It wasn’t so long ago that my Facebook Newsfeed was filled with predictions of Hurricane Sandy. Everyone on the East Coast was talking about it – how strange it was to have a hurricane set to hit so far north. When it was downgraded to a tropical storm, everyone breathed a sign of relief – and when it was labeled a hurricane again, everyone got nervous all over. People took pictures of empty shelves at the grocery store, posted statuses about weather updates with radar imaging – but all we could do from Jerusalem was watch and wait for the storm to hit.
So we did. We watched as the storm tore through New Jersey and New York. We listened as word of the incredible destruction came in. We checked in with our families and friends as they waited for their power to come back on, for their Internet and cable to start up again. We read the stories about people opening their homes and electrical outlets to people they didn’t even know. It was inspiring.
The hardest part for me was being so far away. No matter how many friends and family told me they were ok, I still worried. I didn’t know whether to believe the news being published or to assume the damage was being sensationalized. Little did I know how soon the tables would turn.
Today, the air raid siren was heard in Jerusalem. After emerging from the bomb shelter, we phoned, emailed and updated Facebook to let everyone at home know that we were okay, we were safe. It was a drill we’d already been through once before. After the first alarm, I told my mom she needed to try not to worry – in fact, I made her promise to try not to worry.
What do I tell my parents? How do I tell them the truth – that we’re as safe as we can be here – when I’m not sure exactly what that means? How do I keep them from getting scared? Just like I did during the hurricane, they rely on information from the news sources available to them – and they’re not sure whether they’re getting the full story. Maybe more importantly, how do I explain to everyone at home how important being here right now is? As students at HUC-JIR, we spend a lot of time talking about Jewish peoplehood, about Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jews – but it’s all academic. Being in Israel with everything that’s going on is actually letting me experience a little piece of what it means to be Israeli, perhaps more than any other experience I’ve had here.
When I left Los Angeles in June, I thought that being here would help me explore my opinions and ideas about Israel. 5.5 months later, I still don’t know what I think or how I feel about Israel as a political entity. What I do know is how it feels to walk towards the bomb shelter on campus in the middle of a midterm exam. I know the moment of complete stillness when an ambulance drives by and everything stops, as you listen, determining whether someone’s getting rushed to the hospital or a rocket is heading towards you. I know how people in my apartment building crowd around a hand-held radio in the stairwell, trying to figure out what was hit, and whether it’s safe to go back to cooking dinner. These are things I couldn’t have imagined two weeks ago.
We’re thousands of miles from home. Rockets continue to fly, the US embassy in Tel Aviv was attacked, and we don’t know when or if the fighting will stop. And now, it’s almost Thanksgiving. In the morning, we leave for a tiyul that will include a Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, complete with pumpkin pie.
There was a while when we didn’t think there would be pumpkin pie. The planners of our Thanksgiving meal were informed by the grocery store that there was absolutely no more canned pumpkin in the entire country. My classmates refused to accept that, though, and figured out how to make pumpkin puree so we can have our pumpkin pie come Thursday evening.
I’m thankful the school is making every effort to keep us safe and informed in these difficult times. I’m thankful for the family and friends that have checked in with me over the past week to make sure I was okay. I’m thankful to be in Jerusalem, studying and learning. Maybe most of all though, I’m thankful for pumpkin pie. I’m thankful because it means that my community here is committed to continuing on with our lives, to enjoying every moment we can. We will not let fear prevent us from celebrating life’s many gifts. On Thursday, we will give thanks, we will pray for peace, and we will hope for a better tomorrow with every bite of pie.
Nicole Berne is a first-year MAJE student from Los Angeles, CA. She graduated from Indiana University in 2011, majoring in English and history. Looking ahead, Nicole is excited to explore opportunities for pursuing social justice through Jewish education both in classwork and through hands-on community engagement.