Israeli soldiers

Cobey and Zoey Schneider meet two Israeli soldiers during their summer visit to Israel.

Photo courtesy of Sara Schneider

One of our great sages, Hillel, said, “If I am not for myself then who will be for me?” Never had an answer been made clearer than during our most recent visit to Israel.

It was a beautiful day in Tel Aviv. The sun was shining and the water was the perfect temperature. We were laughing, splashing and building a sand castle while discussing our plans for the rest of the day and evening. Then, we heard it: the loud roar of a siren. Could it be? Really, was that what it was?

Only days before, we were in the Gush, a Jewish settlement, celebrating my niece’s bat mitzvah. We stopped to say a bracha for the three kidnapped boys – Eyal, Naftali and Gilad – at the spot where they were taken. Now, a week later, we were running for cover from a rocket.

Everyone jumped up from their beach chairs, stopped their games of machi, or swam to shore and started running. Evan and I looked at each other and asked a group of teenage boys, “What do we do?” They said, “Run over there in the restaurant” (there wasn’t a bomb shelter close enough and no rockets had ever reached Tel Aviv before). We ran as fast as we could to the restaurant with our four children, who were irritated that we interrupted them playing in the sand and water. There we stood underneath a canopy with hundreds of strangers who instantly became our friends, our family. My eyes welled up with tears as the siren continued, and I looked into our children’s eyes (Cobey, 7; twins Zoey and Noa, 4; and Zev, 1) and wondered what was going to happen. What was their future? We heard two large booms. It was the IDF shooting an Iron Dome missile and exploding the rocket that was meant for us, our new friends and family.

A waiter turned to me as he could see the fear written all over my face and said, “Don’t worry, our army is great. We will protect you.”

Within moments of the explosion, Zoey, Noa and Zev were ready to return to the water to play, but Cobey was filled with questions. We faced a dilemma. How do you explain to a 7-year-old what is going on? We didn’t want to scare him, but the reality was we wanted to make him aware. We played a bit longer but, for the first time in over 10 visits to Israel, I was scared. We watched the sun begin to set as the water glistened and everyone returned to their activities. Once again, the beach was filled with laughter and joy.

I started packing up our belongings when a woman came over to me. Her name was Shlumit. She must have seen the discomfort in my face and the pain in my heart. She took my hand and said, “I promise you, you and your family will be OK. We will protect you. My son, Danny, is in Gaza. I need to worry, but you don’t. He will make sure you are safe.” She offered us her phone number if we needed anything. She told me how beautiful our children were and thanked us for visiting Israel. She gave me a long embrace goodbye, as if I was her old friend she hadn’t seen in years.

It was at that moment that Rabbi Hillel’s question had a clear answer. We are a part of a great people, a large family that stretches across the entire world. When our fellow brother is in need, we have the support of the Jewish community at home and abroad. It was evident in Shlumit’s kind words, in the waiter, our cab driver and the many others who smiled at us and showed compassion and love when we needed it most.

The sirens continued throughout our trip, a number in Tel Aviv and also in Jerusalem. The sad reality was that our children now knew exactly what to do and what was at stake when they heard the siren. It came to a point that whenever we went somewhere, Cobey would ask where we should go in order to be safe if a siren went off at that moment. As parents, it broke our hearts to watch their innocent little faces as we crowded in stairwells and had to wake them up in the middle of the night as we would wait each time to hear the siren stop and the loud booms of the Iron Dome, thankfully, deflect another rocket. My heart would stop with each explosion, as the siren chilled my bones.

Despite the craziness, we had an amazing trip. We continued on our daily plans, went to the beach, shopped on Ben Yehuda, went to an amusement park in Tel Aviv, visited kibbutzim, visited the Kotel and ate falafel and ice cream on the street. Israel was very much alive! It was hard to say goodbye to Israel and my family there, especially this trip. I couldn’t help but feel that I was abandoning a country and a people I love so much, during this challenging time. We are a part of an incredible family.

And just as there were so many wonderful people there for me on that frightening day – and just as the people of Israel are our family and always there for us – today, it is important that we support Israel, travel there, pray for her soldiers, and send our love and support to our “family” there. That way, when they ask the question, “If I am not for myself – if I am all alone in this world – then who will be for me?” they will hear a loud and clear answer in response: We will be for you.

As the social action chair for the Valley of the Sun JCC preschool, Sara Schneider, in partnership with Shir Hadash synagogue in Jerusalem, is raising money to send care packages to the soldiers in Israel. To make a donation, send a check made payable to Shir Hadash to the Valley of the Sun JCC ECC, Attention: Social Action Committee, 12701 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale 85254.