We have learned to consider the siren a daily routine. “CODE RED”, “CODE RED”. You don’t think, you run. Instinct. You have less than 15 seconds to run to the nearest shelter. Inside, children are screaming, adults are crying. Next, you hear an ear-shattering explosion. The shelter shakes. Slowly, people come out, hoping that the rockets missed their city, and that no one was hurt. Each and every day, up to 40 rockets are fired towards our city of Sderot, which is located only a few miles away from the Gaza strip. For the first time in what seemed like ages, the thick steel door was opened, and as I walked out of the bomb shelter, I had a feeling of relief. My 2 younger brothers, mother and grandparents emerged behind me looking exhausted. In 2006, my family moved to Sderot, Israel to be closer to our grandparents, Sigal and Zeev. That same year, a Kassam rocket killed my father. Only six years have passed since his death, but the memory of hearing my father screaming my name, “Yuval!” at one moment and then seeing his body shredded to pieces instantaneously, will never stop tormenting me or my dreams.
My family lives in a small two-story house with a safe-room on the left side. My mother, Chana, works at the local grocery store and brings my three-year-old brother, Matan, with her. My other brother, Yaakov, who is seven, comes to school with me and has severe chronic anxiety. He gets headaches and stomachaches very often due to such an excess of exposure to the rockets. Sometimes, his physical symptoms are so bad, that I have to stay home from school and take care of him. Sadly, we miss most of the school year because of rockets. So do most children in my neighborhood. The only good thing that comes from sharing this frightening situation is that our community has grown closer. We have all learned to comfort and support each other through such difficult times. Although the media comes frequently and shares their day’s worth of knowledge with some parts of the world, you can only understand our fear by experiencing it yourself.
Finally, people are starting to go back to work and children are returning to school. Thankfully there are now only two or three rockets per day. When you remember dreadful days with more than ten rockets, days with only two seem like heaven. I often fantasize about moving to Tel Aviv, Netanya or even America. In my room, there is a crinkled map of the world on my dirty wall. America is fading away on the map from my hands constantly touching it. The only other map in my room is of Sderot, but you cannot see it under all of the red pins marking each and every rocket blast. I had to stop after 3 months when a bomb fell in the exact same place as it had 7 weeks ago.
And yet, after countless rocket attacks, the majority of residents of Sderot have stayed. Reporters always ask “If it’s so dangerous, why don’t these people just leave?” Besides the physical beauty of Sderot, there is a palpable sense of a tight-knit love shared by all of us. In addition, we believe that we are the first line of defense for Israel. When you live in Sderot, you are a soldier of Israel. Emptying out Sderot would be handing a victory to Hamas, and would embolden them to start aiming their rockets at the next town. If Sderot falls, there could be a domino effect. So we are on the front-lines of the war against terror. Also, most residents cannot leave because this is where their lives, their jobs their homes and their children’s friends and schools are.
Only a few months of the school year have gone by, and what I thought was just a normal day in Sderot, turned into one of the worst days in my life. As I ran to the safe room in my house, I suddenly sensed that something was wrong. Silence. Only my heart was about to explode while I waited through those quiet seconds for the inevitable boom – the boom that ends the silence and determines our next step in the game of life. “It should come! It should be over! It should fall!” I screamed. The impact from the blast was so strong, that I fell to the ground with a painful pressure on my chest. When I awoke, I was at the nearby hospital. I had a feeling that the bomb had struck my house, but I refused to believe it. I still hear the words my mother spoke at that moment: “This time it was in our home.” I kept trying to tell myself that this was just a horrific nightmare and that it had not happened to us, but I knew it had.
The pain in my chest gradually worsened. As the young doctor strolled into my room and told me that only a few ribs had been broken, I figured that I was lucky to be alive. I began to wonder if I was the only one that had been injured, and if somebody close to me had also been injured. I prayed that my family was okay.
My mother walked in after I had been given the minimal dose of painkillers and told me that she had some devastating news. My grandfather had endured a severe heart attack and was not responding to the medications. The doctors told my mother that he had a very small chance of survival. My light blue gown crinkled as I got up from the low bed and ran through the hospital, peering into each and every room, until I reached it. Doctors were running in and out of his room in a state of panic. When my mother caught up to me she comforted me and took me away from the sight that reminded me of my father’s death. Memories of my grandfather started pouring threw my head. I thought of our interesting talks after he picked me up from school, and our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that we shared during the humid summer days for lunch. Not only was I losing my grandfather, but I was also losing my best friend.
Later that evening, while lying on the blood stained sheets, I hoped for the best possible outcome, but also prepared for the worst. If my grandfather died, then I would be scarred for life, and feel responsible to keep the rest of my family safe. I would need to also become the “parent figure” at the age of fourteen, and become an adult in a matter of days. Yesterday, I was a so-called “normal” teenager who went to school, hung out with friends, and shared Shabbat dinner with my loved-ones. But, today, I am a mentally and physically messed up teenager.
Today marks one week after the attack that ruined my life. Two days ago, Zeev passed away. Grandpa held a special place in my heart, and when I lost him, I lost a special kind of love. In my head, I felt guilty for taking for granted all of the unique memories that I had with him. For example, we used to make up skits for Shabbat, and we would perform them for our family. Also, we went on long, tiring walks every Tuesday. I miss his wisdom and common-sense advice born from decades of living. I began to feel a little older and more vulnerable.
My pain inside motivated me to write an essay about the rocket’s impact on our lives. While I was writing, I felt like I had wanted to make my own rocket and send it to the families of the people who fired rockets towards us. I wanted to run straight to Gaza to see their reactions and their pain. I wanted them to feel like a knife had been stabbed into their chest, or better yet, a rocket had exploded inside of them. I was filled with fury as I was writing, and when I finished, I felt like all of my anger had escaped into the words of the essay.
I had always felt comfortable sharing my thoughts, so when my high school had an assembly, I decided to go to my English teacher and ask permission to read my essay. When I walked across the small stage, I recited the words over and over again until I reached the elevated podium. I did not realize that in the front row of the auditorium was a very wealthy philanthropist who came to Sderot to donate money to a worthy cause.
Two weeks later, I got a call from the school telling me that I needed to go there at nine the next morning. At first I was scared that I had gotten into trouble, but I could not figure out what I had done wrong. Once I arrived, I ran to open the doors, and inside, the same man from the front row was standing in the center, holding a huge check with more money that I have ever seen. I was surprised and curious as to what I had done to get me to that place with that much money. A few minutes later, I sat down with him in the cafeteria and he explained to me his mission for the trip. He told me where the money would go, and that it would be dedicated in honor of my family, and community. One year later, I was standing at the opening ceremony for the new community complex with a play area, counseling center, and a nice big gym for all of the people who were everyday heroes who would survive anything that came their way.
Jessica Raviv, Age 13, Grade 8, NYC Lab MS for Collaborative Studies, Silver Key