City men get up-close sense of Mideast conflict

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They went to Israel to perfect their fundraising skills.

Tucked away in a Tel Aviv hotel amid escalation of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, James P. Wagner and David D. Sufrin, both of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, have learned more than how to court donors and secure financial pledges. The American men, who hail from Squirrel Hill, said the experience has brought them closer to the Jewish community in Israel — quite literally closer, as they’‍ve taken cover in crowded bomb shelters, almost as numerous in the city as bathrooms. 

Save the shriek of sirens that send residents into shelters, life in Tel Aviv has gone on largely uninterrupted, they said, even as Israel’‍s aerial offensive entered its third day on Thursday. Reached by phone, Mr. Wagner was on his way to dinner in a cab; Mr. Sufrin had been to the beach and to the mall, enjoying a week of leisure ahead of the planned fundraising training next week. 

“It’‍s business as usual,” Mr. Sufrin said. “Obviously there is a need to be extra careful, but it doesn’‍t feel different from past visits.”

The shelters are integrated into the fabric of urban life in Tel Aviv, he said; hotels and restaurants have safe rooms with steel doors and thick concrete walls. Thursday passed with two siren warnings, Mr. Wagner said, each time sending residents into shelters for mere minutes. 

“You could be on a bus, in a hotel room or taking a jog, like I was this morning,” he said. “People will welcome you in and find a safe place for you.” Though the warnings are only minor disruptions, Mr. Wagner added, they’‍ve given the visitors a sense of what it’‍s like to live in the fractious region: “I’‍m experiencing what it’‍s like to be Israeli — to be like my brothers and sisters.”

Part of that means being grateful for the power of Israel’‍s protective Iron Dome, Mr. Wagner said. There’‍s scarce indication the city is facing an imminent threat, he said, in stark contrast to Gaza, where the death toll climbed Thursday. 

Instead of the rattle of gunfire or the blast of missiles, the streets of Tel Aviv are quiet at night, the men said. Not because residents are living in fear, but “because everyone is watching the World Cup.”

Isaac Stanley-Becker: or 412-263-3775. On Twitter: @isb_isaac.

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