A day in the life of a Diaspora Israeli

Michal Cohen
September 15, 2021

It’s 6 a.m. I’m woken up to the red alert signaling that, for the fourth morning straight, Hamas has launched rockets towards Tel-Aviv. For days now, Hamas has been firing rockets towards Tel-Aviv at exactly 6 a.m., urging me and my family to quickly head out to the stairwell, where we meet our neighbors as we all wait for the boom of the Iron Dome shooting down a rocket sent from Hamas. The year is summer of 2014, and Operation Protective Edge is well under way. Instead of hanging out by the beach with friends before I move to the United States for high school, I am in and out of bomb shelters in between packing.

That summer, I moved back to Miami,Florida. I thought moving from Israel meant I wouldn’t have to listen to the infamous sound of the red alert, which starts to sound like an ambulance siren, but louder and deeper. I thought moving would mean I would feel a sigh of relief. In a recurring theme in my life, I was quickly proven wrong.

I’m back in the United States taking a placement test for high school. I’m sitting in a still small room with no windows and three other students. As we’re taking the math portion of the test, I hear the red alert being played from the other room. For a minute, I forget I’m taking a placement test in Miami, Florida, and I’m back in a Tel-Aviv bomb shelter, waiting for a boom.

Since I moved to the United States from Israel, anytime I hear a red alert on Yom HaZikaron or a motorcycle driving fast, resembling a red alert, it’s as if time has stopped and I’m back in 2014. Seven years later, in a work meeting with Julia Jassey, I heard a building alarm that sounded like a red alert. For five minutes as this alarm blared, all I could do was sit there and tell myself that I was safe and not in 2014 Tel-Aviv.

As I try to calm my body which went into flight or fight mode, I notice my phone light up. I go to check the notification, only to see a message on Instagram telling me Israelis are white colonizers who don’t experience trauma or real-life repercussions from the conflict. I find the irony hilarious, yet sad, that Israelis who live with trauma from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are told their trauma and experiences are invalid by those who have never experienced a war in their lifetime.

Being Jewish on campus is hard enough. Being Israeli on campus adds another level of hostility. Anti-Zionist students no longer need to go online to find Israeli Jew to scapegoat for the actions of a government in which they have no say. I am the epitome of everything they hate, and they never let me forget that, by sending students my way to harass me, sending me dirty looks as I walk on campus, or casually calling me a baby killer, White Supremacist, or Apartheid apologist as they pass by me. Being Israeli on campus means that anytime someone asks me where I’m from, or what does my name mean, I have to take five minutes defending my family and country, or endure the awkward silences and stares from students anytime I say I’m Israeli.”

I tell my story not to gain sympathy not to gain sympathy or “I’m sorry this happened to you,” but to humanize the lived experiences of millions of Israelis. We are not a far-away people who have no emotions or lived experiences.

We are human beings. We endure terrorist attack after terrorist attack. We complain that there is not enough space in a bomb shelter as we hear the boom over us signaling that the Iron Dome shot down a Hamas rocket. Instead of crying, we crack jokes at 6 a.m. after being woken up by a red alert. We are a community of strong and resilient people who open our phones and read what the world thinks of us. What the world thinks we are.

I tell my story not because I want sympathy, but because I refuse for others to rewrite my story.

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