I can only describe the setting in which we ate breakfast on Friday as idyllic. We sat overlooking the calm blue Mediterranean, the warm November sun caressing our bare arms, devouring top-notch omelettes, pastries and other delights. Midway through our meal, however, the siren sounded, followed by a mighty “boom,” blowing visions of the ideal far away. I felt like an extra on a Hollywood set where the occurrence of “something bad” is emphasized through dramatic juxtapositioning with something overly lovely.

The shock of hearing the siren was lessened only by having already heard it the previous evening; an insistent wailing sound which burst our Tel Aviv bubble. Since then we have continued to run for shelter at its command at least once a day.

Having spent most of my life in London, this is a rather new experience.

In addition to first-time rocket fleeing, I am also newly privy to the pronounced feeling of national solidarity which binds Israelis together in times of war.

We are getting to know our neighbors better through shared time in the basement shelter, and sympathetic enquiries in the elevator: “Where were you when the siren sounded yesterday?” and “how are you coping with the baby and the rockets?” When a siren sounds and we’re out and about, we run into the shelter of the nearest building and are unfailingly welcomed by its residents. Thus one finds oneself sharing moments of heightened excitement with a motley crew of strangers cum compatriots.

Perhaps most worryingly, we all have family and friends who have been called up. We truly feel each other’s pain at the absence of a loved one, and apprehension about what the coming days and weeks will bring. There is a tangible sense of unity as everyone chips in to help the families of those called up.

In broader terms, we are aware that despite our manifold internal divisions, enemy fire seeks us Israelis indiscriminately. As a nation, we have mourned the slaughter of a Chabad family in Kiryat Malachi, and watched in disbelief as rocket fire drove panicked, bikini-clad Tel Avivians from the beach.

And yet one can’t help but feel that this born-again feeling of brotherhood is frustratingly impermanent; we know it will dissipate once the external threat is quelled. Time and time again, we Israelis, so bound together and internally solid when facing an external enemy, have relaxed into the humdrum of warring, mud-slinging factions and petty politics in times of “peace.”

How then can we somehow capture, elongate and preserve our current feeling of unity, of mutual responsibility, our awareness of the bigger picture? How can we take the appalling experience of running from rockets, and draw an enduring, positive note? Now is the time, when we’re confined to our shelters, or when we’re out walking or driving, conscious that we’re in a big open space, to focus on this question, both as individuals and as members disparate communities.

Now is the time for us to invest in projects of common concern that we can integrate into our regular routines. And we should do so with projects which shatter the stereotypes which plague our culture.

Volunteer at an institution that would not normally expect to see someone like you. Reach out to someone to whom you would not have normally. And don’t stop doing it once the skies clear.

If you’re stuck for inspiration then here’s one way to get involved. This Friday, Gesher, an organization which closes the gap between secular and religious Jews in Israel and promotes our shared heritage as the force which can hold us together, is encouraging Israelis in less impacted areas to collect and distribute food and comfort gifts to those in the South.

Join their convoy of volunteers from across the Jewish spectrum traveling together to support suffering businesses and deliver supplies to people for Shabbat.

To many Israelis, the crisis with the Palestinians feels interminable, and too deep and complex to know how to tackle on a personal level. Yet our internal crisis of division is closer at hand, and pulls dangerously at Israel’s seams. If we can sublimate our fears and anxieties around an external enemy into determined action against our long-term domestic enemies – societal division, intolerance for the other, and pettiness – then we will have done good. We will have created some tikkun to our shattered vision of the ideal, blown so far away.

For more information on how you can help with the convoy, visit
www.gesher.co.il/english or email alishah@gesher.co.il The writer is a member of the Israeli venture capital community and a supporter of Gesher.

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