It was the day of my birthday and I was in a bomb shelter. This was the last place I expected to be. The day started like any other day in Israel.  I was excited not only for my birthday but to meet my girlfriend’s cousin who was visiting Israel for the first time from England.  My girlfriend’s cousin was a bit worried because an escalation had started and Israel was starting to receive rockets. I was living in Tel Aviv and assured her that no rockets would hit Tel Aviv because our adversary did not have the technology to do so which I knew was not 100% true.  I added that even if they did, they wouldn’t have the courage to strike us here in Tel Aviv which I really thought was true.

As we went over our itinerary for the next 3 days, we heard a loud alarm. The alarm sounded slightly different to the typical ambulance or police car but I ignored this. After 10 seconds the sound did not get further so I looked outside and did not see a police car or ambulance.  This is when I immediately knew the unthinkable was indeed happening. This was the “code red”  alarm informing us to get to the nearest bomb shelter immediately. Not only did I experience rockets for the first time, I was officially on my girlfriend’s cousins sh*t list.

The Piece Of Me I Left Behind

Let’s go back 4 months. I was so excited when I landed in Israel and saw an HP building across the street as this was where my internship was going to be. I got in a taxi and headed towards my apartment. When I got to my apartment  the first thing I did was drop off my bags. I then left the apartment. I knew I would be out of my comfort zone and needed that piece of me that I left behind.  I started to walk down random streets in search for a music store.  After an hour of aimless searching I found a small hidden shop no larger than my bedroom in the USA.  They had a harmonica and small instruments in their display window. I walked in and bought the first guitar I laid my eyes on.  It was not the same piece of me that I had left behind but it would do.

The Everyday Life

During my stay it was a very normal and relaxing time. I loved my job immensely, my roommates, the food and the Israeli culture as a whole.  I played my guitar everyday for around 15-30 minutes which is how much I normally played at home. Every weekend a group of around 10 of us would go to the beach, I would play some guitar and we all just had a great time. You never heard of any terrorism activity at all in fact I felt much safer in Israel than I did at home near Miami.

The Escalation

After having lived in Israel for 4 months, a series of actions unfolded that led to a full blown war. In the intro above, I said that I had spent my birthday in a bomb shelter.  This was on July 8th 2014 which was the start date of Operation “Protective Edge”. Despite the fact that from that point onwards there was on average over 100 rockets fired towards Israel a day, we carried on living our lives as we normally did. In my apartment there were 3 bedrooms. One of the three bedrooms was a bomb shelter. If a rocket was ever coming our way an alarm would go off throughout the whole city and we had between 45 and 60 seconds to find a bomb shelter. We even had an app on our phones that would play an alarm and tell us if a rocket was coming to our city in real time.

The Iron Dome

It’s important to know what the iron dome is, as this is what saved our lives countless times.  Whenever a person sends a rocket to Israel, Israel sends a rocket which hits the opposing rocket in mid air. Sometimes there is debris that falls back down but nevertheless there was over an 90% chance that the iron dome would protect you from a rocket.  I would like to show you how I experienced this in action.

I was walking home from work one day and was in a residential street.  I took out my phone and got cover as I had 45-60 seconds to do this.  Below is the video I took.  There will be a point where you see two big white poofs of smoke in the sky.  This is what it looks like when one of the iron dome rockets hits an opposing rocket.  Because this particular rocket was far away it takes a little time to hear the rocket explosion.

The Close Call

The phone started to ring. This was terrible, this meant that my alarm didn’t go off. Getting to work took me a little over an hour because I had to take 2 buses and walk around half a mile. I had a work friend that lived not too far from me who had started taking me to work with him.  He called and was ready to pick me up and head to work. I told him my alarm didn’t go off and to head to work without me as I would take the bus.

I got up and started to get ready for work.  It had been about 3 minutes since my waking phone call. I was brushing my teeth when the siren went off.  I immediately thought why couldn’t this happen 15 minutes ago because although I never want a rocket to come, the siren would have at least woke me up in time for work. I started to go into my roommates room (the bomb shelter) as I always did when a siren went off. We heard the iron dome hit the missile and a couple seconds later I was getting ready to leave the room when I heard a loud noise and screams coming from outside. I immediately threw on some clothes and ran outside. I turned to my left and what I saw is the picture you can see below.

How Music Brought Me Peace In The Middle East 2

The iron dome did its job and hit the rocket but left a huge piece of debris that fell to the ground. Thankfully no one was hurt. In the picture below you can see a news reporter at the same gas station that the rocket hit. If you look behind the man with the camera you can see a yellow apartment building. This was my apartment building.

How Music Brought Me Peace In The Middle East 1

There is something particular to me here. The rocket hit the exact spot that I get picked up from in the mornings by my friend to go to work. That rocket would have fallen either on me or on the car if my alarm had been set correctly. Later that night my alarm went off. I had put PM instead of AM.  This mistake that I was so mad about when it happened may have saved my life.

The Anger

Nothing brought me peace like being able to play music at the beach.  It had been over a month since I had been to the beach. I really missed this. I finally got incredibly mad and called my friend and told him no one can stop us from living our lives, I’m going to beach to play some guitar and you should come. He came with me. When we got to the beach it finally started to hit me how sad this really was. There were less than 30 people on the beach. Usually you cannot find any sand to put your foot down at this beach because there were usually so many people. This was understandably the right thing to see as when on the beach, there is nowhere to take cover if an alarm goes off. But all I could think about was all of the people living in fear.

The Music Brings Peace

From my birthday onward, I started to play the more guitar than I have ever played in my life. Because there were so many rockets we spent a lot more time inside our house. This is because we had a very easily accessible bomb shelter in our apartment. The music helped me so much with my stress. I started to go to restaurants with live music a lot more and started to go to concerts.  This became something that was really important to me.  I was even lucky enough to see The Rolling Stones and Steve Vai live in Tel Aviv which meant a lot to me because my father was roommates with Steve Vai at Berklee School Of Music.

When I saw Steve Vai and The Rolling Stones there were many Jews and Muslims there. It was incredible to have both sides agree on one thing which was great music during such controversial times. Nothing can bring the people of Israel and Palestine together like music can in my opinion.

The Ending

When I got home I was extremely motivated to spread the teachings of music. I kept thinking of that time I went to the beach and was thinking of all the people living in fear. I wish they had peace like I did by playing an instrument. I got together with my dad who owns a music school and we formed an online music, art and technology lesson company called Skype A Lesson.

I have talked a lot about my personal times in Israel. Everything stated is 100% true. War is very controversial. This is neither a pro Israel or pro Palestine post. This article does not reflect the normal feeling in Israel. Contrary to belief, Israel rarely has times of war and when they do its extremely rare that its more than a month.

Featured photo credit: Kimberly Richards via unsplash.com

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