Living in Jerusalem, which is suddenly one of the safer places to be in Israel, you could really go about your day having no idea that there is/has been a war raging just a few hours north. Buses run, children laugh, cafes are full, and all seems right with the world. As playwrite/screenwriter David Mamet has noted “Israel at war looks very much like Israel at peace”.

The resilient “life goes on” spirit of Israel is one of the hardest ideas to explain to people outside of Israel. You get the feeling that if Fairlawn, NJ was suddenly hit by daily rocket attacks, the entire tri-state area would evacuate.

Nonetheless, there are times that the eerie reality of living in a country at war hits you. Be it in the realization that it’s a local call to a friend on the front lines, or in the apartment shuffle that’s taking place all over as people in the center open up their homes to refugees from the north.

Sometimes though, despite the normalcy of life in the center of the country, the visual of war is thrust into your day, even in relatively benign forms.

While sitting at a crowded and happening beach side bar in Tel Aviv with friends last week, engaged in a favorite pastime game – “Gay or Israeli?” a surreal vision of war moved across my sight line and drowned out most of our conversation. With military aircraft flying just above our heads along the coastline, I think I realized just how American I am in some ways. The only frame of reference I had for such a thing was the countless Vietnam war movies I grew up on. I suddenly saw myself as an extra in a long lost China Beach episode.

In other ways, however, I have taken my cues from my Israeli co-citizens; neither that eerie sight, nor our worry for friends up north was going to ruin an otherwise splendid evening. If we didn’t order another round of drinks, the terrorists would have already won.

One of the people I was there with was a woman by the name of Rebecca Sinderbrand, a journalist who was entertaining us with stories from Syria where she had been just a few days before. Apparently, among other oddities, they refer to Israel as “Disneyland” because it’s bad form to say the word “Israel” too often in public and presumably, “illegal Zionist occupying force” is a bit of a mouthful.

She recently wrote an article for Slate about Dodging missiles in northern Israel. With most of the “how the war affects our daily lives” stories coming out of Lebanon, it was a breath of fresh air to read this one in a non-Israeli publication.

About the author

Laya Millman


  • “Gay or Israeli game”? Do tell more. Is that like the “No wonder they call it the Holy Land” tourism ads featuring the hot men and women on the beach?

  • “gay or Israeli”: haha! Laya, in Berkeley, once people started getting head-sets for their cell-phones, and due to the preponderance of homeless people, we had a game called “cellphone, or crazy?” when we saw someone talking to themselves. :-p

    Also, I felt the *exact* same way when I was on Tel Aviv beach in 2002, and saw the surreal scene of people having fun in the sun with helicopters flying up & down the coast above; like from that movie, “Meggido Now”. 😉