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South Netanya Skyline
Photo by Rhonda Prepes

Photo by Rhonda Prepes

View from the apartment window
Photo by Rhonda Prepes

Tel Aviv from the Jaffa Port
Photo by Rhonda Prepes


Rhonda Prepes From Israel: Things are just a little harder here

by Rhonda J. Prepes, July 14, 2014

I am turning the “Big Five-Oh” later this year and I really wanted to do something special for myself. After months of contemplation, I decide to travel to Israel. I leave Winnipeg on Tuesday, July 8th, 2014. The plane is packed. The Tel Aviv airport is busy with arrivals and departures and the streets, trains and buses are full of people.


When I arrive in Netanya on Wednesday, July 9th, my hostess Rhonda Spivak tells me that Hamas started to send missiles into Israel the day before and she has been up all night listening to bombs exploding and/or rockets being intercepted by the Iron Dome.


I didn’t know that war had broken out the day I left Winnipeg. I don’t watch the news very often, especially when it’s bad news. I don’t know if I would have gone through with my travel plans had I been up to date on the Israel-Arab conflict.


But I am here now and I will stay for the remainder of my vacation, G-d willing. Everyone in Israel says this phrase "G-d willing" especially in times of war. And I am trying to catch on and keep up with a completely different culture and language all while listening for sirens, loud noises, aircraft overhead and bad drivers that might run me down as I try to cross the street.


I go to the store to buy potato chips. Mission aborted. Even with pictures of the flavours on the package, I still cannot figure out what flavours there are. Some things are just a little harder in Israel.


My friends back in Winnipeg are emailing me and complaining about all the mosquitoes in Winnipeg. I say positively, “There are no mosquitos in Israel. At least that’s one thing I don’t have to worry about.”


I was expecting Netanya to be like Winnipeg Beach but it is more like Miami Beach. There is lots to do and see here if you can tolerate the 33 degree heat. I've been sweating in spots that I didn't know could even sweat. And everywhere I go, I ask where the nearest bomb shelter is.


I go into Tel Aviv and ask the bus driver to let me off at the Art Museum. He says, “Yes.” I say, “You won’t forget?” He says, “No.” Twenty five minutes later he yells to me, “Lady, lady, you should have gotten off five stops ago.”


I drive with friends to Nazareth and have a lovely day. We pass beautiful scenery and landscapes along the way and then spend time in the old city market. Nazareth is made up of 75% Muslims and 25% Christians. I feel safe there. I figure Hamas will not hurt its own people and start bombing Nazareth. Later someone explains to me that that is not necessarily true. The market was not that busy but the Arab-Israeli vendors were quiet friendly and hospitable.


On the drive back from Nazareth to Netanya, we see flat-bed trucks carrying Israeli army tanks south down the highway towards the Gaza strip. That doesn’t happen every day in Winnipeg.


Hamas has been targeting mostly Southern Israel for the last few days – Ashdod, Ashkelon, Sderot, Be’er Sheva. There are also those which have landed on or been intercepted over Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but Netanya has remained relatively quiet.


And then it happens. On July 13th, at about four o’clock in the afternoon, the siren sounds in Netanya. Luckily I am with Rhonda Spivak in her apartment and even more fortuitously there is a bomb shelter on her floor right next to her apartment. We stand in there for 10 minutes and then return to the apartment. I look out the window and see people on the beach, people walking by, others riding their bikes and life going on as usual as if the threat of death just moments ago had never even happened. Israelis sure are resilient people.


Good advice during war time: Always be fully dressed. You never know who you might meet in the bomb shelter.


(Editor's note: Israeli radio has been reporting about situations where people are getting to know their neighbors more than planned. Some have been arriving to their shelters wearing only their underwear.)  


I wanted an experience of a lifetime on this 50th birthday trip and I sure am getting one. I hope to make it to 51, "G-d willing".

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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