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May 9, 2009 | by

Four firsthand accounts from civilians under attack in Safed.


By Joel Mowbray

TZFAT, ISRAEL -- The screams of the 9-year-old girl as she pushed through the door immediately grabbed everyone's attention. No amount of reassuring from her mother could truly comfort her. Wrapped inside her mother's arms, the trembling child was too overwhelmed to comprehend the war going on around her.

As an adult, I felt oddly safe, despite the siren blaring in the distance. My adult mind was able to rationalize that the odds of being hit by a Katyusha rocket were actually infinitesimal. And I knew that inside the window-less center of the hospital, I really wasn't even at risk of flying shards of glass.

While a child might not think in terms of "odds," she didn't need to go far to witness justification for her fears. Since last Thursday, more than 100 local residents have come through the front door, some with severe physical injuries, others suffering from severe emotional trauma.

Just last night, a Hezbollah-launched Katyusha rocket smashed into the side of the building. Thankfully, it hit concrete, meaning there was no explosion inside the hospital. But since Katyushas spray shrapnel upward in a cone formation, the blast knocked out windows across the hospital.

Since the rocket hit after 10pm, no children were in the playroom.

Walking through the children's wing the day after, it was clear that a miracle had occurred there. Even after a cleaning crew had done its work, glass was everywhere, including little shards wedged in the computer keyboard where kids normally are glued for hours at a time, day after day. But since the rocket hit after 10pm, no children were in the playroom.

Another child, though, was not as lucky. Recovering from spleen surgery one floor above the children's wing, 13-year-old Koby was watching TV at the time of the blast. Glass rained down on him, and he was gashed in the back of his head.

Further from the blast but on the same floor as the children's wing, 52-year-old Yakov Avoudboul was thrown out of his bed and across the room. This, though, was far less devastating than the rocket that exploded just one meter from him on Friday. An assistant chef at the hospital, Avoudboul was called in on the second day of sustained attacks to prepare meals for the increasing number of patients. Within moments of stepping out his front door, the rocket came within a whisker of killing him instantly.

The rocket explosion sprayed shrapnel into his legs, back, and arms. After he bathes, merely wrapping a towel around himself "feels like dragging nails across my back." The physical wounds, though, will heal. Far more long-lasting will be the emotional scars. "Since Friday, I don't sleep; I just relive the event," he said.

Like other populated civilian areas across northern Israel, Tzfat (Safed) has been showered with Katyusha rockets for almost a week now. Despite this, some residents are actually trying to maintain some semblance of normality. Dr. Anthony Luder explained that he still walks his dog. The punch line to his story, though, was that minutes after he finished one such walk, a spot he had just been was hit by a Katyusha.

Many residents have experienced near-misses or miraculous timing.

Welcome to life in Tzfat. Many residents have experienced near-misses or miraculous timing. Locals have been swapping stories for the past few days, and at least one person said this recent ritual is therapeutic. Based on the rest of the day's events, there will be more tales to tell.

Fifteen minutes after the siren -- the recommended time during which people should stay in sheltered positions -- the group of seven journalists I was with got on the bus and drove away. Less than a mile from the hospital, we saw at least two separate plumes of smoke rising up from the valley below. We received a call from the hospital executive who had shown us around that more rockets had just hit. News reports later indicated that several more rockets pounded the Tzfat area within hours of our departure.

For adults who escape physically intact, the long-term impact of the rocket attacks hopefully will be minimal. Compartmentalization and blocking painful memories are well-practiced skills for adult minds. But as we drove away with smoke from rocket explosions off in the distance, it was the image of the terrified 9-year-old girl I couldn't shake.

* * *


by Miriam Swerdloff

Dearest Family and Friends,

By now, we've all heard the sad news of what has been happening here in
Israel. As an eye witness, I must tell you that the devastation to the north is
heartbreaking. What remains are ghost towns with dilapidated buildings
beneath an ominous black smoky sky.

I was in Tzfat for the last five days and I know now more than ever
before how closely God guides our lives. There were countless miracles
for the people in my community, myself included.

The missiles started and I ducked behind the nearest grave.

Thursday morning, we had no idea what was about to happen. Since it was a
fast day, our class decided to go the cemetery to daven for the Jewish People. I stuck around for a while after the girls had left. I wanted some time to reflect on what the fast meant. Then the missiles started.

I ducked behind the nearest grave. It must have felt like hours passed in just those few moments. Someone who happened to be
working in the graveyard offered me a ride back to school. He turned out to be a high ranking army official, and he explained to me why they so desperately wanted to hit Tzfat. There is a very important military base there that has an underground storehouse of much of Israel's ammunition. He made a few phone calls and quickly found
out where the other missiles had hit, and then devised our escape route.

Given the amount of missiles that fell, statistically so many more people
should have been hurt. In the first round of missiles that hit Tzfat, the
park of the local college was hit. Strangely enough, it was cold
and very windy that day, so the park was empty. Another missile fell
right outside of a crowded hotel. Thank God it wasn't six feet closer to the
hotel. Eight missiles fell in that round.

I went back to school. Most of us were in shock from what was happening.
Although the school wasn't very secure with glass everywhere, we stayed put for the rest of the day. We must have gone through the entire book of Psalms 25 times!!

