Waking up to terror: How interns in Israel found themselves in a war

No one who came to Israel to do a Masa program could ever have imagined, in their wildest dreams, that they would be living through a state of war of this kind.

 IDF soldiers are seen holding supplies sent by MASA fellows. (photo credit: Uriel Peizer)
IDF soldiers are seen holding supplies sent by MASA fellows.
(photo credit: Uriel Peizer)

On the morning of October 7, I was woken up by the sound of sirens and explosions blasting from outside my window in Tel Aviv.

As I got closer to the window and opened it to see what was happening, I soon realized it was something grave. The second I opened the apartment door, all chaos broke loose.

People were running around all over trying to hide under the stairs, unsure of what to do, unaware of what was going on. Some Israelis yelled in Hebrew that this is like the Yom Kippur War. Many girls in the apartment were crying hysterically and screaming.

I am 24 years old, and I came from the United States to Israel to study. I finished my master’s degree in Holocaust studies at the University of Haifa and decided to extend my time in Israel with a Masa program. The program helps young Jewish professionals find internships in Israeli companies. I chose a journalism internship at The Jerusalem Post, working for over a month before the war broke out.

When you sign up for Masa, you get the option to live in a Masa building with other people from around the world who are also doing an internship. No one who came to Israel to do our program could ever have imagined, in their wildest dreams, that they would be living through a state of war of this kind.

 DOING GOOD: The writer (C) with Masa program organizer Nathan Naiderman (R) and Amit Ratzon, now actively fighting in the IDF.  (credit: Uriel Peizer)
DOING GOOD: The writer (C) with Masa program organizer Nathan Naiderman (R) and Amit Ratzon, now actively fighting in the IDF. (credit: Uriel Peizer)

After seeking refuge in the staircase for what seemed to be an eternity, as the sounds of missiles and loud booms echoed, I couldn’t help but think, “This is not happening; this is not happening to me.”

HOW CAN something like this happen in 2023?

I remembered that 50 years ago my aunt was studying in Israel when the Yom Kippur War broke out. How ironic, I thought.

My Jewish family has survived terrible tragedies.

My grandparents and great-grandparents escaped pogroms in Eastern Europe and fled the Nazis during World War II. I have always heard of terrible past tragedies. One never expects that such tragedies would occur in the present. 

Soon, I started hearing about the Hamas terrorists who had infiltrated Israel and how this wasn’t a usual attack from Gaza.

Then we heard that the terrorist units had invaded Israeli territory, and saw videos of them driving cars and motorcycles into Israeli cities, shooting and murdering every civilian they could. This sent everyone in the building into a state of panic.

I saw videos on social media of Hamas terrorists breaking into civilian homes, taking hostages, decimating families – men, women, babies, and the elderly. We soon heard on the news that some Hamas units had attacked young people at a nature party in the South, shooting at everyone they saw. Many parents are still looking for their missing children, in limbo.

The terror continued as Hamas controlled many southern cities for more than 12 hours, filming themselves and sharing some of their horrible actions online.

We learned that Hamas had taken some of the Israeli cities surrounding Gaza. They broke into civilian homes; those that they couldn’t break into were burned, forcing residents to come outside, where the terrorists then slaughtered them.

This was not a horror movie. This is the reality right now in the Jewish state. 

The terror units of Hamas call themselves “freedom warriors,” and there are hundreds of online videos showing them celebrating around citizens’ dead bodies – including the elderly, women, and children. 

These images, soon seen all over social media, sent everyone into a state of fear, shock, and hysteria. 

I was told not to open the doors to anyone, as there were accounts of terrorists who had made it all the way to Tel Aviv and had machetes in their hands. At this point, Israel has been invaded by land, sea, and air. We realized there was no turning back now.

My sister, who is currently in the US, told me she has friends, IDF soldiers, who were captured and have disappeared. My mother, who is currently in Argentina, began telling me of a family friend being held hostage in a southern kibbutz.

Later that night, we found out she was saved by soldiers. But the dread in everyone’s voice was evident, bracing for what was yet to come.

I SPOKE to other Masa participants about their experiences. 

Olga Vujević, 23: Scared, yet hopeful

Olga Vujević came from Serbia to do a Masa internship program at the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) in Tel Aviv.

“This reminded me [of what I learned about] the Yom Kippur War, since I just finished my bachelor’s in international relations. I have friends who are currently in the IDF who told me that it’s a matter of time until something chaotic with the Palestinians would commence.

