20 Nissan 5779 / Thursday, April 25, 2019 | Torah Reading: Acharei Mot
 
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War Comes To Ashdod    

War Comes To Ashdod



With Operation “Cast Lead” in Gaza, Ashdod – home of the Melitzer Rebbetzen – has become a prime target of Hamas missile attacks. Here’s the war through the Rebbetzen’s eyes…

 



Ashdod has joined the ranks of those cities in the front line of battle. We have earned the (dubious) distinction of being one of the country's cities under direct attack from the Kassam and Grad missiles "sent" to us "courtesy" of our Arab neighbors in the Gaza strip. 

The city of Ashdod is only 28 kilometers! from the Gaza strip (as the crow, and missiles fly), and Hamas, the terrorist organization ruling the Gaza strip (at present) has been shooting missiles at us since Shabbos.
 
Ashkelon, our neighboring city has been in the direct firing line for a number of months but we in Ashdod have always felt "safe" because the longest range missiles the terrorists organizations had up to now could not reach us. Over a period of time however the terrorists have quietly accumulated a large number of missiles with a longer range than the ones they have had till now which are able to reach to Ashdod, and even beyond; these are now being fired at us.
 
Although we always felt for our brothers and sisters in Ashkelon there is absolutely no comparison between hearing about something in Ashkelon to feeling it yourself in Ashdod.
 
It's a completely different kettle of fish when you yourself are the one in constant fear of attack. It colors every waking moment (and your sleep as well), as you walk around all day on super-alert with your ears pricked…..  waiting, waiting for the wailing of that siren. Any sound that remotely resembles a high-pitched whistle is instantly analyzed as the adrenaline surges in our bodies and we go into "fight or flight" mode.
 
One is constantly weighing up the consequences of whatever one wants to do in light of the fact that one might have to run down to the air-raid shelter at a moments notice; and of course before one goes anywhere the most important priority is to find out where the nearest air-raid shelter is.
 
It all started on Shabbos afternoon when without any warning in the middle of the seudah the sirens went off.
 
Now we in Eretz Yisroel are very used to sirens, but those are the sirens that announce that Shabbos has arrived; they sound one long steady blast, and as it fades you know that it is Shabbos and peace and quiet descends on all our homes.
 
So you can imagine the initial shock on hearing that siren on Shabbos itself. It took a few seconds for those of us adults sitting round the table to register that this was no erev Shabbos siren (or the all-clear in times of war), but a rising and falling siren, i.e. a warning of an impending attack.
 
When it registered that this was a warning siren we couldn't decide at first whether to take it seriously or not; in the end we decided that perhaps it was better to take it seriously and go down to the air-raid shelter "just in case". But by the time we had gathered all the grandchildren together at the front door (they were playing in various rooms) the sirens had stopped (they only sound for about 15 seconds).
 
Without knowing what to do we simply huddled by the door and waited for one minute (because those had been the instructions during the Gulf war). When we didn't hear anything else we decided that it had probably all been a mistake, and we returned to the seudah.
 
As it was Shabbos nobody in the block or the vicinity knew anything, so life carried on (almost) as usual till Motzei Shabbos. After all we rationalized it was probably a mistake or a failure of one of the switches that activates the alarm; even switches can malfunction sometimes because they're not human, (and perfect) as we are.
 
After Shabbos, news filtered in to me (heavily censored by the Rov who didn't want to frighten me) that there had been one stray missile. Without the Rov saying anything I was left with the impression that this had been a one-off occurrence; that we were still "safe" and there was nothing to worry about.
 
On the strength of that I went to sleep that night calmly and peacefully and boruch Hashem the night passed uneventfully.
 
The rude awakening came the next morning when the sirens went off again. You can imagine my thoughts as I heard the dreaded rising and falling of the siren. "WAIT A MINUTE, this is no mistake or malfunctioning switch!! This is for real; "they" are out to get "us"!! This is no stray missile that went off at a tangent (as if that's not bad enough)!! We're actually being shot at!! They want to kill us!!"
 
And suddenly in a split second the whole scenario changed. "It's deadly serious! Nobody's playing games here! Our lives and the lives of our loved ones are at stake!"
 
Outside in the communal hallway of the building I heard women and children beginning to run down the stairs, with the children crying and screaming in a panic. Some of the husbands, who had been davenning in the shul nearby were running up the stairs to help those of their families who had not yet begun to come down and this all added to the sense of panic and urgency in the building.
 
Whilst this was going on the sirens faded away and there was a deathly silence outside the building as families continued running down the stairs. 30 seconds later there was a bang as the missile landed, Boruch Hashem "somewhere else". The tremendous feeling of relief and release cannot be imagined after having endured those 30 seconds of waiting; during that "eternity" the world stops and one just exists in deadly fear of where that missile will land.
 
Families had congregated inside and near the air-raid shelter (those who hadn't managed to get inside in time) and slowly people started coming out. After we had all calmed down a bit I went back up to my flat on the first floor – to a new world and a new reality. Gone forever is the complacency that it can only happen to "them" in Ashkelon, because it's just happened to us.
 
Twenty minutes later the sirens started wailing again, and the families that were able to ran down the stairs again. There was somewhat less panic though this time because all the husbands were at home by now and they helped their wives organize the family. Even so the feeling of helplessness and terror that you are at the mercy of a deadly missile which even at this very second is speeding towards you is indescribable.
 
