MODI’IN-MACCABIM-RE’UT, ISRAEL (WHTM) — Their trip over was normal — better than normal, in fact. The flight arrived early.
The Rubin family — Jackie and Scott and their children Noah, Daniel, and Sammy — “landed Friday morning, took a quick nap, and then we started doing a lot of fun things in Israel,” Jackie Rubin recalled.
That night — the Jewish Holiday of Simchat Torah — was particularly festive.
“We got to dance with the Torah, which was beautiful. And in Israel it’s such a — they know how to party, let’s put it that way,” Jackie Rubin said. The Rubins had flown to Israel for a nephew and cousin’s bar mitzvah.
By Saturday morning, everything had changed, although the extent of the attack by Hamas wasn’t yet clear even within Israel.
“We heard banging at our door,” Jackie Rubin said. “Bang, bang, bang at 7:30 in the morning.”
It was her mother and brother. Israel’s “Iron Dome” had activated. Next came air-raid sirens.
“And once you hear the sirens go off, you have 90 seconds to get into your safe room,” she said.
Still, “if you’re in Israel, to have to go to a safe room is not that uncommon,” Scott Rubin said. Like a tremor in an earthquake-prone region, air-raid sirens in the volatile Middle East don’t necessarily presage The Big One.
Jackie went to services that morning; Scott stayed back with the kids.
“You’re outside, and you hear the prayers being sung, and you’re dancing with the Torah, and then you hear rockets in the background, and it’s really powerful,” Jackie Rubin said. “It was such a juxtaposition of such happiness and such fear.”
But then, less happiness and more fear.
“Halfway through services, they said the mayor wanted people to hurry things up,” she said. “So we decided to go into the safe room and have the services there.”
Even then, though, little indication to Israelis — and even less to the Rubins, with less context and experience — of what was happening at the music festival and in towns, kibbutzes, and army bases near the Gaza Strip. The Rubins’ first clear indication?
“On an airplane, you look to the pilots. You look at the flight attendants to see, ‘Hey, how bad is this turbulence?'” Scott Rubin said. “That’s what I did. I look to people who have experience” like their Israeli relatives.
Once those people indicated this attack was The Big One, the Rubins knew too.
That day, “we saw a soldier hugging his parents goodbye. So these people are being called up right away,” Jackie Rubin said. “My nephew was actually called up on Sunday… Just seeing them give that embrace and say goodbye was extremely heart-wrenching.”
Most Israelis are automatically drafted into the military when they turn 18 and remain in the reserves for much of their adult lives.
The bar mitzvah will still happen, as planned, this coming Saturday, but almost everything about it will change. Instead of a big celebration in Jerusalem, close family will gather; no one’s in the mood to celebrate, and in any case, large gatherings are prohibited for now.
“You’re looking at the venue now,” Scott Rubin said from the family apartment where the Rubins spoke Wednesday.
The Rubins — who are members of Chisuk Emuna Congregation in Harrisburg and send their children to The Silver Academy, the local Jewish day school — said comparisons between the Hamas attack and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in America are apt.
That goes for the attack itself, they said, plus “you knew as soon as 9/11 happened, things were going to drastically change” in America, Scott Rubin said. “And you kind of get that sense here that things are going to be very different moving forward.”
But there’s another more hopeful comparison, they said.
“We’ve all heard stories of the firefighters and police officers of 9/11 who risked their lives to save the lives of others,” Scott Rubin said. “That’s happening constantly around here.”
The Rubins tried to donate blood.
“They turned us away,” Jackie Rubin said. “There were too many people. That was amazing, so many people who wanted to help out everywhere.”
The Rubins — all five of them — have volunteered in other ways, such as packing supplies for the war effort.
“It’s awe-inspiring to be a part of something that has happened so fast, so quickly — and just innately. It was like a it was like a reflex, almost,” Scott Rubin said. “Same with 9/11. You felt a part of something, and your identity is really heightened in these scenarios.”
“So yeah,” Jackie Rubin said. “I’ve never felt more connected to Israel than I have during this trip.”