As rocket fire from Gaza disrupts life in Israel, causing damage and injuries and forcing millions of Israelis to run to bomb shelters every day, one American church has found a powerful way to show its solidarity with the Israeli people during such difficult times.
The Congregation of Zion in Stockton, CA, held a "mock evacuation" drill Saturday, in which air raid sirens similar to those heard in Israel cities under rocket fire were sounded, prompting congregants to rush to the exits.
The exercise was the brainchild of the congregation's pastor Dumisani Washington, who also heads the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel (IBSI).
The initiative was made all the more powerful as the "evacuation" took place at the same time as thousands of Israelis were doing the same; organizers downloaded the "Red Alert: Israel" app, which lets Israelis know whenever a rocket has been detected, and simply broadcast it through the church's sound system.
"The 'Red Alert: Israel' app was routed through the sound system. When Hamas launched attacks against Israel, the alarm sounded and the people retreated to 'bomb shelters'," the Institute said on its Facebook page.
The church is an African-American "Hebrew roots" congregation of about 75 people. Its members emphasize the Jewish "roots of our Christian faith" but is "not Messianic", simply fusing Black gospel music with Hebrew songs, explained Dumisani Washington.
"My family and I downloaded the app earlier this week," Washington said. "This weekend was also the 10th anniversary of my serving as pastor of the congregation. I thought it appropriate to empathize with Israel in this way today."
In some parts of Israel - such as the embattled town of Sderot close to the border with Gaza - residents have 15 seconds or less to find shelter when the sirens go off, before the rocket strikes.
Israel's foreign affairs ministry has released several videos illustrating how residents of the south of the country are forced to cope with a life under fire, including a recent one produced during the current conflict entitled "You have 15 minutes to take cover, run!"
The video highlights the plight of the children of southern Israel, many of whom suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other emotional and psychological problems due to more than a decade of rocket attacks on their communities.