By: Sara Cohen  | 

It All Seems like a Blur: A Firsthand Account of October 7

There was a boom. 

And then, I went back to sleep.

In my drowsy state, I disregarded the ominous noise, assuming it was fireworks or construction. Some time passed. I don’t know how much. A short time later, probably around 8:30 a.m., I woke up to my mother and cousin telling me that there were rockets sent into Israel and we were under attack. The noise I had previously heard was the Iron Dome intercepting barrages of missiles. I had apparently slept through the sirens. 

I don’t think I completely processed their words. I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn’t. 

We were in Petach Tikvah, not far from Tel Aviv, in an apartment about a five minute walk from my cousins. At about 9:30, I got dressed and walked to my cousins, confused and apprehensive, but not entirely scared. My cousin’s husband, Yossi, greeted us with a broad, sardonic smile, and a “Welcome to Israel.” He advised us not to worry and that HaShem was in charge. My cousins and I hung out as if things were normal with a slight tension lingering in the air. We still did not know any details besides that missiles were fired from Gaza. 

Then we heard voices from the street. It was a car with a man on a loudspeaker from the town announcing to everyone that for the first time in the history of the country, Israel was in a state of emergency. 

Then, the phone rang. 

My cousin, Noami, who is a Bat Sherut at the ministry of defense, received a call from her boss.  

“Wow.” “Wow” “Wow.” “Wow.” 

Her exact words. 

Although my cousin is prone to exaggeration, my insides twisted. I instantly knew something was terribly wrong: There was no way this was an exaggeration.

Hamas had invaded Israel. 

They took captives.

An IDF base fell into terrorist hands. 

Hundreds of rockets, shot at civilians. 

Noami mentally and physically prepared herself to go to the office in case they called to say she was needed — on Shabbat, on Simchat Torah. We attempted to go on as normal, trying not to let the fear consume us, but I felt physically ill. I had no appetite. We sat down for lunch, and attempted to keep things light-hearted for the most part. We told funny anecdotes and when we laughed, it felt like medicine. It felt like we hadn’t laughed in forever. And for a moment, only a moment, the fear was washed away. Then it returned. We became hyper alert to outside sounds, and any noise made us instantly alert. We proceeded to sing zemirot, as we had many times before, but this time it was different. It was prayer itself. I willed our songs to be lifted up to the heavens itself. 

The afternoon passed quietly for the most part, while a sense of unease hung in the air. Most of the time it felt surreal; like a bad dream, I was going to wake up soon and everything would go back to the way it was  — the way it should have been. 

When Simchat Torah ended, we walked to our cousins to hear havdalah and heard more updates about the situation. Nothing sounded good. I then realized I had forgotten something at the other apartment, so my mom offered to come with me. About three minutes into our walk, we heard an all encompassing noise. “I think that’s a siren!” I exclaimed. My minimal knowledge about this kind of situation came to me: run for shelter in the nearest building and find a stairwell. We looked around and saw that we were surrounded by unfamiliar apartment buildings, but we just ran to the closest one. Unfortunately for us, a security code was required to gain access. As my mom and I stood in front of the random building, staring at the keypad, I thought, “This is not happening. It can’t be happening.” There was another woman who had run to this building for shelter as well and was trying to punch numbers in too, but to no avail. 

“We’re done for,” I thought. 

Every second felt like minutes. Just then, out of the blue, a man wearing tzitzit and yarmulke ran up to us as well, and quickly put the correct code in. He let us, the woman and a secular cab driver who had just pulled up into the building and we dashed towards the stairs. It was from there that we heard the booms. Thank G-d, we had made it just in time. The religious man went to the bottom of the stairwell and stayed in the corner. While the four of us remained on the stairs, I busied myself with saying Tehillim. After a few minutes of silence, the woman and the taxi driver said it was probably okay to go out now. But the man in the kippah had already vanished. Was he Eliyahu HaNavi? Perhaps. 

As I made my way back, keeping a brisk pace, aware that another siren could go off at an moment, the verse from Tehillim 130 flashed in my mind: 

"שִׁ֥יר הַֽמַּֽעֲל֑וֹת מִמַּֽעֲמַקִּ֖ים קְרָאתִ֣יךָ ה'":

“Out of the depths I call You, O Lord.”

I have never felt more connected to that verse than in that moment. 

When we returned to our cousins a few minutes later, my mom received an email that our flight back to the United States, which was scheduled for Monday, had been canceled. In addition, all airlines other than El Al, Turkish Airlines and Emirates Airlines had halted flights from Tel Aviv. The general sense of growing stress presently reached a new sense of alarm as it dawned on us that we might not be able to return when we originally planned. 

However, before we could form a plan B, another siren sounded. This time, at least, it was a quick sprint to the other side of their apartment to the room that doubled as a shelter. Once there, we tried to talk and laugh over the echoes of booms, unsuccessfully attempting to ease the knot that as of late had become embedded in my stomach. 

The following 24 hours passed in a haze. Our cousin drove us back to our Airbnb in Netanya, where, thankfully, no sirens had been sounded. We packed our bags and proceeded to get a restless, short, amount of sleep. The next morning we went to a nearby hotel where we had decided to stay one night until we could figure out what our next steps would be. Throughout the day, I was hyper aware of any slight noise once again, and the smallest thing would make me jump. I saw helicopters circling overhead repeatedly from the hotel window, serving as a constant reminder that all was definitely not well. When I looked out at the picturesque ocean view, it seemed like madness that such a peaceful sight could coexist with the absolute chaos and violence that was occuring in the land. 

Around 9 p.m., we received news from our travel agent about an El Al flight. It would leave at 4 a.m. In order to return back to America though, we would need to travel from Tel Aviv to Prague, then Prague to Frankfurt and finally Frankfurt to the U.S. It would be a total of 31 hours of traveling. We readied ourselves for the long journey ahead, and left for the airport at midnight. The airport was a chaotic scene, lines of people trying to leave, and getting more crowded by the hour. Thankfully, we made our flight.

As I sat on the plane, I should have felt relief for leaving a country at war, but it's not just any country, it's our country, and it's our people under attack. So no, I was not relieved. No matter our differences, religiously, hashkafically, politically or ancestrally, we are one nation, and that is enough.  


Photo Caption: An Iron Dome battery firing in May 2021

Photo Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit