DENVER (KDVR) — A Colorado artist spoke with FOX31 after fleeing Israel in the midst of this weekend’s attacks.

Topher Straus flew to Israel for the first time of his life on Saturday. He said he wanted to immerse himself in Israeli sights and culture while working on a painting for the Jewish National Fund.

Upon arrival, he quickly experienced terror and fear as missiles started flying above him.

‘People are scared, people are very angry’

Straus shared video from the beach on Saturday after just landing in Tel Aviv, about an hour northeast of Gaza. In it, explosions can be heard and missiles seen in the sky.

“As an American, I’ve never experienced — we’ve never experienced — anything like this,” Straus said.

“Being called into pharmacies as the air raid sirens are going off and people saying, ‘Come, come,’ and being rushed down below two stories into a bunker where there’s gas masks. To say that the atmosphere in Tel Aviv was tense is an understatement. It was. People are scared. People are very angry. People are confused,” Straus said.

Straus captured tensions and emotions at the local airport in Tel Aviv. People can be seen in his video arguing at the ticket line and signs showing many cancellations.

“I bought three different tickets. It wasn’t until my third attempt that I was able to get out,” Straus said. “That the airport was so crowded. When we took off, the lights in the airplane were turned off, and we just went straight high. I realized that was because we needed to get to a safe air level.”

FILE – Fire and smoke rise following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair, File)

Emotions high after escape from war in Israel

Landing safely in Italy three days after arriving in Israel, the artist said he is embracing gratitude beyond belief.

“Being an artist, I opened my heart and I feel things,” Straus said. “And as we landed over the landscape of Italy, and I knew that I was coming to a safe country, I cried. A lot of people on the plane cried, and a lot of people have suffered a lot more than what I felt. They have lost family members and were escaping their home.”

Straus immediately started pouring this emotion into a painting from the safety of his hotel room in Italy. He plans to work on a number of paintings encompassing the pain, emotion and history he saw in Israel and donate money from his artwork.

“I’m so excited to come back home to my Colorado and to create art,” Straus said. “It’s amazing how much this experience has changed my life forever and my perspective forever. It’s times like these when we realize how lucky we are as Americans.”