It had been years since I awoke to the wail of an air-raid siren. A born-and-bred Israeli who has lived in America since 2007, I once almost thought of myself as a world citizen—a rootless cosmopolitan, some might say. I have an American education and job, American friends, and an American accent I picked up from watching The Simpsons. But as it turns out, my roots are deeper than I ever anticipated.
I was at my parents’ Tel Aviv home on October 7. We quickly realized that the attack wasn’t what we called a “regular war.” When the initial death toll passed 100, a number none of us was familiar with, we briefly froze. Then we started moving again. What happened in the days and weeks that followed was both unreal and utterly familiar—the unthinkable happened; yet somehow, we all knew exactly what to do.
Through October, I and other Israelis mapped out bomb shelters on the way to the supermarket. We tried to calculate when to shower to avoid being attacked (after 10:05 pm, Tel Aviv time). We walked down the streets and overheard nothing but conversations about the “situation,” whether it was a group of teenagers parsing the military response or people longing for a lost friend or family member. Everyone knew someone who was lost—missing, murdered, or taken. We tried to learn the names and faces of the hostages and murdered, only to realize that there were too many.
We gave every spare moment to our people, whether it was volunteering to drive food and supplies to bases, emptying the drugstore of toothpaste to send to the front, or hosting a displaced family for dinner. Every Israeli phone became a mini war room, with dozens of WhatsApp groups with names like “brothers for the farmers” or “volunteers to edit videos.”
Our camera rolls, once filled with family and vacation shots, filled up with memorials and old photos of the now-dead. Our restaurants became mass-production kitchens for soldiers and displaced people; we didn’t complain when, instead of a table, they handed us knives and cucumbers and put us to work. We walked down the street and met fathers wearing shirts bearing images of their kidnapped children. We cried for people we had never met, wondered idly which photo of our families we might use on a “kidnapped” poster, and who would show up to pay their respects.
This has been Israel for the last three months, and this is how it will be for the foreseeable future. The nation had been at loggerheads over judicial reform, right up until the night of October 6. Unity didn’t come because we healed our internal rifts but because we decided to set them aside temporarily, for better days.
As I settle back into my New York City life, I am reminded more than ever that I’ll always be an Israeli. I am reminded by those who tell my people to leave the land between the river and the sea, and by those who tell me to go back there. I am reminded by the physical pain that I feel at the sight of every torn hostage poster on my block. I am reminded not so much by the rabid hatred of my country but by the silence—from those who seem to have an opinion about everything but find the slaughter of 1,200 men, women, and children too controversial to condemn.
I also remember that I am American, and proudly so. I’m reminded by my American friends who are horrified by 10/7, not because they are empathetic to me but because they are human. I’m reminded by those who rise up against lies on college campuses and social media because they know that incitement starts with the Jews, but it never ends with them. In their essence, Israel and America represent ideas in a way that most nations do not—they are intellectual propositions that must be defended with words and iron. I take my strength from those who share our pain because they know what we know: that terrorists hate nothing more than freedom, liberalism, and humanity—American, and Israeli, values.