‘When we landed, I saw people staring at their phones. Some were crying.’

Nov 17, 2023 | Article, Newsletter

‘When we landed, I saw people staring at their phones. Some were crying.’

Nov 17, 2023

Shimrit and her husband Sharon live in Ft. Collins with their three children, six-year-old Shai, two-year-old Shahaf, and six-month-old Shylee. Shimrit jokes they are the “Sh” family. Shimrit and her husband are Israeli citizens who were recruited to work in the United States in 2015. They traveled to Israel at the beginning of September to spend the high holidays with family and to introduce their Israeli relatives to baby Shylee.

The family hugged and kissed their Israeli relatives goodbye and boarded the plane to return home the evening of October 6, along with Sharon’s parents who were coming to the U.S. to spend more time with their grandchildren. They had no idea as they flew across the Atlantic Ocean that their flight was the last plane allowed to leave Tel Aviv. In her own words, Shimrit recounts what happened when they arrived in Newark and in the weeks that followed.

No one knew what was happening when we got on the plane in Israel. But when we landed, I saw people staring at their phones. Some were crying.

When we got to the immigration officer, she said “I’m glad to see you arrived on time from Israel. If that is not the grace of God, I don’t know what is.”

You aren’t supposed to use your phone in the immigration section, but she was very kind. She said, “I’ll allow you to look at your phone. It’s a nightmare.”

That’s when I saw that there were thousands of rockets being fired. By the time we landed in Colorado, I knew the names of acquaintances who had been kidnapped or killed.

My first reaction was to feel guilty that we had been able to spend an amazing month with my family, and now we could just live normally with the children back to school and me at work. For my family in Israel, there is no work, no school.

All my siblings have been called up to serve. My two sisters are in different branches of the military and my brother is a medical first responder.

In the beginning, we thought this would be one more of the many attacks we have endured in the past years. I thought it would be just another Middle East conflict, highlighted for a few days and then ending.

Then reality started to unfold, and it was horrendous. I don’t think people really understand the caliber of this event. I am trying to enjoy my own children these days at the same time thinking about what the hostages are going through, I cannot wrap my emotions around that. There is a 10-month-old baby held hostage. It has been more than a month so more than one-tenth of his life, he has been in Gaza.

One of my best friends lives in Oregon. She called to tell me that her two nieces were kidnapped, ages 8 and 15. Hamas posted pictures of them wearing Muslim clothing. A week later, the remains of their father were identified. A day later, the remains of their stepmother were identified. The body of their younger brother was also found.

My sister’s friend was missing for the first days and weeks. We thought she had been kidnapped. Finally, we learned she had been killed. They had to identify her from her teeth. She was young, beautiful, and spirited so it is heartbreaking.

I am not getting information from the news. I am being fed information by family and friends. They know things the media does not know. You think you have seen the worst of it, and then every day evil reinvents itself.

A few months ago, I was invited to dinner in the U.S., and they also invited another Israeli friend I had never met. We discovered that we are related! My mother’s cousin is his aunt. That is why everything happening in Israel feels so close to home. It is why we care so much about our people because we are all like family.

Home away from home

The first few days we got home it was hard to function properly. My six-year-old was picking up our emotions. He doesn’t have the emotional capacity to deal with this. No one does really. We did not want him to see us sitting in silence, depressed, in despair, so we had him stay with a good friend. He gets frightened when they do fire drills at school, so I was happy I could keep him in a bubble. I cannot imagine what it must be like to run to bomb shelters 10 times a day and hear rockets and explosions.

Here I go to Costco and people make small talk which is normally something I can do very naturally. But after Oct. 7, I found it to be very difficult. People would say to me, “You got away in time,” and I feel terrible about this remark. People around me are smiling, and I feel so much despair. Here you continue to live life while some people in Israel have had their entire lives ruined.

I do not like to be alone with my thoughts, so I find myself doing more cuddling of my baby. She is so innocent, so pure, so she is an angel who helps me. But I feel guilty because I cannot play or laugh with her knowing what people are going through. It feels wrong.

Returning to Israel

Sharon’s parents were supposed to stay a few weeks until I went back to work, but their flight home has been postponed three times. The airline uses the word “suspended.” Every time we get close to the date of departure, they suspend it again for another week. The airline is just not flying to Israel during this conflict.

My in-laws are concerned about their grandchildren who are in Israel and missing their presence. They are wondering how long this will go on. And they are worried about the safety of our little country.

They have been a comfort to my children who will be heartbroken to see them leave. But if flights started again, that would be one sign that things are going back to normal so it will be a blessing if they can return home. It symbolizes that the fate of Israel is looking better.

One of my first thoughts after this happened was, “How do I get my family to the U.S.?” I was advocating for them to come here. But their level of loyalty and commitment to Israel and its recovery is phenomenal. I asked my sister to send my nieces, but she said they want to stay together. I told my parents, “You are sitting ducks, you could come here, be with the baby,” but they will not leave. My mother is organizing positive thinking workshops, and she is helping with the harvest season, replacing all the workers who were killed, kidnapped, or called to duty.

They just don’t want to leave. They want to put Israel back on its feet. And I understand that. Our bodies may have departed Israel on that plane, but our hearts are still there.