American Vacationers Wake Up in Israel War Zone

Bar Mitzvah Tour Group Tries To Hold Nerve as Sirens Blare

Games Go On: Most Israelis are taking the conflict in Gaza, and the barrage of rockets, in stride. It’s not so easy for American vacationers.
getty images
Games Go On: Most Israelis are taking the conflict in Gaza, and the barrage of rockets, in stride. It’s not so easy for American vacationers.

By Judy Maltz

Published July 10, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(Haaretz) — They had come to celebrate this big life event for their kids and suddenly found themselves in the midst of a war.

But the parents and children participating in this organized bar- and bat-mitzvah family tour to Israel nonetheless appeared to be happy campers as they followed their guide around the streets of Tel Aviv on this sweltering summer morning.

Had they considered altering their plans or spending the day back in the safety of their hotel after experiencing two air-raid sirens in less than 24 hours, not to mention the loud booms of rockets being intercepted and blown up in mid-air? Not a chance, they respond.

A group of 35 parents and children, they arrived in Tel Aviv on Tuesday after spending a week touring the rest of the country. Members of Conservative and Reform congregations from New Jersey, Washington and Maryland, they were part of a family tour organized by Israel Tour Connection.

Like many of the other foreigners out and about this morning in Israel’s second largest city – targeted for the second times in 20 months by Hamas missiles – they couldn’t quite seem to figure things out. How could this be a city under attack, many were wondering, if the buses were running as usual, children were out in the streets, the shops were open and the cafes were full?

The first missiles to hit Tel Aviv caught the bar- and bat-mitzvah celebrants lounging out at the Carleton Hotel swimming pool on Tuesday evening. “Suddenly we heard a siren, but it was very faint,” recalls Cara Kasler from Springfield, New Jersey, as she and other members of the group gather around the Yitzhak Rabin memorial near the main city square. “We pulled the kids out of the pool, and then we heard a big boom,” she recounts. “There was a little hysteria but not a lot.”

One of her fellow travelers corrects her. “There was no hysteria,” he says. “We were just nervous.”

Phyllis Rosen, from Seattle, hadn’t heard the siren that went off earlier that morning, but she suddenly saw a bunch of people running outside and looking up at the sky. “I’m not feeling anxious about what’s happening here,” explains Rosen, who is here on this trip with her 13-year-old son Julius. “But I am feeling anxious about how all our friends and family back home are taking this. They’re being fed all this propaganda on the news, and they don’t realize that it’s actually quite safe here in Tel Aviv.”

This is 17-year-old Jay Sirot’s first trip to Israel. Asked if he was scared when he heard the first siren the night before, the New Jersey native replies: “Not at all.”

“Excuse me,” interjects a young teenage girl within earshot. “You were running down the hall screaming at the top of your lungs.”

“OK, I did run,” Sirot corrects himself, “but I’m definitely feeling very good about how strong Israel is and about all the support it’s getting abroad. The Iron Dome system has also given me a sense of confidence.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.