In early April, I flew to Israel after months of delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am studying at Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) on a semester study abroad program. My first month in Israel was filled with trips around Israel, trying new foods and exploring Hod Hasharon, the town my school is in. I felt immersed in Israeli culture traveling to places such as Jerusalem, Herzliya, Masada, the Dead Sea, Gilboa and Haifa.

As for the actual high school aspect of studying abroad, classes in Israel differ greatly from those at home. For one, the dynamic between teachers and students is far less formal in Israel. We call our teachers by their first names and message them on WhatsApp rather than via email. We spend every morning in Israel studies classes, then move onto our general studies courses. In Israel studies, we dove deep into the history of the Jewish people and our connection to Eretz Yisrael.

At home, I always tried to keep myself updated on the Israel-Palestine conflict, yet it always felt so far, so detached from my life. Even once I was in Israel, I didn’t feel overwhelmingly engulfed by the conflict. Going into this program, I recognized the continuous tensions fostered by the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, it wasn’t until I was running to a bomb shelter at 3 a.m. that I understood the fear and adversity that Israeli citizens face day after day. Nearly every student in my program downloaded Red Alert, an app that notifies users every time a rocket is launched into Israel. We are desensitized to the “rocket alerts” as we too frequently receive these notifications. Many of the rocket alerts were distant and I naively thought I wouldn’t be affected by the escalating tensions.

My first time running to the bomb shelter was on Tuesday, May 11. I had recently returned from dinner in town and was sitting around campus with my friends. We heard a siren, which sounded like it came straight out of “The Purge,” and ran to the bomb shelter. Seeing a Red Alert for Hod Hasharon was both overwhelming and surreal. How could a conflict that felt so remote from my life hit so close to home?

Sitting in the bomb shelter is like being tucked into your bed during a storm. You know you’re perfectly safe, but it’s still frightening to hear what’s going on outside your window. You worry for those who are stuck outside without a warm bed to sleep in. I feel so grateful for the protection AMHSI offers everyone on campus and to feel completely safe during a tumultuous time like this.

Although hearing bomb sirens, running to bomb shelters and receiving rocket alerts were not on my Israel bucket list, I will not forget these experiences. The Israel-Palestine conflict is complex, deeply rooted and impossible to simplify. That being said, after living through these past few days, I understand the conflict more than I possibly could from thousands of miles away.

My first month in Israel has been filled with both incredible and unexpected experiences. All I can hope is that the next month involves less violence and more peace.

Lucy New is a junior at Marblehead High School, where she plays on the tennis team and serves on the student council. Lucy is a member of Temple Emanu-El of Marblehead and spends her summers at Camp Tel Noar. Lucy is a JTI Senior Peer Leadership Fellow, is a member of the North Shore Antisemitism Taskforce with the Lappin Foundation and can be heard on the Lowkey Convos podcast.

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