Tuli, my driver, greeted me with his handwritten sign and immediately launched into what I can only assume is his typical comedy routine. We walked to the van and he asked me if I spoke Hebrew. “I used to, but it’s been quite a long time,” I told him. “But this year, I am committed to learning again.” We exchanged elementary Hebrew phrases, he complimented my accent, and then I asked him how it had been all day. “More of the same,” he said, “but at least there’s less traffic in Tel Aviv!”
As we sped down the freeway, I sat terrified in the seat behind him, less afraid of missiles and sirens than his typically Israeli “driving while multitasking!” To my relief, he decided to put on some music, rather than watching the TV, and immediately started singing along to Foreigner’s Urgent. At this point there was nothing to do but smile nostalgically and join him. Classic 80's rock reminds me of high school, and my first trip to Israel with NFTY. I spent six weeks exploring this glorious country. It was the beginning of a long and complicated love affair.
When we arrived in the business district, I asked Tuli, “So what do we do if the sirens go off while we’re driving?” He explained that it had happened last night on his way to the airport with two couples. Everyone simply pulls over, their cars are left in the middle of the street and they walk in the nearest building’s shelter. Every shelter stays open now.
And then I heard it: a boom, followed by a second boom, and then a siren. Tuli pulled over, and we walked up to the closest building and into the shelter with several other Israelis. Everyone was on his or her cell phone, watching closely and waiting for the all-clear. We were all very calm, even joking and exchanging tips on the best incoming missile alert apps (I have "red alert" on my phone). In less than five minutes, we were back in the van. “How’d I do?’ I asked. “You’re a natural,” Tuli smiled.
When we arrived at my hotel, which sits directly on the Mediterranean Sea, I noticed all of the people in the water and playing Kadima on the beach. The Iron Dome intercepts, and we go back to singing Feels Like the First Time. I got out of the car and thanked Tuli. He went to shake my hand, and I said, “I think we need to hug this one out.” As he left, Tuli gave me a big grin and said, “Enjoy!”
I plan to take his advice.
Jill Max is a Wexner Heritage alumna (Baltimore 10). Professionally, she is the Director of the Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University. In her lay capacity, Jill is currently chairing the Israel Engagement Center Committee of The Associated, Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, and serves on its Board of Directors. Jill lives in Baltimore with her husband, Aaron and two children, Jake and Samantha, and can be reached at email@example.com.