Kate Simmons had 30 seconds to get to shelter after the siren went off. Between the police and the journalists, there were too many people to fit into one. They had no choice but to duck down on the ground and feel the earth shake as the Iron Dome absorbed the rocket.
“I almost kissed the ground at JFK when I finally got home,” Simmons said. “All the flights got cancelled and we were stuck in the war zone for a few days. Everybody was trying to get out all at the same time.”
Simmons is a senior in journalism and the content managing editor at the Collegian. She studied abroad in Jerusalem over the summer with ieiMedia.
“My dad founded a non-profit when I was nine called the Abrahamic Initiative to open up a dialogue between Jews, Christians and Muslims,” Simmons said.
From a young age, Simmons has volunteered for such causes, including the Building Bridges Camp in Colorado which brought together Israeli, Palestinian and American children. In 2009, she travelled to Israel, and wanted to go back this year as a journalist.
“We were there for one week, Monday through Sunday, until the bodies of three kidnapped Israeli boys were found,” Simmons said. “That’s when the riots broke out.”
Simmons’s group was taking the train across the city for dinner. According to her, the streets were deserted until they turned the corner and saw rioters screaming “death to Arabs” in Hebrew and police on horseback.
“Some of them got on the train,” Simmons said. “That was the only time that night I felt afraid. We had just been having a conversation about Lara Logan beforehand.”
Logan is a South African journalist who was sexually assaulted during her coverage of the Egyptian riots.
Simmons said the study abroad program made sure to give students the option to stay at their Hebrew University dorms if they felt unsafe, where the walls and doors are reinforced with steel and they have 90 seconds to find shelter between the siren’s blare and the rocket’s drop.
According to her, none of these students abstained from any part of the program.
“The first time we heard the sirens and had to take shelter was during Ramadan,” Simmons said. “They fired cannons every night to end the daily fasts. Even though I had heard the cannon before that day, I literally jumped out of my chair when it went off that night.”
Simmons was job-shadowing a reporter and a photographer from the “Jerusalem Post” when she saw the Iron Dome deflect the rockets out of the sky. Patrick Torphy, a journalism sophomore at Emerson College in Boston, was with her that day.
“It was really awesome spending that month with Kate,” Torphy said. “I learned a lot from her.”
The reporter was interviewing a teenage girl whose shelter door had been blown off, according to Torphy. Suddenly, they could hear the hissing of the rockets in the air, followed by the sirens, and then they dropped down in a nearby sandpit, instructed not to do anything, Torphy said.
“This photographer from the Post was literally on her knees taking pictures of everything,” Torphy said. “The locals were lying down on the pavement. It was all over in a minute.”
Simmons said the situation in Israel used to anger her when she was in high school, but now she is more saddened by it than anything. She said she empathizes with people on both sides of the issue.
“Most days I have hope, but it’s hard to be hopeful when another conflict erupts,” Simmons said.
Coping with the war has become a way of life for people in that part of the world,” Simmons said. She said of course it stresses them out, everybody is scared all the time, but they still have to live their lives.
“They wouldn’t be able to get anything done if they lived life in their bunkers,” Simmons said. “No one should have to live that way.”
The experience was different for the study abroad students than it was for the citizens, according to Simmons. Now that she is back in the United States, she is no longer frightened by car doors slamming or cars backfiring.
“There was one day when we were all in Tel Aviv,” Simmons said. “We were all hanging out and having fun at the beachfront. People can still live normally in Israel even when the country is at war, because it can change like that.”
After a day of smoothies and shopping, Simmons said, they stopped by a restaurant and asked for a little bit of everything. Their table was filled with small plates of different food samplings, and there were big windows with a view of the harbor.
“It was nice,” Simmons said. “But then, the windows started to shake and the glasses on our table started to rattle. A rocket was flying overhead.”
Article produced by College Avenue Magazine.