Once we had heard the thump of the landing missile and we knew that we were not in immediate danger, we relaxed and started slowly walking up the stairs again to our homes. This time though because there had been two attacks in close proximity to each other there was a terrible fear that chas ve'choliloh we were in a war-zone and that we would be under constant attack from now on.
 
Boruch Hashem that fear has not materialized, but it took us many, many hours to calm down that day. At present Ashdod is "only"! attacked on average twice a day.
 
Even so the thought that you've only got 40 seconds from when the sirens start wailing to get to a safe place is terrifying! For mothers with children it's not even possible to go anywhere because it takes them longer than 40 seconds just to gather their children together in their own home. The worst part though is when the sirens die away and everyone waits with bated breath for 30 seconds to know "who will live and who will die".
 
Four days have passed since that initial attack and we've calmed down somewhat and settled into a "routine" of sorts. We go about our daily household tasks with an ear cocked all the time and continuously assessing how near we are to a "safe place".
 
There is no school or cheder for children and their mothers are going crazy. The children are cooped up all day in the house because the mothers cannot even let their children down into the gardens (the usual playground and escape from home).
 
As for me what can I say?
 
I'll tell you what I can say; once again I'm saying “Mi Ke’amcha Yisroel” – who is like Your people Israel!?
 
As people have begun to "calm down", i.e. take the new reality in stride there's a marked shift in mood and emphasis.
 
Families have more or less organized themselves: those who are fearful have left Ashdod and moved their families to "safer" cities that are beyond the range of the missiles (in the centre of the country).
 
Those of us who have remained have quickly learnt the rules of this deadly "game". Stay at home and go out as little as possible. If you do have to go out make sure you walk as near to buildings as possible so that at the first sound of a siren you can run into the nearest building and look for the safest place to stand in.
 
If you're at home as soon as you hear the siren run into your "secure room" if you have one. (A "secure room" is a room that has been built to withstand a missile attack and is automatically built in each flat in all the newer blocks). If you live in one of the older buildings, as I do, run to the air-raid shelter in the building; if you are unable to do even that then run into the most "inside" room in your home, where there is the least danger of deadly pieces of flying missile and debris getting in through the outside walls and windows.
 
About three minutes after the sirens have stopped you can come out of wherever you are even if you haven't heard the missile landing. It has most definitely landed but it was probably too far away for you to hear it.
 
And those of us who are still here are boruch Hashem in an upbeat mood and continuously talking about the nissim that we are hearing about and seeing on a continuous basis.
 
We're hearing of the bus driver who walked away from his bus without a scratch (there were no passenger in the bus at the time) even though all his windows and doors were blown out by the blast of a nearby missile; even one of those flying shards could have been lethal.
 
And we're hearing of the rocket that fell next to a petrol station instead of scoring a direct hit (need I say more).
 
We've heard of the Chabad shaliach who went to his parents-in-law with his family for Shabbos and decided to stay there till Monday morning. On Sunday a missile landed in his apartment utterly destroying it and severely damaging the surrounding apartments.
 
And what of the missile that landed in the parking lot of a major factory right on the outskirts of one of the chareidi sections of the city. Had it landed in the factory the damage would have been tremendous; had it landed just one hundred metres further into the section it would have exploded right in the middle of blocks of apartments.
 
And more than that: no-one was in the factory at the time; the employees had been away for a training day and were due back just at the time the missile fell. "Unfortunately" the buses with the returning employees were slightly delayed……..
 
And more…….
 
Everywhere you go both frum and non-frum Yidden are talking about the yad Hashem that is very clearly evident.
 
And let me explain what I mean by that. When you think that each one of those missiles carries a 22-lb warhead filled with explosives that is capable of demolishing a complete apartment building, (and badly damaging the surrounding area), and that it can also kill up to 120 people you can only marvel at the way Hashem is taking personal care of us; it is clear hashgochoh protis.
 
Of the 400! missiles that have fallen to date, the vast majority have fallen into open fields instead of built-up areas. So far, as tragic as it is, there have been 2 deaths and less than 20 people injured.
 
Of the 60 missiles that have so far fallen today, every single one of them has fallen into open fields and no-one has received so much as a scratch! If that is not Hashem personally taking care of us I don't know what is!
 
In the meantime the army in Ashdod has been mobilized – the "army" of Hashem that is!
 
Amongst the actions the ''army" has undertaken is to set up vigils for Tehillim. In addition most women have accepted upon themselves to say a few extra perukim of tehillim a day for the safety of our beleaguered people and everyone is more careful about shmiras haloshon and the mitzvos particular to us women.
 
Neighbours in each building are helping each other out in whatever way they can. Those who live on the lower floors of a building are hosting their neighbours who live on the higher, and more dangerous floors.
 
Families who live on the North side of the city (the safer side) have taken in families who live on the South side of the city (the side that is nearer to the Gaza strip)
 
But first and foremost because we realise full well that only Hashem can help us it is to Him that everyone's heart is turned to, and to whom we pour our teffilos out to, to protect us and save us.
 
And Hashem I'm asking you – look at Your people and see who they are; is there another nation in the world who in times of trouble turn only to You. You chose us to be Your nation and You chose wisely because we have remained faithful to You throughout the generations, to this day. We still cling to You and You alone after two thousand years of a difficult golus of hester ponim because we know and recognise that only You can help us.
 
In the zechus of all this:
Please Hashem save us and deliver us from our enemies!




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