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“It sounds like thunder”: Conifer junior is caught in the crossfire of Israel-Hamas conflict

Savanna Smith
Flyers found on a wall in Downtown Boston which advertise the kidnapping of 200 Israelis from their homes in Israel by Hamas. Each flyer is of a unique person and includes their name photo and age. “We just want to go on with our lives, we don’t want to get murdered…everyone’s sick of it. It just takes people to be able to compromise and we will have peace,” senior Adam Tal said.

The Israeli-Hamas conflict, a war happening more than 6,000 miles away, has reached out across those many miles and touched two Jewish Conifer students.

Senior Adam Tal and junior Jack Tal are of Israeli descent, as their father is from Israel and their mother is Jewish. They have visited Israel nine times, and have numerous family members currently living in Israel, including a cousin in the Israeli Defense Force.  

Both brothers participated in a student exchange program for one semester. The program was focused on introducing international Jewish students to Israeli culture and customs, as well as bringing them closer to their religious beliefs and holy land. Adam went in 2021 and Jack went this year. However, Jack’s journey was cut short halfway through due to a breakout in hostilities between the Israeli state and Hamas, a political and military group governing the Gaza Strip.

On October 7, Hamas attacked Israel. Jack was in Jerusalem at the time.  

“I was woken up by sirens. I thought it was an ambulance at first. It was really loud. One of my counselors started banging on the door yelling to get up, and that’s when we realized, ‘Oh shit, it’s an airstrike,’” Jack said. 

In his pajamas, with no shoes covering his feet, he ran out the door, down five stories to the bomb shelter in the basement. The shelter was small and filthy, and Jack was forced to spend hours beneath the ground waiting for the attack to come to an end. 

“Many of the people around me were crying, they were definitely terrified. We did our best to comfort them,” Jack said.

Once the program decided that it was no longer safe for the students to continue their studies in Israel they found a charter flight for them out of the country. On the way over to the airport they were instructed in what to do if an airstrike were to occur while they were on the road; they would have to leave all of their belongings, get under the truck, and cover their heads. “The fact that I had to say goodbye to them [classmates] so quickly, so out of pocket and because of a terrorist attack on my country is insane to me,” junior Jack Tal said. Photo provided by Jack Tal
October 7 happens to be a Jewish holiday, as it is the time of year that they finish reading the Torah. Jack had planned on spending the day celebrating his culture, with a synagogue in the morning in which people were able to show their undying devotion to Hashem. Though limited to the confinement of a bomb shelter, Jack and the other students didn’t want to ignore the holiday that was such an important part of their faith.

“There was an orthodox family there so we asked if we could borrow their Torah. Then we asked if we could just dance around in the sukkah. Right after we ended singing there was another airstrike. It was really just kind of beautiful because just for that moment we could celebrate our holiday.”

Despite a moment of light on a dark day, Jack later learned that his cousin’s adoptive parents had been killed by Hamas during the airstrike attacks in Southern Israel. Their bodies were left dismantled in the streets. 

That evening Jack and his fellow students left Jerusalem on grounds of safety. While they were waiting to hear about whether they would be evacuated those involved in the exchange program came together to make care bags, which included essentials and comfort items for Israeli soldiers: in total they made over 1,500 bags. The school where Jack was studying also opened up their grounds as a shelter and home for displaced people and their families.

“All the time we were there following October 7 you could constantly hear the Iron Dome and rockets,” Jack said. “It sounds like thunder and it’s constant, while you’re at school, while you’re sleeping.”

A few days later, they were evacuated from their campus by a charter plane back into the States, because there were no commercial flights out of the country. Because the flight was a charter plane each student was limited to a single suitcase, and many were forced to leave things behind.

Even though Jack has been safely evacuated from Israel clothing was not the only thing they left behind. A cousin in the IDF remained in Israel, fighting against the Hamas invasion.

“I was calling him and it was ringing for a good two minutes. The only reason I didn’t think he was dead was because he declined the call,” Adam said. “That is a pain no one should have to go through.”

Junior Jack Tal and his fellow students prepare care packages for Israeli soldiers from the safety of their campus. The packages included clothes, food, and other necessary items to help the Israeli military with their fight. “We packed around 1500 bags for soldiers,” Jack said. Photo provided by Jack Tal

Since the Hamas attacks anti-semitic and Islamophobic hate has risen in every state across the U.S., including Colorado. To address this rise in tensions Adam plans to give a talk to the student body of Conifer High School, detailing his experience as a Jewish-American, his views on the conflict, and the importance of activism and supporting the Israeli people.

However, currently, Adam has no set date or platform for his speech and is still in the process of writing and planning out what he will say. 

“If I make one person actively support Israel it will be worth it,” Adam said.

Since returning Jack has stayed in contact with some of the friends he made during his time in Israel. This week he will be attending a summit, The Global Conference for Israel, where Jack will reunite with some of his friends from his exchange, including a classmate from Philadelphia.

“They are your family. And the fact that I had to say goodbye to them so quickly, so out of pocket and because of a terrorist attack on my country is insane to me.”

Jack’s time in Israel was spent learning about his history, his culture, and growing closer to his people and his faith. Despite the trauma of the end of his experience, the attacks and the evacuation brought Jack even closer to Israel and its people. 

“I was generally an atheist growing up. But when I was in Israel, I had experiences where I felt like God was communicating with me. I know that Hashem will have a plan and a way for us to survive everything. I know that things are going to turn out okay.”

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