On the ground: Dallas couple share reflections as new olim under the cloud of war
Jordana and Josh Bernstein with daughter and son-in-law Rosie and Avi Greenbaum and daughter Shaya at their Modiin home

A sad and scary time

Editor’s Note: This article was written on Sunday, Oct. 8

By Jordana Bernstein

Jordana and Josh Bernstein made aliyah one month ago.

Wednesday will mark one month since my husband, Josh Bernstein, and I landed in Israel and became Israeli citizens. Among the many reasons why we moved here, including being here with our girls, Rosie Greenbaum and Shaya Bernstein, who were already living here, was our desire to change things up and live new experiences.

I’ve recently posted on Facebook about day trips to Tel Aviv, painting pottery, eating sushi, celebrating holidays and meeting incredible people, but the last 24 hours has been a whole different kind of experience.

I have had many people reach out to me in many ways to offer me strength and support and to check on our safety, to send prayers and I am so grateful for that. What I would like to share with you is what it has been like for me this last day after Israel was attacked by terrorists yesterday.

Josh and I were woken up yesterday morning to an alarm on our phone that wouldn’t stop going off. We were so confused because we were in the midst of observing Shabbat and celebrating the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah and during Shabbat and this holiday we don’t use our phones. I thought he accidentally set an annoying alarm and he thought I did. Finally, he picked up his phone to shut it off and that’s when we learned that rockets were being fired into Israel from Gaza. The alarm we were hearing was an alert that he had set on his phone to notify us if there was ever any terror happening near any of the places our daughters live and now where we live; yesterday morning there were many rockets flying right over the area where Shaya’s high school is, in the city of Rehovot. Thankfully, Shaya was home for the holidays and was sleeping soundly in her bed in our new home in Modiin.

Here is a rundown of some of my “experiences” from yesterday.

I got back to my house last night at about 2:30 a.m. because I rode with Rosie, after Shabbat ended, to drop off my son-in-law, Avi Greenbaum, as he was called to service. There are no words to describe what it was like being present during the moment and the moments leading up to my daughter sending her husband off to war. The strength that the two of them hold within could move mountains.

Avi getting ready to defend Israel — in true Avi fashion, always with a smile on his face Photo: Jordana Bernstein

I’m glad we are here because I couldn’t imagine my daughters going through this alone. For now, Shaya and Rosie will be staying with us (school has been canceled for today at least — I guess this is Israel’s version of a snow day, but much more somber and definitely not fun).

The streets driving home from dropping Avi off were pretty empty because most people are staying indoors to keep safe. On our way home from dropping Avi off, we were stopped at about 15 checkpoints to make sure that we were safe to continue on the road. So, I do feel safe with the security measures being taken.

That being said, we can hear the booms from our house, which is the sound of the Iron Dome intercepting rockets. The sirens went off in our neighborhood once yesterday morning, signaling us that we all had to go into our bomb shelter, which is one of the bedrooms in our house. On our way to dropping Avi off, we stopped at Rosie and Avi’s apartment so he could pack up his things; right as we pulled up the sirens went off in their neighborhood so we immediately ran into their bomb shelter, which is at the bottom level of their apartment complex. So, we were in there with the other 14-18 families that live in their building, including quite a number of kids and babies who were all woken up from their sleep to get to shelter. Several were crying and scared; others seemed like it was just another day in the shelter. There were people in there praying, calling their families to make sure they were safe and just bringing comfort to one another.

This is a pretty sad and scary time here. A lot of casualties already, lots of hostages including babies and children and it’s just plain terror. The important thing to note is that this terrorist attack came out of nowhere and was not instigated by anything. Their goal is to kill Jewish people and they will stop at nothing to do it. The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) is strong and smart and they will be defending Israel.

Please keep Avi and all the other soldiers in your prayers, as well as those that have been injured, those that are missing, the hostages and those who have already lost loved ones.

Chag Sameach??

