The sirens sounded and Lauren Mescon knew she had 15 seconds to get to a bomb shelter. The Columbus woman took the hand of a toddler and raced inside.
Once there, she joined a group of Israelis who joined hands and sang songs until the threat of a rocket attack had passed. Babies cried.
Mescon would go to a shelter on other occasions during her recent weeklong trip to Israel. She said in places she visited, such as the city of Sderot in the Negev desert, sirens could be heard as often as 20 times in a day. She said she couldn't imagine what it would be like to be a mother living in those conditions.
She said there were bomb shelter signs everywhere in the country and, if not for Israel's Iron Dome air defense system of intercepting rockets, much of Israel could be rubble.
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Mescon said that even when a rocket fired from Gaza is stopped, falling debris can still be deadly.
Mescon arrived in Israel on July 27. She was among a group of more than 40 people from the United States, which included Rabbi Brian Glusman of Shearith Israel Synagogue in Columbus. The Jewish National Fund's L'Chaim Solidarity Mission was Glusman's brainchild. L'Chaim is a Hebrew toast "to life."
Israel is currently in a battle with Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic movement founded in 1987 with the aim of establishing a Palestinian state incorporating present-day Israel and the West Bank. In 2006, Hamas defeated the more moderate Fatah in the elections for the Palestinian National Authority. Israel and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
Mescon said Israel was declared a state in 1948 but that, sadly, the war for independence still rages.
"The Israeli desire to live in peace has been superseded by the desire to live. Clearly, the Arab world is still invading and now the terrorist groups have taken the lead. The Hamas charter states the intent to annihilate the Jewish state. Iran openly declares the same intent. Meanwhile, the democratic countries including Israel's closest allies pressure the state to stop responding."
Mescon, a former attorney, is a consultant for Rodan and Fields Dermatologists and calls herself an "ardent Zionist." The wife of Columbus State University President Tim Mescon is currently a volunteer lay leader for the Jewish National Fund.
Explaining the reason for going to Israel during this violent time, Mescon stated, "We wanted to show the world we stand with Israel.
"We wanted to show Israel we stand with Israel."
The idea for the mission followed a discussion at Shearith Israel about the tensions in the Middle East. Mescon quickly got on board for the trip and sent emails out to the Jewish National Fund's donor base, as well as using different forms of social media to get support.
"Social media is a powerful tool," she said.
Glusman said it was not enough to help Israel with words and prayer. Action was needed.
"There is no better way to show support than to have boots on the ground. It is easy to come to Israel when everything is calm, Neither Lauren or I could sit still while Israel was at war defending herself from Hamas and its missiles. We needed to tell her she is not alone." Glusman said.
Mescon said the group was diverse and included Jewish and Christian members. One of the Christians was Ron Nehring, a conservative Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in California.
Members flew on different airplanes, and Mescon said she met Israelis on the flight who were amazed they were coming to the region. But she said they were also grateful.
On her flight, Mescon met a young Israeli woman who had just finished her military service. Together, they created a sign showing support for Israel and thanking the Jewish National Fund. The woman said she wished to join Mescon and others when they visited soldiers in an Israeli hospital.
The first stop for the group was at Independence Hall where the state of Israel was declared.
Members of the group delivered cards to soldiers from a Jewish community center in Atlanta. Mescon took part in a pinning ceremony for Israeli soldiers who have developmental disabilities.
"It was an honor," she said.
The mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Birkat, talked about the possibility of an Israel agreement with Hamas. He said that it would be the same as America signing a deal with al-Qaida.
Much of the group's time was spent in Be'er Sheva. The city's mayor, Ruvik Danilovich, said "this is a war for Israel's existence."
Mescon and Glussman said Hamas wants to do to the Israelis what ISIS is doing to Christians in Iraq.
Recently, 40 tunnels were found that Hamas was going to use to attack Israel. Speaking of the Israelis, Mescon said, "they build cities, they bring water and irrigate crops in the desert, create innovations, always have hope and optimism. They do not build tunnels."
Glusman described Israel as a "small beacon of democracy and light in that part of the world."
"Israel must survive," he said.