On our last evening of the 13th annual Alyn Hospital “Wheels of Love” Bike Ride we had to wait in our hotel in Be’er Sheva an extra 45 minutes before being bused to Omer, where, two hours in to our “Bar Mitzvah” gala we were bused back to the hotel. That night we had four red alert sirens, waking us and moving to stairwells marked “safe place”. The next morning we had another siren, and I got to see firsthand, since I was in the breakfast buffet at the Leonardo Negev Hotel, how Israelis handle an alert. The night air raids were not a good indication since lots of folks didn’t wake and there were many stairwells and floors in the hotel. So, they DROP EVERYTHING and know exactly how long between the siren and the rocket strike. In this case it was 90 seconds.
Seriously, this was the last morning and the hotel we were in was housing 500+ weary bike riders. All routes come together the last night in the same place for the big gala. Since I work as a volunteer with a support vehicle, I was on the forefront of the ever popular MIRS radio system and since I don’t understand much Hebrew, did not get the full gist of the logistics teams’ plans for getting us all to Jerusalem to the Alyn Hospital for our closing ceremony.
Let me point out, since this is all hindsight information, no rocket had ever reached Tel Aviv or Jerusalem/Gush Etzion areas from Gaza to date.
Our off-road route was taking us on a tour of the Judean hillside for 55 km, 4100 ft. elevation gain, from Moshav Aderet through the Ela Valley (Ruthie’s back yard), by the zoo and Malcha train station, then a circular tour through the neighborhoods of Jerusalem back to the hospital. We were told the night before that the on-road challenge group that had been scheduled to ride from the Be’er Sheva hotel to Jerusalem, would be bused to the same place we were leaving from and their route had changed.
None of us, this last day of the ride, knew at this point that a rocket had landed in Tel Aviv and the next day, just after Shabbat began, Jerusalem would experience their first rocket from Gaza.
Interestingly, back at Ruth’s house for Shabbat, we all heard the “BOOM”, but the siren malfunctioned so no air raid alert was heard. This became my son-in-law’s call up to security service in Efrat, one of the rare things that trumps the observance of Shabbat.
After Shabbat, red code alerts and the ability of Israel’s IRON DOME intercept system became common conversation topics. Some people were panicked to an extent, everyone reviewed what you do and where you go and how long you have to get there. We came to find out where many of our fellow riders lived in proximity to time and space from Gaza. Our dear friend and team mate, Yael, and her family live 5 km south of Gaza in K’far Maimon. We have spent a Shabbat there and never felt unsafe.
So how did Joe and I feel on this trip? We have been visiting Israel and Ruth for 12 years, our first trip being December 2000, which was 3 months into the second Intifada. We always marvel at how well-handled our safety is, and we know it, see it regularly. We don’t “fear” for our safety while there. We merely heighten our awareness of our surroundings and listen to our daughter and son-in-law for direction.
The second red alert for Jerusalem and Efrat occurred the following Tuesday. Ruth had gone to take Evan to a speech therapy appointment in Beit Shemesh and had to pull over, take Evan out of the car and be a human shield for him beside the car. Joe and I were at the kitchen table and I heard a faint sound that may have been the siren (found out later it still was not fixed and what I heard was a siren from another area in Efrat or possibly the Jerusalem siren). But we both definitely heard the “BOOM” of the rocket that landed in an Arab village across from Bat Ayin, a community nearby, subsequently killing one Arab.
The next day, before we headed to the airport for our midnight flight, we went to the zoo and had a lovely time. It was packed with locals, enjoying an afternoon out with their families. This was the day Tel Aviv experienced a bus bombing injuring 21. “This is Israel” is a common saying!
We are now back in Colorado, following the news as many of you did while we were gone. If you are interested in how the Iron Dome works, check out this link.
ALYN Hospital is Israel’s only pediatric and adolescent rehabilitation facility, and it serves hundreds of children from all over the country and overseas who have birth defects or injuries from accidents or terror attacks. Click here to make donations to our team.
Once again, thanks so much for your support and care for our Israel endeavors! Click here for a link to our picture album from the trip.