American Students Run for Cover as Rockets Rain

Exchange Students in Israel Hit Bomb Shelter Instead of Books

Exchange Anxiety: When rocket sirens blare in Israel, American students run for cover like everybody else.
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Exchange Anxiety: When rocket sirens blare in Israel, American students run for cover like everybody else.

By JTA

Published November 26, 2012.
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When the first two sirens went off, Shoshana Leshaw ran from her second-floor bedroom down to the bomb shelter in the basement. By the time the third and fourth sirens wailed, she went no farther than the stairwell.

“It’s almost like you’re sick of the sirens interrupting your sleep,” Leshaw said. “You just want to get it over with and go back to what you’re doing.”

Fifteen air-raid sirens in total rang out in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva on the night of Nov. 14, the first night of Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense aimed at bringing an end to Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza. The sirens repeatedly woke Leshaw, a junior at Queens College in New York, and most of the 25 other study-abroad students at Ben-Gurion University.

They were among the thousands of young Americans who come to Israel each year to study or work, but found themselves instead scurrying for cover last week as Hamas rained missiles on Israel.

Students said they never feared for their physical safety; they had been trained on how to react in the event of a missile strike. But many said that living in cities targeted by missiles gave them a new appreciation of the realities of life in Israel, and some found themselves quickly copying the casual approach to war that Israelis have cultivated over decades of living under military threat from their neighbors.

In Tel Aviv with Oranim-Israel Way, an internship program, Stephen Fox was surprised to find his Israeli co-workers joking about the missiles. After a while, though, he found himself thinking of the sirens as a fire drill. A few days after last week’s bus bombing in Tel Aviv, Fox, 23, boarded his bus to work without a second thought.

“Halfway through it I was like, ‘Should I be taking the bus?’ ” he said. “It didn’t even occur to me. The restaurants and bars were still going, people were out shopping. It was like normal.”

Oranim, which has a division in the southern city of Ashdod, brought all of its participants to Tel Aviv after fighting broke out. One participant left the program and four others returned home for two weeks with plans to come back. Michal Ben-Ari, Oranim’s Tel Aviv coordinator, said one of the week’s biggest challenges was reassuring parents that their children were safe.


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