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.
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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.
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(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.”


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