Reflections of an immigrant to Israel from New Orleans

By Katie Connell

Special to Southern Jewish Life

Editor’s note: Katie Connell made aliyah from New Orleans one year ago and settled in Beer Sheva in the Negev. She currently lives in an absorption center for new immigrants. This originally appeared in the weekly e-news of Shir Chadash in Metairie.

A few days ago, on a beautiful afternoon I was driving in Be’er Sheva and pulled to a stop at an intersection across from the shopping mall. Simultaneously, as I heard Code Red sirens, one of the people in the car with me slowly said “why are those people running.” I have heard these sirens before during a drill, but this time it was real.

I turned to my right, the driver of the car next to me rolled down the window with a look of terror in his eyes and said in Hebrew: “Sirens, those are sirens! Pull off to the side and get out!” With sirens still going, there is a hard explosion directly above us.

At that moment, I remembered what to do if you are in a car and there is a rocket attack. I realized that I am in a potential bomb if the Iron Dome failed. I hit the accelerator, pulled the car over and commanded everyone to get out and get down on the side. People all over were doing the same, lying down on the pavement as the second rocket is intercepted by the Iron Dome.

I looked around in a fuzzy, surreal blur. The faint smell of firework-like smoke jolted me into reality. After a few minutes, all of the people looked at each other with the realization that it was beginning: The recent kidnapping and murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah and the revenge kidnapping and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, followed by riots all around Israel had finally escalated into a war.

This was how it began for me. Since July 9 (two days before this was written), over 320 rockets have been shot into Israel from Gaza, 50 just since this morning. There have been many sirens, and I have heard and felt the shaking of the Iron Done intercepting the rockets. My sleep has been interrupted in the last three nights, all around 2 a.m., with sirens and explosions.

A feeling of tension is all over the country with rockets reaching as far as north central Israel, terrorists trying to infiltrate from the sea and by parachute, and for the first time, here in the south, Bedouins throwing fire bombs and rocks at cars. As Israel prepares for what looks like a ground invasion, the end is not yet near.

More and more I realize how incredibly complex the political situation is here, and now it is personal. It doesn’t matter if you are politically on the right or the left. ALL human life is precious and can add value to the world.

With that said, Hamas (whose name means “Islamic Resistance Movement”) has declared itself to be a Sunni fundamentalist Islamic movement with the goal of establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in place of the state of Israel. They establish jihad (holy war) as the only means of solving the issue of Palestine, and establish that the commandment of jihad is an individual religious duty incumbent upon every Muslim. They refuse to recognize Israel as the Jewish State.

In short, Hamas is a particular group of people that want to annihilate us. Hamas does not want peace. They want us out of the Land of Israel. This is something that people all around the world need to understand.

Israel is going to extreme measures to reduce the risk of collateral damage and loss of innocent life, as well as bringing in humanitarian aid, food, medicine, and fuel to the residents of Gaza. However, Israel needs to put a stop to the attacks and any further escalation buy defending itself.

What is the historical reality, the reality today is that Israel is home for the Jews. People flee and are rescued from countries, such as Yemen, in which their lives are in danger due to anti-Semitism. They are taken to safety here in Israel.

Some of my friends here in the absorption center, recently rescued from Yemen, have been through so much already. Traumatized as their husbands and fathers have been murdered, daughters and sisters kidnapped and sold as wives, taken to Israel with nothing, now standing outside of the bomb shelter crying waiting for the next siren. It’s heartbreaking. When does it end for them? Jews should be able to take refuge and be safe in Israel.

I just had my one-year anniversary. I came to Israel for a more meaningful life by helping to contribute the best I can to its development. The potential here is amazing, and I am part of this history.

People may think that I am crazy for wanting to live here, and are wondering if I want to come back to the U.S. The answer is absolutely not. The rockets and terror reinforce how important it is to have a strong Jewish presence here.

Pray for our soldiers, pray for peace — Am Yisrael Chai.

P.S. Code Red siren while typing this: Two Rockets.