I Have No Other Land

Tags: Federation, Israel, Advocacy

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Pedestrians run to a bomb shelter as sirens blare to warn of incoming missiles fired from the Gaza Strip, Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Ashkelon, southern Israel. In a guest column today, Ben Jaffe, a University Heights native, recounts his family's recent experiences in Israel under bombardment from Hamas rockets fired from Gaza. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)AP

By Ben Jaffe, Guest Columnist, cleveland.com

BEERSHEBA, Israel -- While I moved to Israel two years ago, a big part of me will always be a Clevelander. It’s the part of me that wakes up at 2 a.m. for Browns games, the part that misses Mitchell’s hot fudge, and the part that still says “ope” when sliding past someone at the supermarket. I am just like you, but recently, my life has been nothing like yours.

With such a large media presence in Israel, you may have heard about the recent fighting with Hamas-controlled Gaza, but I want to tell you my experience – the experience of a fellow Clevelander living abroad. This war was not how it was often portrayed on the news. It was not a war between two military forces, and it cannot be simplified by looking at numbers of casualties on each side.

On the second day of fighting, my building was hit by a piece of a rocket, damaging the exterior. The rocket hit less than 200 feet from my bed.

If you look out my apartment window, you won’t see a military target. In fact we are several miles away from any military presence. Rather, across the street you can see Soroka Hospital, the largest hospital in southern Israel servicing hundreds of Jewish, Muslim, Bedouin, and Christian patients every single day. Please do not think this was a conflict between two militaries striking military targets. Hamas terrorists in Gaza targeted Israeli civilians with all their strength. I was one of those civilians. By the next day, the hospital closed to nonemergency appointments, and all patients were moved to special rocket-proof wards.

Can you think of a single hospital in the United States or the rest of the Western world with bomb-shelter-style hospital wards? Of course not. Hospitals should never have to operate under such fears.

Ben Jaffe, a University Heights native, moved to Israel two years ago. (Photo by Eli Berko Photography)

The next day, I woke up and went to my office in Tel Aviv, Israel’s second-largest city. My office was only able to open that day because it has a bomb shelter right next to the kitchen. Around noon, while I was preparing for a meeting, the rocket siren went off. Dropping everything, my co-workers and I hurried into the bomb shelter. After hearing the boom of Iron Dome intercepting the rocket over our heads, we knew it was safe to leave. I quickly texted my wife to tell her I was OK. She responded that she, too, was in a bomb shelter at that same moment in our apartment in southern Israel – 90 minutes away.

Sadly, living under fear of rocket fire is a part of life here. This is a country where preschool children are taught specific songs for when they hear a siren. They sing about faith in God sustaining them in times of trauma and how we must never fear the “long road to peace.” I pray, dear reader, that your 4-year-old son or daughter will never need to know of such coping mechanisms.

I write to you as a reminder that this conflict is not so distant. Though we may have never met, I am just like you. And I know that I didn’t deserve to feel the fear and anxiety that I felt this past month about my family’s safety.

The image burned in my mind these weeks later is not of the rocket shards or damage to my building, but of a tattered poster I saw on the side of the highway. Translated, it read, “I have no other land.” This message, referencing a 35-year-old Israeli song, rings just as true today. This land is my home, and there is nowhere else in the world I want to be. However, I know that I, and the rest of the citizens of Israel, don’t deserve to be targets. What we deserve, and what we want more than anything in the world, is to live our lives in peace.

Ben Jaffe was born and raised in University Heights, Ohio and now lives in Beersheba, Israel, with his wife, Talya.

This piece first appeared on Cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer on July 2, 2021.

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