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JCF Blog

Year of the Philanthropic Journey Part 7 of 12: It’s the things you least expect that hit you the hardest

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 3/28/2019
I’m 16 years old and in Israel for the summer with Camp Ramah. I had been a camper at Ramah since I was 8 and my experiences over all those summers, the mischief I caused, the friendships that filled my heart, and the singing and dancing filled me with joy. My friends and I talked about and imagined going to Israel with Ramah for many years before we were old enough and we created expectations that would make this a trip an adventure beyond our wildest dreams. We couldn’t stop smiling, laughing, and singing.

We had a security briefing at the beginning of our trip from the IDF where they told us not to kick a can on the street, it could be a bomb, or don’t touch a bag or backpack if it’s not yours. At 16 it was hard to take it seriously, as a real possible danger. It was a time before internet, before terrorism struck around the world and certainly in our own homes, and before the world was small enough to understand the depths of trauma of living in a country filled with terror. We were a naïve, fun-loving group of teenagers on an experience of a lifetime.

Towards the end of our trip my friend and I were dropped off at a Moroccan Moshav outside of Be’er Shevah. Friday afternoon we climbed onto the wooden horse-drawn wagon and headed to the open air market to purchase everything we needed for Shabbat. On the way we joked and planned with our family where we would all meet at the determined time.

The market was packed. People were yelling and laughing, carrying bags, chickens were clucking, friends were hugging and greeting each other and meeting for coffee, and “Shabbat Shalom” was heard all around. I instantly felt a part of this family of Israelis sharing their Shabbat preparation, a community activity that happens every week.

I was at a stall looking for a gift for my family when the explosion and the following deafening silence took over the market. In the next moment came the screams and cries, families searching for each other, and utter chaos. The police and army were there as if they were just down the street waiting for this to happen. Maybe they were. I didn’t know where to go, what to do, what to say and certainly what to feel. When they made the announcement that everyone who is not searching for family needs to get out and cross the street, I ran. I stood and watched as the dead and wounded were carried out and put into ambulances. The screams and tears filled the air.

I watched as a 12-year-old Palestinian boy was taken away by police; he placed the bomb. I watched as mobs of people ran after the police car screaming and I wondered how a 12-year-old can possess so much hate, did he even know what he was doing?

As the market emptied out and people went home, with the police and army gone, the ambulances gone, a woman asked me in Hebrew if I knew whether or not it was ok for her to go in and finish her shopping. There were no words I could say in response as she crossed the street and headed back into the market.

We rode home quietly in that horse-drawn wagon and the only sound to be heard was the clucking of the chickens in the back with us, completely unaware of their fate.

My life forever changed that day. The scene of the market is as vivid today as it was in the moment.

I wondered as my 16-year-old self, how it was possible that the woman didn’t seem to be impacted by what we had all just experienced.

For the remainder of my trip it was hard to laugh and I found myself yelling at my friends who were kicking the cans they saw on the street. I was torn between feelings of being alone in this experience with no friends and family to share or understand what had just occurred and a new, deeper connection with Israel and its people. My Jewish family had grown exponentially and my enduring love for Israel began to take deep root in my soul.

Over time, I judged the woman less harshly and compassion took its place. I was in no place to judge her.  

This trip to Israel was an adventure of a lifetime, but not remotely in the way I expected. I learned important life lessons from this experience and I often think of that day as the beginning of many of my personal journeys.

My devotion to Israel is unwavering even though I may disagree with its policies. I am saddened that too many people in the world have these shared experiences of witnesses to terror and the impact it leaves behind. I learned not to judge others until I’ve walked in their shoes (which is most often never the case). I learned to listen to people and their stories, there is so much to be shared. I learned to keep my heart open to the unexpected even though that can be so painful, that there can be beauty and growth on the other side.

As we do our community work and plan for our future, I would love for us to keep these lessons in mind and let’s listen to each other’s perspective, let’s not judge, and let’s remember that we are all family.

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Jessica Fish
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Thank you for sharing such a personal and memorable story. I am completely moved thinking of your 16 year old self being taught such a hard lesson so young and that these days it is almost a horrible norm. Not that this is the trip you would ever hope for, but its nice to see it didn’t diminish your love for Israel and set you on the Jewish journey you lead today.
jacob schreiber
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Very powerful story and message. And beautifully written. Thanks for sharing it with us.
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