UK olim under fire: after denial, 'it's like the Blitz'

By Nathan Jeffay, July 24, 2014
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Until Saturday night, Sara-Jane Landsman had never locked her front door.

"This is kibbutz, not Willesden where I grew up," she said. "But when I heard about the tunnels from Gaza, I locked the door for the first time in 28 years."

Ms Landsman is used to rockets. Her six children know the emergency routine and "just get on with it". But knowing that terrorists have been found crawling out of tunnels near her kibbutz means that "this time feels different." Until now, she said, she was "in denial" about the tunnels.

Kibbutz Alumim is so close to the border that troops are massed in its fields. Yet she insists on going to work in Beersheva whenever she can. "The philosophy is to try to keep things as normal as possible because if you don't, it's not good for you."

But getting through the day can be tough. Asked what goes through her mind when she wakes up, she replied: "You don't wake up because you don't sleep - there are noises all night."

Her family spent last Shabbat in central Israel, further away from the fighting. But she found it stressful being far from her home and her community.

For some British immigrants, the barrage of rockets has been their welcome to Israel. Since the military operation began, a dozen or more British Jews have made aliyah.

One of them, Felicity Kay, 27, found herself alone on a Tel Aviv street last Friday when the siren sounded. Ms Kay, until recently a teacher at Yavneh College in Borehamwood, said she "just shut down and went in to a kind of survival mode".

She ran into a bomb shelter, the siren stopped, and she heard two loud bangs - apparently the Iron Dome system intercepting rockets - seemingly very close to her.

"I quietly freaked out," she said, admitting that she may have done so more openly if it were not for others in the shelter. "I wouldn't openly panic in that situation because panic spreads."

Ms Kay lives in Jerusalem and says she finds the atmosphere in the city similar to London after the 7/7 bombings, although the sirens conjure up other images. "We grow up learning about the Second World War, the Blitz and the air raid sirens, and it kind of feels like that."

In the past, Tel Avivians felt far removed from tensions over the Gaza border as, for years, Hamas rockets could not reach the city. In the last round of fighting in 2012, Hamas proved its rockets had extended range, but it is only this time that there have been repeated alarms - making it the first time that Mancunian Jonathan Stark has felt tied to his shelter.

He has continued travelling to Herzlia for his morning Hebrew-language classes, but the rest of the time he stays close to home. "Normally, at the weekend, I would go to the beach or a restaurant but I'm not doing that any more. When people are out, they are mentally calculating where the closest shelters are," he said.

Mr Stark, who moved to Tel Aviv five years ago in his late twenties, said he appreciated the protection provided by the Iron Dome, but added: "There's always a fear that one rocket will get through."

    Last updated: 3:32pm, July 24 2014