7th of October
Everyone who was in Israel on October 7, remembers where they were that morning.
Chrissie Willker

On the morning of October 7, I woke up at 6:30 a.m. when the girl in my tent unzipped our tent door and went outside. Almost at the same time, a group of Ethiopian Israelis arrived, talking loudly. They were almost shouting. A little annoyed, I pressed my earplugs more firmly into my ears, but it didn't help. I was awake. I also kept hearing thunder rumbling in the background. The Feast of Tabernacles had just finished, when there was usually the first light rain again. I had never actually experienced thunderstorms before at that time of year.

That Saturday was Simchat Torah, when the Torah is celebrated and the Bible reading plan begins anew through the Torah. We wanted to camp in the Judean "mountains" for one night and then hike towards Jerusalem the next morning. As we were planning to have an early breakfast anyway and I was awake, I got changed in the tent and listened to the Bible passage in my Bible reading plan at the same time.

That day it was a chapter in the book of Judges. It was about the story where the concubine of a Levite was raped by the villagers of the tribe of Benjamin until she died, and the Levite then cut her up into twelve pieces and sent them to the various tribes. That was not such an uplifting story in the morning. If I had known that similar stories were taking place in the south of the country at almost the same time, it would of course have moved me in a completely different way.
Afterwards, I checked my WhatsApp messages and read that Loren Cunningham, the founder of YWAM, had died during the night. The morning started with bad news. It had been known for almost a year that he had been diagnosed with cancer that had spread throughout his body. He only had a few weeks to live. But after the diagnosis, people all over the world began to pray for him. The pain that had kept him housebound until then stopped and he was given another boost of energy. For months, he had the opportunity not only to say goodbye to various friends and colleagues, but also to pass on the message that was burning in his heart: Every language, every dialect should have a Bible translation, and the task of translation work should go to native speakers. The organization may not have been involved in translation work in the past, but that would definitely change now.

Jerusalem's market, Machane Yehuda, on the Friday morning before October 7th.
The group I went camping with consisted of people I knew and didn't know, Israelis, international students and their friends who were visiting. We packed away the tents and ate breakfast together.

Just the morning before, I had walked through the crowded market to buy some mangoes and challah bread, yeast plaits that were eaten at the beginning of the Sabbath. We ate them now, along with the homemade yogurt I had brought along in a cooler bag. I remember thinking that Friday morning that I used to avoid the market on Fridays because it really stressed me out, especially after Corona. The stress wasn't related to the fear of catching Corona, but the lockdowns and quiet atmosphere in the house were such a stark contrast to the loud hustle and bustle of the market, which really challenged my Hebrew listening skills and just overwhelmed me. But that Friday morning I just loved the atmosphere at the market and just thought how used I had become to some of the chaos in Israel
At one point I asked someone when I heard the thunder again, "What is this sound actually?" and one of the German visitors replied, "Oh, you don't know? Those are rockets." For some of the students who lived in the south, this was not an unusual sound, because rockets are fired there much more often than towards central Israel and especially Jerusalem. Of course, the rumbling wasn't really the rockets, but rather the Iron Dome, the missile defense system.

My first reaction was: "What have we done now?" Sometimes you don't read the news for one day and you miss why rockets are being fired into Israel. Incidentally, I find this reaction of mine quite interesting in retrospect. When I talk about German history or politics, I usually talk about "Germany did this or that" or "The Germans decided that." And here I suddenly ask what WE have done again. It makes you realize how much I feel at home in Israel.
We carried on eating as normal and planned our day. Rockets in Israel are like minor earthquakes in the Pacific or cyclones in Australia. They just happen and then you move on. This calmness of the Israelis helps enormously to become somewhat calm about rockets. We were also just outside Jerusalem. Rockets rarely came to Jerusalem - supposedly once every 6 years. At least that's what I was told at the end of 2019, but since then it has actually happened to me in three of the four years, although usually only once a year. But on October 7, things were different...
The thick door of my room, the bomb shelter in the apartment
The first rocket alert started at around 8:00-8:30 am where we were at. You could see how annoyed the Israelis were. Many buildings in Israel either have a shelter for the whole house or each apartment has a shelter. The shelter in my apartment in Jerusalem was actually my bedroom. In contrast to the windows in the other rooms, my window closed really well and I was also able to slide thick shutters in front of it, something we hadn't had to do so far.

My roommate, who had previously lived in my room, had also attached a mosquito net there, so you could only close the outer shutters if you destroyed the mosquito net. In other words, these shutters would only be used in an extreme emergency. Mosquitoes were definitely a bigger problem in Jerusalem than rockets and could cause sleepless nights.

