Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be political, and neither do I wish to discuss the political situation. Rather, it is meant to illustrate my personal experience in a national time of danger.
The first time I heard it, I wasn’t sure what it was. The siren echoed throughout all of Jerusalem, but as I stood on the train with my friend, casually chatting about the upcoming week, I assumed it was coming just from our train car—maybe it was a fire, maybe a bomb, it could be anything here in Israel.
Immediately, the train stopped and everyone ran to take shelter in nearby buildings. Still unsure of what was happening (unlike most of the country I had never experienced a war before), my friend and I decided to run the 4 blocks back to our apartment where I knew the participants on the program I was leading must have been as shocked and confused as I was.
When I finally made it inside our building, I heard people talking from what I thought was just a basement, but came to understand was the communal bomb shelter (almost every building has one). After the “all clear” sound came, I finally understood: we were at war, and the siren was an air raid siren. Later, I found out that the rocket actually fell very close to where I lived.
When we all finally gathered in our living room, I quickly realized that although I, like the participants on the program I was leading (a 4-month study/internship program in Jerusalem), was from a quiet and safe place in the USA and had never experienced such direct violence before, I was being looked at to lead.
Immediately the questions come flooding in: “What do we do? Should we go home (in tears)?” And then, phone calls from parents: “Should we bring our daughter back? How can we be sure she will be safe?”
“Don’t worry”, I said with an assuring smile, “we’re perfectly safe where we are.” I followed the news, I organized activities for the girls that would be re-assuring, and I led a prayer session. I learned to be a pillar for those girls, and in turn, they helped ignite within me an inner strength I did not know I possessed.
That was the first time I was really called upon to lead when I was not ready. And I did become more of a leader that summer, because I had no choice. Many of the girls would ask me, “Aren’t you scared? How do you stay so strong?” “Yes, I am scared. I’m not so strong,” I wanted to tell them, but instead I answered, “I just have to be.”
And now, amidst the current wave of violence and terror here in Jerusalem, I find myself once again being forced to lead, albeit from a different perspective. Since that summer of war, I have gotten married and am thinking much more about what this world will be like for the next generation. Suddenly, life is not just about me and my personal safety, but about this new family my husband and I are creating together, and the kind of future we hope to carve out within this crazy and beautiful land.
When relatives call frantically from abroad, I must assure them, “Don’t worry, we’re safe.” When everyone asks me, “Aren’t you scared?” I respond, “I feel the tension, sometimes a bit of anxiety, but I don’t feel fear.” And I have to say—this has become true.
Of course, we take every precaution we can: avoiding many public areas, carrying pepper spray, staying inside, but at the end of the day, we choose not to let fear rule our lives, and in this way I can really see how much being forced into leadership made me more prepared to lead myself, my family, and, G-d willing, a small part of the new generation which I pray will never be forced to find an inner peace amidst so much terror.
Many people wonder why, despite all the instability, we choose to live in such a place. I don’t really want to go into that now (there is a lot to say), but I will say that living within this reality makes me appreciate life so much more—the simple pleasure of being with family and friends, the sound of the rain, everything. It makes me stronger, and clearer about who I am and what is important to me.
It makes me (or forces me to be) a more confident leader in so many ways.
And I am grateful for that.
Margy Kerr-Jarrett enjoys reading, writing, and spending time in nature with her husband and daughter. Born and raised in Indianapolis, IN, Margy has been living in Jerusalem, Israel for the past three years.