The ”letter” read in the interview was published on Ynet News.
We are two co-workers who want to share our feelings with you, we both live in Israel but in two different cities. Sveta lives in Ashdod (the 5th largest city in Israel) and during the last round of terror, the city suffered from dozens of rockets. Gilad lives in Hod HaSharon, a small city right next to Tel Aviv. We want to tell you about our normal everyday way of life, and how everything has changed during the attacks on our cities.
Sveta: Even though I live in the periphery, only 40 km drive from Tel Aviv, during the rush hour this little drive could become a 2 hour nightmare. I wake up very early in the morning and leave the house at 06:00. Getting to the center of Tel Aviv at this time in the morning saves me a lot of time and the fact that I’m doing it with other people (carpooling program) relieves me from the stress of driving. Keeping the environment clean by reducing the air pollution is a very important subject to me, and yes, the carpooling program helps me to feel that I’m contributing to this matter and saves me money at the same time. The ride to Tel Aviv is on the freeway, and the scenery along the way is mostly an urban landscape – tall buildings and towers. I live in Ashdod which is the 5th biggest city in Israel, from Ashdod to Tel Aviv there is uniform settlement continuity and the sense of overcrowding is growing as you get closer to Tel Aviv. The only relaxation from all of that city crowdedness is when we pass by the biggest park in the area (Ariel Sharon Park) which was once the largest landfill, but now it is being transformed into one of the most beautiful parks with a river, flourishing fields and all is accessible either by foot or by bike. I love to watch the morning sunrise on tall buildings, especially when the sun is reflecting from the green and blue glass. It takes me about 40 minutes to get to work after dropping off the rest of the people I’m going with.
Gilad: I live in Tel Aviv metropolitan area, and as opposed to Sveta, I prefer to sleep through the morning hours. Also the fact that I live 20 km from our work place, allows me to maintain a standard course of sleeping through the night. I use the public transport system to get to work. For me, driving to the jammed Tel Aviv is a morning nightmare, so I prefer to use the train. It takes me only 40 minutes to get from my house to the office, which would take twice the time during the rush hour. I wake up not before 07:30, organize myself and leave for the train station. During this time of the day, the public transport is very comfortable to use and there are buses and trains every few minutes. I have two train stations in my city, and the ride to Tel Aviv lasts only 10 minutes. From the train I usually prefer to walk by foot to work. It takes me 15 minutes extra, but walking on the banks of the Yarkon River (largest river in Tel Aviv) is very pleasant, especially the park nearby after rainy days when the air is so fresh and relaxing.
We are both working in a high-tech company in Tel Aviv, a usual working day of 9 hours, 5 days a week. In the afternoon we usually go out to eat at one of the restaurants in the area. Sometimes Sushi or Thai, American style hamburgers, and sometimes just comfort food at one of the ethnic restaurants in the area: Jewish-Tunisian, Jewish-Moroccan or Jewish-Polish.
Sveta: I eat dinner with my family, we cook together special meals from different cuisines at least once a week (we buy special ingredients/spices at the supermarket) – but my favorite is the Japanese cuisine, and I always try to pull my parents into cooking from this cuisine. I read lots of books, and finish at least three books every month. In the rest of the time I watch tv, usually reality shows (I really like Master Chef), or polish my web developer skills by developing cool websites.
Gilad: I really like movies, and I go out with my wife to the cinema at least once in two weeks to watch new movies. I go to the gym at least three times a week and in the rest of the time we go out to coffee shops or bars and meet with friends. In the rest of my free time I surf the net, read about stuff that interest me or just chill out in front of the screen.
Sveta: One evening I was hanging out with friends at the local mall. Suddenly sirens sounded throughout the city and the cellphone network went down because of the overload. I was very scared. I didn’t know what to do, people started to run and I felt lost. The inability to call and see what’s going on with my parents, when sirens, cries and screams of children are mixed together in the mall, was one of the most frightening things that I had ever experienced.
All life had changed, suddenly I felt my life had stopped - the fear of going outside the house and to be in a place where you don’t know where the shelter is located, is very daunting. The need to be with my family has grown, I feel much safer at home - there I know how to behave during the alarm (go down three floors to the shelter).
