In the summer of 2006, Tommi Rutta signed on to be a camp counselor at Camp Koby in southern Israel, where she worked with bereaved children from 10 to 12 years old who had lost relatives to violence. When the camp session was coming to an end, organizers designated a night for the children to express their grief.
Candles lined the dimly lit social hall where the campers were seated on the floor. One teen shared a chilling story. His father was working in a field when terrorists approached him and began shooting at him without a warning, killing him. Tears filled the eyes of many of the participants. The stories shared by some of the other children were just as unnerving. Then it became Ms. Rutta’s turn to speak. “What happened to you?,” the children asked.
Ms. Rutta’s heart sank.
“I said, ‘nothing [happened to me],’” Ms. Rutta, 24, recalled. “I definitely had a feeling of guilt as an outsider and such sadness. I’m just amazed at their strength. You just see how resilient they are.”
Ms. Rutta, who lives in Riverdale, said that she had the same empathetic response when she heard about the recent Gaza conflict, though she is not experiencing the conflict personally. “It’s a strange phenomenon,” she said. “We’re such a small community that you really feel it. You just want to jump on a plane and be there with them.”
Like Ms. Rutta, many Riverdalians, are experiencing the conflict through ties to family members and friends who are in Israel. Ms. Rutta has cousins and a brother in Israel with whom she communicates regularly. Her younger brother is also going to be moving there to serve in the army next week.
“There’s no way to break a group of people that would do anything for each other,” she said.
Fueled by the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in June, who were hitchhiking in the West Bank, the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict is considered the worst in two years. The violence between Hamas and Israel in the month-old conflict intensified this summer, with more than 1,500 Palestinian deaths, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. More than 60 Israelis have been killed, according to Israeli officials.