ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — When Rochester native Marc Cohen arrived in Israel for a two-week stay to celebrate the holiday of Simchat Torah, he did not expect war to ensue and have to quickly scramble for a way to get home.
Two days into his trip, on October 7, “the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip have carried out an unprecedented, multifront attack on Israel, firing thousands of rockets as dozens of Hamas fighters infiltrated the heavily fortified border in several locations and catching the country off-guard on a major holiday,” according to the Associated Press.
When News 8 spoke to Cohen earlier this month while he was in a period of lockdown, he said he was awaiting coordination for departure to another nearby country to hopefully make a return to the United States swiftly.
Cohen, along with his family, arrived back in Rochester on Thursday, October 12. He said while he is glad to be home and his family is safe, the conflict that remains in the two countries remains on his mind.
“I think the conflicted part comes when seeing the continued atrocities that Israel is facing, and that their people are facing,” Cohen said.
He said getting home was “complicated.”
“That almost feels selfish to say,” Cohen said. “But in the moment, it was very, very difficult and grueling. We didn’t even consider the drive from the hotel to the airport.”
Cohen remained in contact with Jewish Federation of Rochester CEO Meredith Dragon, who helped guide him through the journey of getting home.
“Meredith texted me since she knew the travel plans and said, ‘Do you know what to do if the sirens go off while you’re driving to the airport?’ And I said, ‘No.’ I didn’t know what to do. She said, ‘You stop the car, pull over, you get out, and you lay down and get as close to the ground as you can, and cover your heads.”
It was in that moment, Cohen said, that it felt most like the reality.
“I realized this was not a documentary. This was not happening on some television station. This was happening to my family,” Cohen said.
Cohen and his family said they had a hard time finding a place to fly to, as flights out of Israel continued to be canceled.
After trial and error, Cohen was able to travel from Israel to Dubai, Dubai to Chicago, Chicago to Buffalo, with a final destination being back home in Rochester.
This was not Cohen’s first trip to Israel. He said while he has been to the country many times before, seeing it in the state it is in was “different.”
“It is a glorious, beautiful, incredible country,” Cohen said. “There is no place like it on Earth. To see such scarcity of people. To see such blank streets and blank beaches was so different. When we left the hotel, we were met by armed guards who had been stationed there since the violence started.”
Dragon says the ongoing violence between Israel and Hamas brings an overwhelming sense of vulnerability for the Jewish community here in Rochester.
She said in the last week alone, antisemitism has gone up over 400 percent, adding that police cars have been placed at all Jewish institutions for added security.
“For this to happen in Israel, toward the Jewish people, we all feel it. It reverberates around the world including here in Rochester and our Rochester Jewish community is feeling particularly vulnerable right now,” Dragon said.
Cohen said he plans on returning to Israel when it is safe to do so.