“Why would you move to a country where there are bombs going off all the time?” This response was quickly fired from my friend, when I told him almost a decade ago that I would be moving from our beloved Atlantic City boards of New Jersey, to another state, called Israel.
I didn’t know how to answer his question then. I didn’t think about bombs at all when I thought of Israel. I also didn’t quite know why I was moving. It wasn’t for any religious, Zionist or ideological reasons. I was simply curious to see what life was like on the other side of the world, and ready to step out of my Jersey comfort zone. I imagined the warm, beautiful people, a holy land of chaos and opportunity, and perhaps the freshest hummus I ever did dip. I was being magnetically pulled towards Tel Aviv, sucked in to its hills of milk and honey, and called to the central station of the Middle East.
I didn’t know that I would actually experience bombs one day. I didn’t even know that Tel Aviv was bombable until the summer of 2014. I was alone on a bus when I heard the first siren sound, waves of shock taking over my body. The somewhat nonchalant Israeli pair sitting across from me would be my greatest comfort, as they glanced at my face and asked if I was okay, assuring me that it was going to be. I didn’t know that I would spend that summer running into stairwells for safety, time after time, until eventually, I too became less sensitive to the siren’s sound, gradually numbed to this explosive reality, and a thousand times more grateful to simply be alive.
No, I had no idea then why I would move to a country where there were “bombs all the time.”
Yet today, almost a decade later, I know exactly why I moved to Israel.
America is experiencing an alarming upward trend of antisemitic violence, seeing an overall 58% increase in 2018. Jewish hate crimes were executed in all but four of the United States, and New Jersey ranks top three highest on that list. On over 120 American college campuses, there were over 200 acts of harassment, vandalism and assault aimed at Jewish students, from Columbia University to California State. Swastikas, anti-Jewish slurs and posters made of propaganda splash the walls of those campuses, Jewish homes, businesses and institutions. Over 344 antisemitic incidents threatened K-12 schools across the country.
Almost exactly one year ago, the deadliest antisemitic mass shooting occurred at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and there have been more mass shootings (298) this year, than days of this year so far (290). On a global scale, there has been a steady and unprecedented rise in attacks against Jews in Europe over the past year. In Germany and France, one in four Jews is assaulted every day.
In Halle, Germany, on the most sacred day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, one 27-year old man armed with a machine gun, wearing a helmet with a camera, left his house excited to attempt cold blooded murder at a full house of Jewish prayer – and livestream it. Thanks to newly installed security locks and cameras to provide protection for a historically persecuted people, the Halle community of Jews were safe, at least physically, while two other people were unjustly murdered because of one man’s hatred, delusion and evilly distorted action.
This is antisemitism today. So why do I choose to live in a country where there are “bombs all the time?”
Because in Israel, even when bombs drop and sirens sound, I know I am being protected and defended daily. Because I know I can be alone on a bus, and comforted by strangers. Because I don’t need to think twice about sharing my very Jewish-sounding full name, or wearing my Star of David necklace. Because I know I am not alone when I say Never Again. Because silence is not an option for a people born with the fundamental need to persevere.
Because I know that Israel is the safest place in the world today, to exist as a Jew. And so the safest place I feel free, to be me.