By Josh Bernstein

As some of you know, Jordana and I made aliyah a few weeks ago to be with our two daughters, Rosie and Shaya. Our first few weeks here have been amazing. Before we arrived, strangers (rather, future friends we did not know we had) from my new office and from our new community made arrangements to provide us meals, mattresses and anything we needed in order to be comfortable and well taken care of our first few weeks, including through Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, knowing that the container with all our worldly possessions from Dallas would not arrive for a while. The hospitality and warmth of my new colleagues, strangers in the street and our new community in Modiin has made this transition very special.

No matter where we went and who we interacted with over the past few weeks — whether the secular bank teller, the religious bus driver, the Arab Israeli grocery store clerk — every single person, without fail, wished us a Shanah Tovah and a Chag Sameach with a huge smile on their face. Our new neighbors to one side are secular Israelis who were looking forward to a few days off; our neighbors to the other side are former Americans (with Fort Worth roots!) who made aliyah a few years ago, who were looking forward to the High Holiday season. Everyone is friends and friendly and we witnessed firsthand a country and community where citizens of all backgrounds and levels of observance simply coexist.

Then came Shabbat and Simchat Torah. We typically don’t use our phones on Shabbat and holidays, but we were woken up to my phone making an unusual sound, incessantly, meaning the sound repeated over and over and over and over and over and would not stop. I assumed I had messed up setting an alarm the night before, but soon realized the sound was a rocket alert generated by an app I had downloaded when Rosie and Shaya moved here. I went downstairs to let the dogs out and I heard in the distance a sound similar to the sound a garbage truck makes in the alley when picking up and dropping bins, and the sound repeated and would not stop, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom…. I went to wake up Rosie and Avi, who were staying with us for Shabbat and the holiday, and they said, yes, the alerts you are receiving are accurate and the sounds you are hearing are the Iron Dome intercepting rockets being fired toward Israel. They assured me that we did not need to violate Shabbat to monitor the phone because if there was any danger in our immediate vicinity, we would have no doubt that the local sirens would go off outside and we would know. Of course, they were right.

We decided as a group to not go to shul, as the protocol would be to avoid large gatherings, but we did have an invite for lunch nearby. We left all three dogs in the bomb shelter, which is one of the bedrooms in our house. Throughout the afternoon lunch, even though it was Shabbat and a holiday when observant Jews do not use their phones, one by one, each and every soldier, reserve soldier and health care professional was receiving an emergency call from a supervisor or army commander notifying them that their service was needed immediately. Nearly every single family in our community has kids in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) or in the reserves, so as we walked on our block and as we sat and ate lunch, we could see everywhere young adults leaving their families, packing up their things and loading up cars to return to base. It was only a matter of time before our son-in-law, Avi, got his call.

When Shabbat ended, Rosie and Jordana drove Avi back to his apartment to get his belongings, and up to his base, having to divert numerous times into a bomb shelter, as sirens were sounding throughout the neighborhood where they live. Saying l’hitraot to Avi (we say l’hitraot, which means “we will see each other later,” not goodbye) and observing our daughter and son-in-law do the same is impossible to describe; suffice it to say that the emotional and psychological strength these kids display is absolutely rock-solid and something I have never personally witnessed in my 53 years. Avi reassured Rosie and reminded her that for security reasons, he will not have his phone — indefinitely — and that might be for a day, a week or a month.

Throughout the night and next day, as we began to watch the news and receive updates, we began to understand the unprecedented extent of the terrorist massacre of civilians on Israel’s southern border: 1,000 rockets fired, 2,000, 3,000, 4,000; 10 communities infiltrated, 20 communities, 30 communities; 25 hostages taken to Gaza, 50 hostages, 100 hostages, 150 hostages; 100 dead, 200 dead, 300, dead, 400 dead, 500 dead, 600 dead, 700 dead…. Rosie and Avi have friends who were at the music festival which was going on in the area. Many of the attendees are now dead or missing, or spent the night in a drainage ditch to avoid being killed. A few of Rosie’s friends who escaped turned right around and joined their fellow troops in the fight. Shaya also has numerous friends from her boarding school whose families live in the south and have spent the past 48 hours with their little siblings and elderly grandparents in their bomb shelters. Many of their neighbors are dead or missing. As the army is still trying to regain control of the country, our kids have been advised that they should not attend the funerals of their friends and loved ones; I can’t even imagine what that must feel like. Thankfully, things are peaceful and quiet in Modiin, but we know they are not elsewhere.