I also didn't hang pictures in the room with nails, because the walls were also there to protect against missiles. I made do with sticky hooks. My room also had a thick steel door, but you couldn't lock it. A missing feature that was the undoing of many people in the kibbutzes. You were protected against rockets and fire, but not against terrorists who could open the door.

What do you do when rockets come and you have no shelter? I did some extra research into this when I was confronted with a rocket alert for the first time in 2021. I read online that the procedure is similar to that for hurricanes and cyclones: Get away from windows, preferably a room with no windows that was more on the inside and on the first floor.

Well, we were in the forests of the Judean Highlands. There was definitely no shelter in the forest and no building either. But what do you do outside? You lie flat on the ground and protect your head. That won't help you much if a rocket falls right on top of you, but the probability is quite low. These measures help to protect you from shrapnel if a rocket hits nearby. And so we all lay down, a few reluctantly, on the earthy forest floor.
You lie on the ground to protect yourself from shrapnel.
After the first few rocket alerts, we still planned to keep hiking. The visitors from Germany were surprised at how relaxed we were about everything, as we were still cheerful and full of energy. As I said, we only knew bits and pieces of what had happened in the south and not the full extent.
Our motto was: don't let a few rockets spoil your Saturday. But we couldn't really get away, because every few minutes there was another alert. We started to lay our heads under a wooden table that was available at the campsite. So we laid under this table, sang and joked. But a few of the international students and visitors were understandably not quite so relaxed. One was shaking with every rocket alarm, so we started praying specifically for the people who were scared that day.

Our plan kept changing: from hiking the whole day to hiking part of the way until we abandoned the plan completely. Some wanted to go home. And when a rocket actually hit in the distance and was not shot down, even the Israelis decided it was time to go home.

But first we wanted to sing a few worship songs, because such battles are usually not only physical but also spiritual. Someone got out a little ukulele and we started with the song "No Longer Slaves", which was about how we are no longer slaves to fear. That was the only song where we weren't interrupted. Before and after that there was another rocket alert.
During the next song, "Cornerstone", we were suddenly interrupted by a loud "Boom!". It was the Iron Dome being launched to hit a rocket some distance away. The bang was so loud that we were quite startled. I only realized that I was either completely calm and at peace or didn't have good reflexes, which might not be so good in an emergency, because I didn't even flinch.
Then it was time to leave and say goodbye. We came from all directions, and a German friend of mine offered a ride to those who were currently staying in Jerusalem or on the way, even though she herself lived elsewhere. Riding in the car made me a little nervous though. I knew that I should get out of the car and lie down a little away from it in case a rocket alert went off. But we were in the Judean mountains. There weren't that many places where you could lie down away from the road. And you also have to listen a little more carefully when there's the noise of the car driving.

We dropped the first passenger off in Mevaseret Zion, a suburb of Jerusalem. Mevaseret Zion was also the place where the rocket that was not shot down had come down, but we didn't see it anywhere. We took a short but necessary bathroom break at the first stop. During the rocket alarm while we were camping, nobody voluntarily disappeared into the bushes anymore to pee. Because there, where many had already gone before, as you could see from the scattered toilet paper, people definitely didn't want to lie down on the forest floor. So if you had to go to the bathroom, you had to hold it or live with the risk of a sudden rocket alert.
The Judean Hills
We drove on and had just arrived in Jerusalem when the next rocket alert went off. I had previously thought that you actually have to experience a rocket alert at least once while being outside in the car to be considered a local. So here it was happening...fortunately in town we also had some space to lie down on the footpath.
In hindsight, where we laid down was definitely not the best place we had chosen. We could have run into some building or at least laid down a little further away from the car, on the other side of a wall.
If a rocket had hit the car, our situation would have been catastrophic. But the passengers of our car consisted only of international students or tourists and we were anything but experienced in things like these.
For shooting my video, on the other hand, it was the best location. Filming is certainly not always the best habit in situations like these and sometimes I'm surprised that I even think of it. But I wanted to document my first rocket alert from outside the car. Maybe I should become a journalist...
Then we drove to the Abraham Hostel (youth hostel) in the city center, where I had slept for two weeks at Easter for a workshop for international translation consultants. One of my fellow travelers wanted to stay there because we had advised him not to stay at the hostel in East Jerusalem during this time. The Old City of Jerusalem can be a point of conflict at times like these and you don't have to expose yourself to that voluntarily. We had just come to a standstill when the rocket alert went off again. So we all ran into the building and came to a crowded lobby. There were a lot of tourists staying here who were obviously not leaving to go sighseeing that day.

Some of the Hebrew students were also staying here because our new semester had started and there was a month-long overlap of old and new students who couldn't all fit into the dorm. I chatted to a few of them and showed them some of my videos. One of them exclaimed disappointedly, "Oh, I should have come along! This is a real adventure!" I understood him what he meant. It felt somewhat similar to me. Nothing had happened to us. We'd just experienced some sirene sounds without any injuries. But the line between adventure and nightmare or trauma can be very thin as we realised later.

