This week’s participant blog post is by Naomi Davis, one of the participants on this summer’s Onward Israel summer program in Jerusalem. 14 college students from the New York area will be living and volunteering in the Kiryat HaYovel neighborhood. You can follow the group’s blog here (where this post originally appears).
Standing in a circle on our wifi-filled balcony in Jerusalem, 5 other girls and I giggled as we attempted to co-lead a yoga class. Being our second day here, everyone on my trip pretty much knows that I’m a dancer and have some fears about staying in dance-shape (coming from dancing everyday to now volunteering for 6 weeks-it is a bit worrisome for me). I have vowed to stretch everyday and luckily there are some open-minded yoga lovers (or people ready to try new things) on this program. We went through some rocky sun salutations on the balcony as we moved through chaturanga with all different versions of our makeshift yoga class. Getting distracted by others walking out on the balcony, we all lost track of trying to do yoga. Our attempt to maintain focus became diluted when we chuckled in triangle pose as Rivka commented, “yoga stresses me out.” Little did we know, that we were about to be VERY stressed out. We moved on to even our bodies out and do triangle pose on the left side when we began to hear sirens in the distance. It took me a number of seconds to comprehend the gravity of what was happening.
Suddenly our circular yoga formation became a chaotic mess of all of us trying to grasp what was happening. We spent a long day in the Jerusalem sun learning about the history of this city with much conversation emerging about the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Within seconds, the reality of the state of Israel hit us loudly with the sound of the sirens. Rockets were headed from Gaza and not knowing exactly how close or far or safe or or or or anything, I grabbed onto Jillian and we all rushed to the bomb shelter in our Mechina. 15 participants and 1 incredible group leader (Yahel mom) Shosh gathered together in a circle inside the bomb shelter. We heard a few loud booms and suddenly there was silence. Altogether the sirens only lasted a number of minutes, it felt like eternity and 5 seconds all at the same time.
Being only the second day on this program, we are all still acclimating to our differences. Sitting in this room, I really got to see the diverse reactions to this situation. The entire day today was spent learning and growing together and even in the safety of the shelter, the spectrum of our diversity really shined. We all identify very differently with Judaism, we all have very strong core values, and we all handle our fear in very different ways. Having no wifi or service in the shelter, I led everyone in some breathing to calm us down. In my acting class we experimented with sound circles and I decided it would be the perfect time to create a group hum. The array of believers sat together, eyes closed, and hummed for a few minutes before we opened our eyes and finally felt more calmness. The hum of our voices calmed us from the fear of the hum of the sirens.
After having important discussion and playing some silly games to lighten the mood, we remerged running back to the wifi-filled balcony to get in touch with the world and reconnect with our families again. I immediately messaged my Israeli friends, hearing their reactions (which consisted of “yah this happens all the time just find a shelter” or “don’t worry, this is normal for us”) was extremely enlightening. I am reminded that what was very stressful and concerning for me, was an almost normal situation for someone else. When Yahel told us before the program that we would be immersed in Israeli society, I had no idea to what extent (I don’t think they did either). I know I am in a very safe neighborhood with really caring group leaders and I must remember to react with perspective. Other people are in true danger, and I must feel and fear for them while allowing myself to feel and fear too.
I am safe. I am sitting in a new circle with seemingly new people as we all type on our phones to tell our parents we love them and we are safe. Tonight went from a yoga circle, to a sheltered circle, to now a reflecting circle. War and violence seems to work in circles and I hope that the cycle of hate stops soon and we can start a new circle of unique acceptance and understanding. This is obviously easier said than done (clearly), but I am really interested in continuing to learn about the past and how that plays into the current conflict and formulating my own opinion that is colored by my own thoughts rather than those facts I am told or that of the media. Tomorrow is a new day, for me, for Israel, for everyone.