnicities, races and more.

A hard reality

When rocket fire is heavy in her hometown of Beer Sheva, says Lital Nahmias, an MA student at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, the flow of daily life is altered. Schools close down, the streets are empty, and it's difficult to get food. "It took my mom over two hours to do something as simple as make dinner, because she was running to the shelter and back," she added.

Sad though it is, Nahmias told the mission participants that eventually, missiles become part of the status quo. Her worst memories of the bombings are from her time studying in Sderot in 2005. "We sat in class and every half hour we had an alarm. The first time, you rush to the lobby; the second, you move to a fortified wall; and by the third, you just stay and keep learning," she recalls. "Until one day, a bomb fell directly on a student. I can't get the shouting and crying out of my head."

It's a reality that hits home for TAU students and staff members. During November's escalation, PhD student Gonen Raveh of the Jaime and Joan Constantiner School of Education experienced a direct hit to his home in Timorim, and the University is mourning the loss of Lieutenant (res.) Boris Yarmolnik, an outstanding physics student, who was killed in the line of duty.

Prof. David Andelman, head of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Physics and Astronomy shared his sorrow for the loss of a young, promising student who had his whole life ahead of him. "This is the reality in our country, where people such as Boris give of their time for the safety of us all while also juggling their studies and work."

Taking a psychological toll

During the operation, the Iron Dome, a technological marvel designed and implemented by a team that included TAU-trained engineer Dr. Danny Gold, intercepted approximately 90 percent of rocket fire directed at Israel. But while cutting-edge technology undoubtedly saves lives, it cannot shield the public from the psychological impact of Hamas' expanding missile range.

The Hamas rockets aren't very accurate, says Brodsky, "but in terms of instilling fear, they do the job," changing the way people go about their daily lives.

It wasn't until she saw the conflict through her children's perspective that Prof. Noga Kronfeld-Schor of the Department of Zoology understood the full impact. After arriving in Australia for a sabbatical in 2009, her children heard a sheep horn — and immediately sought cover. "I told them there was no war there, and we didn't need to find shelter. My seven-year-old asked if we could stay forever," she remembers.

For the week of the 2012 operation, they were too afraid to be far from the shelter, meaning simple activities like bath time and playing outdoors were often off limits. "Growing up as a child in danger is horrible," she shared with the participants, noting that having a family in such an environment is a "huge responsibility, and raises questions on how and where we should live."

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