FLORENCE — An ear-splitting explosion sent Lauren Abroms and her friends seeking a bomb shelter in Tel Aviv one day last week.
The next day, the ground shook under their feet with another Hamas rocket into Jerusalem.
“The only thing you can compare it to is when you hear a big clap of thunder that you don’t expect and it scares you,” said Abroms, 23, of Florence, who arrived home Sunday from a battered Israel.
Following the pleas of her parents, Abroms cut short a five-month, post-graduate internship with Haaretz newspaper’s English language division.
Her father, Marty Abroms, convinced Lauren to come home. “I said when I get two calls from her while she’s in a bomb shelter, it’s probably time for her work-study to end,” he said.
Israel has been returning fire toward the Hamas-occupied Gaza Strip in recent days.
Lauren Abroms said she and her friends had felt safe in Tel Aviv because it wasn’t considered a city where Hamas forces would fire. They were even more shocked by the attack on Jerusalem because it’s considered a sacred city.
“The fact that missiles did get fired at Tel Aviv was kind of a big deal,” she said. “We didn’t hear sirens warning us ahead of time. We didn’t hear anything. I didn’t really think of it being a rocket until they told us.”
Many places in Tel Aviv didn’t have open bomb shelters at the time, so they had to find one, Lauren Abroms said.
“But now they’ve opened them up for the first time since the Gulf War in the 1990s,” she said. “Everyone was saying, ‘Wow, this is actually happening to us this time.’ The fact that the missile had the ability to reach Tel Aviv was troubling.
“The scarier one was Jerusalem, because no one thinks they’ll ever shoot at Jerusalem because it’s a sacred site for everyone.”
She said a Hamas missile landed in an Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem. “Hamas will fire missiles at anything because they don’t have the ability to target. They are shooting at their own people.”
She said she and her friends went to Jerusalem after the Tel Aviv attack, never considering that Hamas fighters would fire on it.
“Bombs haven’t gone off there since the 1970s,” she said. “We were sightseeing and having a good time and the bombs went off. We landed in a bomb shelter and an explosion went off. We felt a shake, and that one was particularly scary because the power went off.
“It’s hard to describe what it’s like in the shelter, with sirens going off. The closest thing to compare it to is when you run to a tornado shelter. The sirens sound the exact same.”
A friend of Abroms’ had left for the market shortly before the attack. “All I could think of was where is she? I can’t begin to explain the relief when I saw her walk through the door.”
Eventually, everyone was cleared to leave the shelter, she said.
“You hear an explosion, sirens go off, and then you go back to what you were doing when it’s over,” she said. “It really is a strange phenomenon. It’s weird how everyone just deals with it. That is their normal.
“Now I know the fear that you feel when this happens. I couldn’t imagine a mother hearing sirens go off and their kid is on a playground or in school and you don’t know where it hit and how they are. I’ve had some friends who teach English at the Gaza Strip and there would be complete days off because they had to spend it in a bomb shelter.”
Three years ago, Lauren Abroms visited the city of Sderot, near the Gaza Strip. The city incurred a rocket attack the day before they arrived, and another the day after they left.
More than 950 rockets have been fired on that city in the last five days, she said.
One Sderot scene that left an impression on her was that of a bomb shelter in the middle of a playground. “They made it not look scary and kids play in it, and then when a bomb goes off, that’s shelter.”
She is worried about her friends, all of whom are members of Israel’s Reserve forces.
“You are required in Israel when you are 18 to go into the Army,” Abroms said. “It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter which gender. Israelis are proud to do that because it’s part of their heritage. If they didn’t do that, there would be no Israel.
“It’s scary to think about it because I don’t know if my friends are going to be called up to fight.”
Abroms said she also is upset with some mainstream media coverage of the conflict that doesn’t share the full picture. The United States has declared support for Israel, with President Obama saying the nation has the right to defend itself against the Hamas bombings.
“The only time it gets the mainstream media attention is when Israel does fire back,” she said. “They’re always portrayed like they’re picking on Gaza, when in reality this is what Israel is dealing with every day. When Israel does operations in Gaza, they do the best job they can not to hurt any innocent people because they can’t control what the Hamas does. Before Israel does any kind of operations, they drop flyers over Gaza saying please be aware this is about to happen; please seek shelter. It’s just a harsh reality of the situation there.”
Despite the ongoing conflict, Abroms said she would like to return to Israel soon.
“I actually didn’t want to leave,” she said. “I left because my parents made me. I understand where they’re coming from, but it’s part of being in Israel. I was supposed to be over there until February, so I’m hoping to maybe to go back and start another internship.
“I’m hoping and praying they’ll settle down over there, for all of my friends who have been called up. There’s no simple solution. Peace is a very complicated thing for Israel. Hopefully in my lifetime there will be peace for the Palestinians and Israelis and everyone out there.”
Bernie Delinski can be reached at 256-740-5739 or bernie.delinski@TimesDaily.com.