For many Jewish Baltimoreans, who have personal ties to Israel, the ongoing war there feels quite close.
But for those Baltimoreans who made aliyah or who were vacationing in the country when Hamas first invaded, the war is something they’ve been living through.
Shai Albrecht, who lives in Myersville, had come to Israel with her family for Sukkot. It was the first time she had ever brought her children to Israel.
The Hamas attack started during the end of her trip.
“My son ran into the room and said, ‘There is a fire alarm going off,’” Albrecht said. “My husband and I knew immediately that it wasn’t a fire alarm. We were in shock and horror. We grabbed our children and ran into the stairwell of the building and huddled closely as a family.”
Albrecht has a cousin who lives in Be’er Sheva, and she said that he is currently hard at work helping people in the area who were hit by the attacks.
Albrecht said she saw things in Israel that will stay with her forever.
“I saw a 4-year-old boy with an army cap on and a fake gun in his back pocket. He was walking around and seeing all the armed soldiers around him, and he felt the need to be ready as well,” she said as an example. “Those sights and feelings don’t go away but we will work to process all of our feelings as a family and come out stronger for it.”
Like many people in Israel, Albrecht and her family have not been able to leave the country. They have managed to secure a flight back to the U.S. that leaves next week, but whether it will even take off is uncertain.
For those who want to help Americans currently stuck in Israel, Albrecht suggests helping them pay for their plane tickets home. The attacks have driven up the cost of tickets, making them unaffordable to many.
“Airlines are taking advantage of the situation,” she said. “I’ve seen tickets for $3,000 in economy or charter flights.”
Rachel Levitan made aliyah to Israel from the Baltimore area in August. She said that she had only recently settled down after her move before the attacks hit.
“Last Saturday, my husband wasn’t feeling well, so he decided not to go to synagogue,” said Levitan, a former graphic designer for Mid-Atlantic Media, which owns the JT. “When I was getting ready to go, I heard a sonic boom sound from the Iron Dome. Then I heard sirens start going off and saw people running out of nearby synagogues.”
While Levitan and her husband only arrived in Israel a few months ago, she said that the pain and heartbreak her local community in Central Israel has gone through is palpable. But there are also people stepping up to do good for others during these difficult times.
“People are picking up the slack,” she said. “They’re bringing pillows for soldiers, cooking food for them and fundraising for bulletproof vests. … People are really just working to the bone.”
Levitan recommends that those who want to help Israel donate directly to Israeli relief organizations, as it may take a while for donations from American or international charities to find their way to Israel. She suggests Magen David Adom in Israel, Hadassah Hospitals, United Hatzalah of Israel and Leket Israel as good places to start.
Still others worry for their relatives in Israel, even though they themselves are safe at home.
Deborah S. Adler is the founder of PARCHLI — Parents of Children Living in Israel, a support group for parents in the Baltimore and D.C. areas. Adler herself has two children who live in Israel, and she said that the situation has been very worrying for members of PARCHLI.
But members of the group have been supporting one another, and that support is a light in the darkness.
“We’re just trying to support each other, be kind to each other and calm each other down,” Adler said. “One woman who barely posted in our WhatsApp group spoke up to tell us about her son’s IDF unit finding 30 people who were missing, because they were hiding. It’s been a relief to have a place to share good news amidst all this horrible news we’ve been hearing.”
Adler noted that just reaching out to someone with relatives in Israel to check up on them and make sure that they’re all right can be meaningful.
“I’ve had people, neighbors, people who aren’t even Jewish come up to me and ask if I was OK,” she said. “It really means a lot to me to hear that.”