This piece was contributed by Ari Hoffman, a CAMERA CAP alumnus from the University of Central Florida.  Ari made Aliyah after graduating in May, 2014. Ari’s account of living in Israel during Operation Protective Edge is part of our campaign, Witnesses of History.
It has been an interesting few months living in Israel. I landed right in the middle of the search for the three missing boys, which, of course, led to Operation Protective edge in Gaza. At the time, I lived in Ra’anana because I was enrolled in an Ulpan program there, and sometimes, I’d hear the Tzeva Adom– the sirens that warned of incoming Hamas rockets.

Thinking about my first time hearing the siren makes me laugh. Despite the danger involved when an explosive rocket is hurting toward you, I have to admit that hearing the siren wail just as you’re about to jump in the shower is a little bit funny- especially when you’re forced to enter the community bomb shelter wearing nothing but a hastily grabbed, slightly damp towel.

Humor was one of my ways of dealing with the intensity of living under daily rocket fire, but even more helpful was the sense I got of the people of Israel coming together as one. That was one of the most inspiring things to see and feel, because I had always heard about the way Israel unites in times of struggle, and it was quite incredible not only to see it, but to be a part of it myself. During one of the days in Ulpan, our teacher told us about a rabbi in the area who had a son fighting in Gaza. Our teacher decided to raise money to help the family get through the war, and even made a shirt that said “stronger together” in Hebrew to wear to class. These simple actions, for me, truly captured the spirit and resolve of the Israeli people; we all came together to support the soldiers and their families, regardless of political beliefs. 

The war began to seem a lot more real after I finished my Ulpan and started my Garin Tzabar program for my service in the IDF. My garin moved to Kibbutz Magen, which is located just 4-5 kilometers away from Gaza. We arrived there during a ceasefire, but soon after moving in, Hamas shot more rockets, and the fighting began again.

Living at Kibbutz Magen made me feel like I was living in some sort of book. Several times, we felt our rooms shake with the impact of Israeli artillery fire in Gaza. Once, looking out at Gaza from the top of one of the kibbutz’s hills, I saw a building in Gaza go up in smoke. A few days later, my friends and I heard a thunderous blast; two rockets fired from Gaza were flying towards Israel. Luckily, the rockets did not hit our kibbutz, but the image of flaming rockets heading towards my country is one I will never forget.

Suffice it to say, my first few months in Israel have been very interesting.

I am currently in middle of the IDF’s drafting process, and so I won’t be starting basic training for another couple of months.

Israel-advocacy is part of what brought me here, and that all started with CAMERA. I had always read about Israel, and maybe posted a few articles on Facebook defending Israel from discursive attack. Going to CAMERA’s annual Student Leadership and Advocacy Training Conference set the stage for my real work on behalf of Israel. It was my first step in the door into Israel advocacy and it provided me with a support system that I could have never imagined.
10604590_845889335474660_5120705536332885998_oThe conference gave me the tools to do some great things, and I am extremely proud of what I was able to accomplish in my last year of college. From guest speakers, to film screenings, to a huge music festival celebrating Zionism, my last year of college was the best in my tenure there. My work gave me a greater appreciation for my country, for the place to and for which I decided to move and serve.

With CAMERA, I met some incredible people, and made connections I believe will last me a life time.The music festival I organized, Declare your Freedom, only came to fruition because of the CAMERA conference. Had I not met the original organizers of the festival in New Orleans, Chloe Valdary and Maor Shapira, at the conference, I would have never began my friendship with them or begun collaborating with them to bring the the DYF festival to UCF.

I’ve learned that there are many ways to defend Israel. Coming here and serving in the IDF is one of them, but defending this country from defamation and delegitimization from the outside world is just as important. Showing the world the beauty of Israel is something we should all strive to do, and is a crucial part of sustaining the life of this nation– the Jewish nation, our nation.

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