About a month ago today, I was sitting in the lobby of a Tel-Aviv hotel with the rest of my Birthright group on the last night of our trip reminiscing over the past ten days that we spent together in Israel. Though in my head, I was sad to see the newfound friendships move back to America, my nostalgia quickly shifted back to excitement when I remembered that I still had two months left in Israel.
At the end of our final session, I checked my phone. I had missed tens of texts and messages and calls.
“What happened?” I thought.
As I scrolled through the messages, I look for the news notifications interwoven with the frantic and worried messages from loved ones, and then we all noticed the headlines:
“Initial report: Shooting at central Tel Aviv's Sarona complex.”
“Four dead in Tel Aviv market shooting.”
“Mass Shooting In Tel Aviv Leaves 4 Dead, Several Wounded.”
A room that just two minutes prior hosted warm memories now fostered a cold uneasiness. My first response was to call my parents and message loved ones to inform them that I was safe.
Sarona Market is an innovative, contemporary urban market in the heart of Tel Aviv, where both tourists and locals eat lunch, shop for fresh fruits, and walk along the aisles of foods that draw upon inspiration from leading markets worldwide.
It is located at 3 Magen Kalman. The night before, around the hour of the shooting, I was enjoying my last Birthright night just an eight-minute walk from the scene.
I mentioned this to my parents on the phone, and they, both having visited Israel multiple times, immediately asked if I wanted to come home. If they had asked me this question five minutes beforehand, my immediate response to this offer would have been to decline.
But, here I was, sitting in a popular tourist hotel just outside Tel Aviv, knowing that I would be moving into the heart of Tel Aviv with a couple of friends the next day, realizing that I would be taking the bus to my internship every morning, anticipating going out to crowded clubs in north Tel Aviv, and acknowledging that I would be attending touristy hot spots around the area—a dense cloud of confusion and anxiety suddenly hovered over my head.
I responded, “I really don’t know. I guess I’ll see how I’m feeling tomorrow morning when everyone heads to the airport, and I’ll let you know. Love you.”
Though I had obviously heard about terrorist attacks in Israel throughout my life, never have I been so close to one. As a Jew in the US, I discuss these events as circumstances that are far away from home but close to my heart. I always message my friends living in Israel if they are okay or if they need anything. Never have I been on the receiving end of those messages, and the feeling, though nice to know that I have loved ones who care for me and my safety, is still not one of comfort.
After everyone had left to the airport the next morning, I went back to my room. I couldn’t sleep the night before, and I couldn’t get myself to fall asleep now either. An International Studies major and Communications minor, my natural inclination was to turn on the news to maybe calm my apprehension. Most interesting to me was the way in which the international media and leaders addressed the event, most of whom hesitated to label this event as a ‘terrorist attack’.
This shocking response from the world had me consider the way in which Israel is depicted in the media.
I attended Jewish day school my entire life, I was raised in a Mexican-Jewish home where supporting Israel was never a question, I have been to Israel now three times, and I spent summers at Jewish sleep-away camp alongside Israeli counselors who, as I grew up, taught me a lot about not just Israel’s politics and conflicts, but also about its culture and beauty.
Though an International Studies major with a focus on human rights and security and conflict resolution, if there is anything I have learned about Israel in my little time here is that, as the Israelis taught me, there is so much more to this country than constant conflicts, messy politics, and security issues, yet the international media still manages to focus the majority, if not all, of the discussion regarding Israel on these issues.
Seeing the way in which the media addressed the shooting at Sarona exposed this reality to me in a very concrete way.
Israel has its flaws, just like any other country. There is no doubt that individuals can have a discussion on the mistakes that Israel has made throughout its history, but in that discussion, many forget that no one country is perfect.
In the midst of all of these conflict stories, however, where are the stories about the innovative minds behind apps like Waze and companies like Wix, about the beautiful beaches of Bat Yam, about the rich history in Jerusalem’s ancient walls, about the unique culture of the Bedouins in the Negev, about the meeting of religious heads this last month in the North, about the pride festivals in Tel Aviv, about the markets of Yafo?
Furthermore, putting politics aside, something I have learned from my time here is that Israel is one of those countries that, for such a small piece of land, has a lot on its plate. But not everything on that plate is bitter. Like any nourishing meal, there are the dreaded vegetables, but there is also the highly anticipated warm bread and the hearty meat. In order to enjoy the meal, you put these flavors together. You try to mix them in a way that elevates the taste.
Israel’s plate has a lot of vegetables, but it also has an incredible amount of bread and meat. While the vegetables need to be eaten and addressed, we shouldn’t forget the bread and the meat, because in the end, those elements of the meal are what fills us and what we remember.
It’s been a month since the shooting at Sarona, and I walk by Sarona everyday—if you ask me, the shooting is the last thing that comes to mind.