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2 U.S. lawmakers managed to get home from Israel. Other Americans have not

Hamas' attack on Israel over the weekend caught many people off guard — including two American lawmakers who were visiting the country when the violence broke out.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Rep. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., traveled to Israel separately and were in different cities on Saturday, but statements from their offices suggest they shared a similar experience. Both sheltered in place in their hotels and were able to return to the U.S. the next day.

Goldman had traveled to Tel Aviv with his wife and three children for a family bar mitzvah. He told TODAY that they were woken up around 6:30 a.m. by sirens and scrambled to seek shelter in a stairwell, an experience they repeated several times throughout the day as the barrage of rockets continued.

"Our experience was traumatic, but of course it is nothing compared to so many Israelis down in the south, just massacred with barbarism that we have not seen," he added.

Goldman said he was briefed on how Israel's Iron Dome works during a visit with a congressional delegation in August, but did not expect to experience it for himself. He said what's most important in this moment — "both in Congress and around this country" — is standing with Israel against what he described as "barbaric terrorism."

Meanwhile Booker, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had arrived in Israel on Friday for meetings and site visits ahead of an N7 economic summit in Tel Aviv. He was in Jerusalem when the attacks began.

Booker said in a video that he had been jogging in the Old City when he got an urgent message from his staff telling him to get back to his hotel. There he joined many other "frightened faces" hiding out in a stairwell.

"There were children, elderly, families, many Americans," Booker said. "There was a sense of fear and worry, and a knowledge to many of us that there were horrific things going on around the country at the time."

He added that the experience has made him even more committed to working with his colleagues to support Israel's security, as well as ensure stability — and eventually a "long-term and just peace" — in the region.

Other Americans are still stranded in Israel

Goldman acknowledged he was lucky to have been able to rebook his family on a flight home a day earlier than planned, since so many others have been canceled.

Major airlines in the U.S., United Kingdom, Europe and Asia have suspended flights in and out of Israel for at least the next few days, the Associated Press reports. American Airlines is halting flights until Friday, Delta until Saturday and United Airlines "until conditions allow them to resume."

Other Americans remain stranded in Israel, according to local media reports. Among them are two separate church groups from Alabama and a 32-member delegation of New York law enforcement officials who were in Israel for counterterrorism training.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul — whose state is home to the world's largest Jewish population outside of Israel — said she is in touch with embassies and the State Department to try to bring New Yorkers home safely.

Ben Gurion International Airport remains open, the U.S. State Department said in a Monday alert, urging U.S. citizens to check their flight status with their airline and the airport. It also asks them to fill out a crisis intake form if they need assistance, as well as monitor news outlets and follow advice from local officials.

"U.S. citizens are reminded to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness as security incidents, including mortar and rocket fire, often take place without warning," the alert reads.

The State Department confirmed on Monday morning that nine U.S. citizens are among the hundreds of people killed in the conflict, and an unspecified number of others remain unaccounted for. It says U.S. officials are working with their Israeli partners to determine their whereabouts.

Ron Dermer, Israel's minister for strategic affairs, told Morning Edition on Monday that "there are definitely scores of people who have been kidnapped and are now being held hostage in Gaza, including Americans."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.