Last week during Sukkot, I visited a spectacular overlook up on the Mount of Olives just east of Jerusalem. In my many trips to Israel, I had never visited this site. The site is surrounded by Arab villages which we had to drive through to get to our destination. I was looking on the Waze screen as we were driving up, and asked my friend what the red and white barriers were on the electronic map which splintered off of the road we were on. He replied simply: “Jews are not allowed” to go to on those streets and in those areas. Up on the overlook, as we were marveling at the beauty of the vast panoramic view of the Temple Mount and all of Jerusalem, one of the teenagers we were with said that it is a shame that we don’t come up here more often, because “Jews are allowed” to visit the Mount of Olives overlook.

Josh Bernstein on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City.

I began to think what it meant to say that Jews are allowed and Jews are not allowed, in certain places in Israel, particularly in light of the fact that many Americans and most of the world use the term “apartheid” when it comes to Israel and are under the impression that it is the Arabs who are and who are not allowed in certain places. In fact, the Arab Israelis in the villages we drove through have Israeli license plates, and can travel freely both to places like Bethlehem and places like Jerusalem; whereas Jews, of course, are not allowed in Bethlehem. Apartheid in South Africa meant a certain class of citizens could not own property, vote, work in certain professions and conduct business in certain establishments. In Israel, there are Arab representatives on the Israeli Supreme Court and in the Knesset and over 2 million Arab Israelis live, work, vote and shop side-by-side with Jewish Israelis, including in most of the population centers which have been the target of the over 4,000 rockets which have been indiscriminately fired by terrorists at Israel this week and in the past. Why is it so hard for the world to acknowledge these facts? And if Arab-Israelis are allowed in places like the Mount of Olives neighborhoods, why aren’t Jews, and why is a teenager who is constantly accused of committing apartheid telling me that we, Jews, are and are not allowed to go certain places in our own country?

I am sick and tired of hearing world leaders say: “Israel has the right to defend itself, but it must be proportional.” Imagine migrants flooding the United States’ southern border coming into South Padre, Harlingen, Laredo, not with babies in their arms, but with machine guns and axes, looking for mothers with babies in their arms and going door-to-door in an effort to brutally kill everyone in sight, while their compadres in the interior of Mexico fired thousands of rockets at San Antonio, Austin, Houston, some even reaching Dallas. Who would foolishly say that the U.S. has a right to defend itself, but it must be proportional?! And what army would give advance notice of an air strike by dropping leaflets and making announcements on loudspeakers, as the IDF is doing literally as I write this article, to warn and protect the many innocent Arabs in Gaza who are also victims of Hamas terrorists? And I am sick and tired of hearing organizations which call themselves news outlets publish statements on the number of “people” who have died on both sides of the conflict. Unarmed civilians are unarmed civilians; terrorist murderers are terrorist murderers. Why is it so hard to be honest when the victims are Jews or Israelis? I personally feel that anyone who perpetuates a false narrative about Israel, whether out of ignorance or intentionally, on social media, television, the newspapers or simply to friends, concerning terrorists whose sole mission is to kill me and my wife and my children and my friends, is contributing to the problem, not the solution.

I just greeted my neighbor who walked by with his daughter and asked him how he and his family were doing, and he said, “terrible.” No more “Chag Sameach.” I hear jets flying over and booms in the sky which seem to be getting louder. I asked my neighbor how we will know if we need to go into the bomb shelter, and he responded simply: “You’ll know.” Our other neighbors just knocked on our door asking to borrow some vanilla (we brought some from Costco) as there is a large group of volunteers downstairs who are making cookies and gathering other supplies to deliver to soldiers. Numerous other neighbors and new friends have called and come by to check on us, to make sure we understand what to do in the event of an emergency and just see how we are doing or if we need anything, since we are new arrivals. The country is definitely banding together to support one another and keep morale elevated as this long crisis unfolds. Please help by correcting the narrative when necessary and praying that God guides and protects the soldiers in the IDF and the people of Israel.

Josh Bernstein and his wife, Jordana, made aliyah to Israel in September.

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