As the lobby in the youth hostel was so crowded with people, I was more than ready to move on quickly, but there was one small problem. The last passenger in our car was currently living near the City of David, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem near the Old City. My friend who was driving us hadn't realized this. And she didn't want to go there under any circumstances. There was simply too much potential for problems.
So we tried to find a solution, which turned out to be more difficult than expected. It was impossible to think clearly over the loud chattering. At the end of her ropes, my friend finally exclaimed, "Well, I'm going to drive Chrissie home now and if you want to be driven somewhere afterwards, just let me know. I'll come back and drive you there. And if I don't hear from you, then I'll know that you've found another solution." I was relieved. Home at last. I wrote in my apartment's WhatsApp group: "I'm leaving right now." But then I got a call from my flatmate...
The Abraham Hostel and its lobby on a normal day.
"Chrissie, don't go!" she shouted anxiously. Perplexed, I didn't respond at first. Tess is Israeli and generally very relaxed about rockets. When I once asked her opinion on whether I should down south for my translation project because a few more rockets had just been fired into the south, she just laughed and said, "Yes, of course, Chrissie. That's no problem at all."

And now she wanted me to stay in the overcrowded Abraham Hostel, even though it would only take ten minutes to get home on a Sabbath (when there were hardly any cars on the roads). On top of that, she was on vacation in Scotland and made the extra effort to call me from there.
And I was even more surprised by her next piece of advice: "Chrissie, you need to find someone with a gun who can protect you. Don't go out without someone who has a gun! Your best bet is to lock yourself in somewhere." I was completely confused. It was so quiet in Jerusalem, and even the rocket alerts had stopped. The hostel was loud and crowded. Why was she so scared?

It was only afterwards that I understood that you could already see some of the video footage that Hamas had taken themselves in Europe at the time. However, the videos that were later taken down from the internet made the rounds in those early days. Tess had seen them and was freaking out. She said herself, when she returned to Jerusalem a week later, that it was much easier for her to be back in the country and see what the situation was really like than to see all the worst news and images from afar. Something I could also understand in hindsight, because it was also much easier for me to be in the country than to process everything from afar as I have to now.

After Tess's warning, I hesitated, but in the end I didn't change my mind. I wanted to go home. We got into the car and were about to drive off when a man came along. He knocked on the window. "I think you've got a flat tire," he said. What else??? We really didn't have time for that now. My friend got out again and looked at the tire. "I'll have to put more air in the tires later," she said, "but I can get you home." I breathed a sigh of relief. Ten minutes later, we were in my street. I live in a Muslim-Jewish neighborhood, but there were no Muslim or Jewish residents to be seen. Even the small park, where families usually meet on Saturdays, was deserted.
When I went to unlock my apartment door, I noticed that the door wasn't locked. That's strange. The front door only locks when you lock it with the key. Otherwise, anyone can just walk in from outside. We actually always lock the door.

My friend and I happily walked in and I joked: "What's that? Tess tells me to lock myself in and find someone who has a gun to protect me. And then our apartment door isn't even locked?" My friend and I were actually still very relaxed and cheerful, especially now that we had escaped from the crowded youth hostel and arrived in my quiet apartment with the beautiful view down to Jordan. We even considered going to the prayer house around the corner. But because I knew that many people in Germany were praying for my safety, I didn't want to take the situation lightly and decided to stay at home.

But the contrast to the mood at home was intense. I saw how upset my flatmate, her fiancé and another friend (who was living with us for a month) looked. So I stopped joking around.
Afterwards, I found out that my flatmates had tried to somehow remove the mosquito net outside my bedroom window without destroying it so they could close the shelter shutters.
Since they didn't succeed, they ran into the stairwell instead of our shelter every time the rocket alarm went off. That was a bit nerve-wracking. The next day I bit the bullet and cut up my mosquito. In the end, it's more important that everyone can gather safely in my room. I can put up with some mosquito bites after all. And there is no Malaria in Israel.
There's a lot more I could write, but this is supposed to be a blog and not a novel. Everyone in Israel knows where they were on October 7, just as everyone knows where they were when the planes flew into the World Trade Center on September 11 (if you already existed at that time, because it was almost 23 years ago).

For my part, I am very grateful that I camped out that morning and spent a very nice morning with an awesome bunch of people - despite everything. I'm glad that I didn't watch all kinds of media that first first week and I think that sometimes made me feel better than how people were feeling in Germany. I now feel even more connected to some of the people that morning than before and am in regular contact with them. I am very grateful for that.

Of course, everyone in Israel is still very close to my heart and I pray that all the hostages can return home soon!!
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