“At first, I didn’t want to believe my friends because I thought it was possible for a peaceful solution to occur in the future for Israelis and Palestinians. But now my mind has changed. I no longer think that given the current circumstance in this war, with innocent Israeli civilians being killed and held hostage, that a peaceful solution can occur.

“But I remain hopeful that we can find a way to stop the terrorists and put to an end to the violence here in Israel. I am scared for my friends who are currently in the West Bank and near Gaza at this moment. My thoughts and prayers are with them and their families. I stand with Israel!”

Matthew Kolovsky, 27: Praying, and staying

Matthew Kolovsky of Montreal is participating in a Masa internship program at SimilarWeb, a Tel Aviv hi-tech company.

“I woke up at the break of dawn, still half asleep, to the sound of sirens. Thinking that it was an ambulance passing by, I disregarded it and didn’t go to the shelter at the bottom of the staircase in my apartment complex.

“Later, a staff member from my program checked on me, knocked on my door, and notified me that the missile sirens and alarms had gone off. I was shocked that I did not wake up to the sounds of war.

“That evening, another siren went off and, while hiding in the shelter of our building, the missile attacks made me feel like a Londoner during the Blitz of World War II. It was at that moment I realized my life was in danger, and that I could face death at any moment.

“After the ordeal, my family in Canada and Israel reached out to see if I was okay. Initially, my parents were extremely nervous about the situation and wanted me to get on the first flight out of the country as soon as possible. As I came to the realization that flights were being grounded and not entering the country, I had to accept that I was staying in Israel.

“In the media, I saw a UN tank driving through the south of Lebanon with local Hezbollah supporters blockading the roads while shouting and yelling ‘Allahu Akbar.’ I wondered how people could support the murder of innocent civilian lives.

“I am worried and praying for three of my family members who are in the IDF and are currently deployed in the North. My thoughts and prayers go out to all the IDF soldiers who are fighting to keep Israel safe.”

OLIVER, 24 and from London, U came to Masa to do an internship at Equitech, a venture capital firm in Tel Aviv. 

“I woke up around 6:30 a.m. and heard some banging and thought it was construction. But then I heard something that sounded like wind and realized they were sirens.

“I was not accepting that this was happening, but then I heard people leaving their apartments and running toward the sheltered area at the bottom of the stairs. Standing near the doorway, I watched them all run down the stairs in disbelief. I was confused as to what I should be doing.

“After other sirens sounded, I went to wake up my roommate. The next time that sirens went off, we proceeded to go to the shelter. I felt my heart racing, and I wondered if this was the end. The first people I contacted were my parents. My mom was confused by the situation, and my father reassured me that everything would be sorted out.

“I checked Twitter [X] and saw dead Israeli soldiers and the bodies of Israelis being paraded around on social media. I saw the massacre of elderly people, babies in cages, women being rounded up, piles of dead bodies, and the two Israeli tourists who were shot and killed in Egypt by a Muslim police officer, along with videos of the support for Palestine in other nations, even in the United Kingdom.

“I began to feel upset and a bit worried, and felt sick, angry, and in disbelief that there are people out there who are doing such horrific attacks. How can other people see these videos and support terrorist groups?

“I reached out to my cousins who live in the Golan Heights and Tel Aviv; some of them are currently in the IDF and are deployed to the South. I worry for them, and I hope everyone will be okay. Since my cousins are my age, I feel like this could have been me out there on the battlefield. I fully support Israel’s right to defend itself and want peace for everyone and all the innocent lives [spared].”

AFTER HEARING these accounts, I knew that I wanted to do more than just report on the issue. That’s when I decided to talk to our Masa program organizer, Nathan Naiderman. I told him that I wanted to help raise funds through Venmo and PayPal from people in Israel and abroad, to support our troops with supplies, food and clothing.

We were able to raise $3,000 in less than 24 hours after the war broke out. Naiderman and I got into his car and drove to Holon, and at various supermarkets bought socks, underwear, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, flashlights, portable chargers, and many other essential items.

Everyone who stayed behind had written notes of support to our troops. We then packaged the supplies and food into boxes with the notes. One of Naiderman’s friends, Amit Ratzon, who is currently fighting in the IDF, picked up the supplies and brought them to his unit in the South.

We all stand with Israel, and its right to defend itself and its citizens in this time of war. Am Israel chai!