When sirens sounded in the distance in the early morning of October 7, Ariella Torv woke briefly in her Tel Aviv apartment. Then she went back to sleep.
The 2011 Staples High School graduate had lived in Israel for 6 years. She’d heard sirens before.
But an hour later, at 7:30 a.m., they blared directly above her.
Ariella’s building has no bomb shelter. She ran to the stairwell, where other residents gathered. Soon, sensing no danger, they headed to their apartments.
Ariella Torv (right) and her mother Denise, when she visited Israel this fall. Denise returned to Westport a week before the Hamas attack.
Ariella planned to go back to sleep. But a worried friend texted: “Are you okay?”
“This is serious!” she thought. She texted her boss, who told her: “Pack a bag. Go to a friend’s house, with a shelter.”
Ariella took her scooter to the building nearby. When she arrived, she learned the extent of the horror happening just 2 hours away.
Arielle and her friend spent the day glued to the news.
“I never experienced anything like that,” she recalls. “Israelis who are very used to things like this were scared. So I was scared.
“I’m very liberal. I vote Democratic. I thought I understood one of the world’s most complex situations. I thought a 2-state solution was possible.”
Now, she explains, “October 7 changed everything. I’m still processing it. It feels like the longest day — like that day is still happening.”
Empty cribs and beds symbolize the Israelis — including many children — held hostage by Hamas.
Growing up, Ariella’s family observed the High Holy Days. But they were not particularly religious.
After graduating from the University of Hartford with a degree in communications, she moved to New York for a job with the Ogilvy ad agency.
On a 10-day Birthright trip to Israel in 2017, she fell in love with the country and culture. She signed up for a 6-month internship with a Tel Aviv tech startup. She grew to love even more the people and energy of Israel.
She decided to stay.
“At 24, I didn’t understand what it meant to move to a foreign country,” Ariella says. “it took 3 years to really feel at home.”
A serene scene, not far from Ariella’s Tel Aviv apartment, belies a nation at war.
Gradually, she learned about the nuances of life there. Over the past few months she attended protest rallies against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his judicial reforms.
Then came October 7. She watched in real time as people living on kibbutzim called, pleading for the army and police to help.
“It’s insane to think about that,” Ariella says. “I can’t move past that day.”
She did not go to work for nearly 3 weeks. She was not alone. Friends and colleagues could not focus either. Two and a half hours away, 200 hostages huddled in tunnels.
Reminders of the hostages are everywhere in Israel.
At night, Ariella checked the locks on her apartment door obsessively. She had to take photos on her phone, to prove to herself she was safe.
Ariella had planned to return to Westport for Thanksgiving. It would be her first trip back in 13 months.
She felt torn. “I didn’t want people to think I was running away,” she says.
But friends said, “Be with your family. Gather strength from them. They want to see you. Remember, this is a difficult time for them too.”
Being in Westport is “very weird,” she admits. “I love being home, hugging my mom, seeing my nephews. But I feel disconnected. My head and heart are in Israel.”
One morning, out buying milk, a tire made a strange sound. She looked for an escape route. Then she realized: “I’m safe.”
It is hard to talk with family and friends about what Israel is going through. “It’s all so overwhelming,” Ariella notes.
“I have so much to say. But I don’t know how to say it.”
Many people in Westport are concerned about what’s happening. She is inspired by blue ribbons and posters of hostages on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge, and Israeli flags on many lawns.
She sent photos to friends in Israel. “They love it!” she reports.
Ribbons and flyers on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge buoy Ariella Torv. (Photo/Jennifer Wolff)
At the same time, Ariella says, there is plenty of “misinformation,” in Westport and throughout the US.
She has no idea what will happen when she returns to Israel next week.
“I’m a bit scared. After the ceasefire, we’ll go right back to war. We have a mission.”
A soldier and his scooter, on the streets of Israel. (Israel photos courtesy of Ariella Torv)
But she also knows she will be welcomed “Israelis treat people like family,” she says. “For the past few weeks, they welcomed me into their home for Shabbat dinner. They invited me to sleep over. We text each other all the time.
“Israel is incredibly strong. It’s inspiring how regular citizens turned into warriors, fighting to protect their land.”
She never considered not returning.
Does Ariella have a message for “06880” readers?
“Israel will live,” she says firmly. “I have full faith in the country, and the IDF. There is no left or right now. Every Israeli is united, for the country.”
Soon, Ariella Torv returns to her adopted home, to join them.