Immediately after the first siren, we wanted to hurry back home, but neither I nor my friend was in a state to drive. We had to stay at the mall for another hour at least. It seemed that it was an eternity before we could get one of the parents to take us. Fear had just overtaken us, our hands were shaking and I just cried - I do not even know why.
Once we got home, I found that we were under attack and it could last much longer. During that night I did not sleep at all and in fact during the whole time that we were under attack I hardly slept at all. It was like sleeping with one eye open and I had shoes and robe by the bed ready for any sudden siren during the night.
I want to clarify that life was, so to speak, moving on; I still had to go to work and get to Tel Aviv in the morning. These are the times when everything is turned upside down, I get little sleep during the night and then at work I feel tired and nervous. For example, it is enough for a motorcycle or an ambulance to pass by our building to startle me. At work everything seems ok. People ask how am I doing, and usually I shyly answer that everything is fine, I just didn’t get enough sleep. It is really difficult to explain how the stress affects and distorts the whole perception of life. The need to be prepared for any event, to be more sensitive to sounds than usual and to be always connected to the news like with infusion, isn’t normal to me. During this time I stopped going out with friends, I’d mostly wait for alarms at home. We go down to the shelter (we have 45 seconds to run three floors down) and then wait for the booms. We gambled with our neighbors on where the missile had fell, whether or not it was fired at by the “Iron Dome”.
Gilad: My experience during that period is more of a look from the outside, it should be noted that one in every six Israelis were under attack in the same area as Sveta. At least one million people, including family and friends. There is not a single Israeli that doesn’t know at least someone who was under attack during that time. However there are abysmal differences: in Tel Aviv there was no shelling, everything was open and life continued like nothing was going on. The pressure here was less noticeable in personal, but knowing that the conflict might also expand to my house glued me to the news and tv. Even when going to meet with friends, the first thing that we did was to turn on the tv to one of the main channels to see if anything had happened. The number of calls to family and friends had grown and when in the news they said that a missile hit in a populated place I rushed to the phone to check that no one got hurt.
Along the way, I must say that we developed a black humor. We used to annoy Sveta and tease her about her lack of sleep and the fact that she jumps every time something loud passes by. (If she will suffer a nervous breakdown because of me, I’m willing to pay the medical bills). My cousins, who live in a Kibbutz near Gaza, came one weekend to Tel Aviv to relax. They walked around the promenade and enjoyed the quiet and the laughter of children. They said they miss this situation – because they can’t go out (for them it’s five seconds from the moment the missile is launched to the time it hits the ground) and they must remain in the secure room at any given time.
Sveta and Gilad
Well, there are so many things I would like to say, and write down in this letter, but I will probably miss out a lot that has faded away from my thoughts throughout the 18 years I’ve been in Israel. It’s been a long roller-coaster ride, through good and bad experiences which have become bitter-sweet memories.
For starters, I am a young Swedish-American living in Israel since 1994. My Christian – Zionist parents brought me here at a young age, against my will I must say. But as time passed, I learned to love Jerusalem and it became my home. After reading Yossi’s letter, I’m reminded of how getting on a bus on a daily basis to public school was nerve wrecking. The endless bus bombings and the terror in the air made it difficult to concentrate on the small and happy things kids should grow up on.
Exactly ten years ago, on Friday, March 29, 2002 I was in my room in Kiryat Yovel neighborhood in Jerusalem and I remember hearing a loud sound coming from a distance. Minutes later we could hear the sirens and the helicopters flooding the area. And then the phone calls began – the routine of calling your family members, your friends, or anyone in the area, hoping it’s not another bomb, and praying your loved ones are safe. But tragically, 17 year-old Rachel Levy, a dear classmate was killed on that day by a teenage Palestinian female suicide bomber. At the time, being 17, I didn’t really grasp how such a young girl could kill herself and others for an idea or belief. Just thinking about it makes me cry. But I am writing this letter, since the world needs to know our stories as well. And this is just one of so many! I have no doubt the Palestinians have their own tragic stories and losses, but it’s crucial to understand each side, and not justify just one.