A First Hand Account of Life in Israel

December 28, 2023
By Sarah Bernstein
Category: Editorial

Dear Congregation Beth El Family,

I am writing to you from my apartment in Jerusalem. For those of you less familiar with my journey these past few months here is a brief recap. I have been studying in Israel at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies through a partnership with JTS (Jewish Theological Seminary) pursuing my Master’s in Jewish Education since July 30th. For the Sukkot break, my mom and I planned a trip to meet in Budapest. We had an amazing time. I was supposed to fly back to Israel on October 8th but due to the onset of the war that did not happen. Instead, we flew to Poland to stay with family-friends to figure out the next steps as I continued studying through Zoom class. With a heavy heart, I then decided to return to the US with my mom. However, I knew I needed to be in Israel. So months later, I finally flew back to Israel on Wednesday, December 13th, and have been here since. Due to the war, I will return to the US at the end of the week to continue my studies full-time at JTS next semester.

I am so thankful that I am here. When I landed in Ben Gurion airport I was flooded with emotions. I was filled with gratitude to be able to be in Israel but was also filled with sadness as I walked by all of the hostage posters heading to the customs line. I was also filled with shock by how empty the airport was. When I arrived in Jerusalem I was not surprised by the normalcy as it was exactly as all my friends had described it. When I went to the bakery that Friday to pick up dessert for Shabbat dinner, it was as crowded as I remembered it. People were walking the streets and the roads were filled with cars and buses. This was the Jerusalem that I remember leaving, only with many more Israeli flags hanging proudly and posters and signs of those who were kidnapped.

That Friday night I went to services at Kehillat Mayanot, only an 8-minute walk from my apartment. As we were davening Kabbalat Shabbat someone ran in yelling “siren” in Hebrew because we did not hear it. We went downstairs to the bomb shelter and continued to daven Kabbalat Shabbat, only this time I felt more kavanah (intention) in the room. At no point was I scared. I felt grateful to be there at that moment, to see for myself what was happening, and proud that we did not stop our services because of the siren. We won’t let them win. There has not been a siren in Jerusalem since that time.

During these past two weeks, I have visited Ben Yehuda Street and the shuk a few times. I was initially nervous to go, but when I got there it felt the same, only with fewer tourists. There were still many people on the street and in the shuk. Everything was open, I only noticed 1 store on Ben Yehuda was closed. I was happy to see that life is still going on as best it can.

So if you ask me what life is like in Jerusalem 3 months after the war began, I would say it is as normal as it can be during this time. People are still talking, still worrying, still praying, and still mourning their loved ones but they still have fight in them. They will persevere and fight to protect our Jewish homeland until their very last breath.


Sarah Bernstein

Sarah Bernstein at the JLM sign