When the military announced that things had simmered down, I decided it was
better for me to spend the night in the school building than alone in my
apartment. ("Coincidently," my apartment mates had left the day before.) I wanted to go home to pick up some overnight necessities. I happened to overhear another woman who wanted to leave the building. She had her child with her and her arms full of bags. My friend and I decided we would accompany her to where she wanted to go, and then we would carry on to my apartment.

The woman arrived safely, and then we left to go to my apartment. About 150 feet into our journey, the missiles started to fall again. We were at the edge of the city, with only Mount Meron in our view.

The first missile hit about 50 feet in front of us! Noise, fire... We dove to the ground with only a two foot wall to shield us. Moments later, I heard a woman
screaming frantically for her child. I called out to her. She found her
child, and then ushered us inside. We sat with her and her five children while
the missiles rained down and the fast day ended. We tried to distract the kids by
singing songs and playing games. A couple hours later when her husband got
home, we made a mad dash back to school in the dark.

We made it back safely, and then I found out the news. In the round of missiles that fell when I left the school, my apartment received a direct hit. I had been on my way to the apartment. The only reason I wasn't there when the missiles struck was because I had done a mitzvah and accompanied someone who needed help.

The last I heard was that over 300 missiles fell on the small town
of Tzfat while I was there. After a while, we got used to the sounds.
Imagine, singing Lecha Dodi at shul with missiles falling nearby. Imagine,
eating your Shabbos meal with smoke in the air. That was life for us this
past week.

Please pray for us! Be proud to be Jewish! Be proud that God is
stronger than any fear or enemy we might have. Do an extra mitzvah, it may
just save your life, or someone else's.

Your sister in Israel,

* * *

3. Wedding under Fire

by Miri Chason

Everyone knows the sad and scary stories of the past few days in the north. This Thursday, in Kiryat Shmona, a different type of story broke the trend for a few hours. July is usually known as the 'wedding month', but 2006 has seen a number of cancellations due to the security situation. Maya and Shlomi decided that, despite the rockets, this would not be the case with them.

The couple replaced their intended 900-person convention center with the Matmid school bomb shelter in their home town of Kiryat Shmona. "We'll be celebrating the wedding night in a shelter as well," said the brand-new groom.

The escalation on the northern border took its toll on the bride, as she saw how the wedding she'd dreamed of for years was slowly falling apart. Her father, Albert, elaborated: "They were in a very bad mood. In one moment, everything was ruined for them. They'd saved up every penny they earned in order to have this wedding and nothing was going according to plan. They already put down a fifty percent down payment on everything but it's unclear what will happen with the money now. I hope that they'll be able to survive it."

When Maya got out of her car in her wedding dress, she was shocked by the many cameras that greeted her. Instead of guests, she was surrounded by news crews, all asking to document the triumph of the human interest in a time of turmoil. The ice slowly melted and, by the time the cup was broken, the young couple started to smile.

During the entire ceremony, many explosions were heard, but the guests hurried to comfort one another: "That's us firing, not them." The DJ added to the atmosphere and asked guests to "dance and be happy, so that Nasrallah would hear them rejoicing."

"At first I was very stressed out, but now everything is good," said the young bride. "The most important thing is that we're together as man and wife. Nothing else matters to me," added her husband.

Courtesy of


By Laya Saul

The first thing I want to say is thank you to all of you who are supporters of Israel. Your prayers for our well being are meaningful and purposeful.

Thursday, July 13, 2006, 17 Tammuz 5766, a Jewish day of fasting that marks the beginning of three weeks of mourning the destruction of the holy Temple of Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago. Since the shelling in Lebanon was so constant, we decided it would be a good thing to clean out our neighborhood bomb shelter. It was used for storage since Tzfat had never been bombed before. It was built to protect the ten homes on our little row of houses going up the side of the mountain.

Within 20 minutes of finishing the shelter clean up, the first rockets started to fall on Tzfat. We did not have the warning of sirens. The bombs just started falling. Can I describe what it's like to hear a missile fall near your home? The earth rocked. I could feel the nearby impact right through to my bones. I felt stunned. Time stood still. As I heard the shrapnel fall onto my roof, the air was also filled with my husband's shouts to get to the shelter. Outside, I could see smoke rising from houses near ours, but the bombs were still coming. My neighbor asked me what was happening -- she was clearly stunned too. I pointed to the billowing smoke, shouted, and we ran into the shelter with the children.

When we first went into the bomb shelter, the fearsome noises, the tumult, the frantic mothers calling family members who weren't home all added to the fear of the children. I had all my family with me, so I sat on the floor and held five young girls on my lap or next to me. I knew them all; they were my neighbors, and my daughter. The five and seven-year-olds were crying, the two-year-old just trying to be close, and the 10-year-olds were solemn at my sides needing my touch and the sound of my voice.

I choked back my own tears, sang a little bit from Psalms, and hugged tight who ever wanted it. People did their best to bring each other comfort. People prayed, people phoned. There are two families with sons in the army. Young men with bright, mischievous eyes, sweet faces; they are the "big brothers" that the younger guys look up to and want to emulate. Since I moved to Israel, people often ask me what it's like here. I answer that if see a group of Israeli teens with guns, I don't feel afraid; I pray for their safety. Now my prayers are intensified.

We stayed in the bomb shelter for a few hours. A 13-year-old boy who had recently celebrated his bar mitzvah, hungry from fasting, shook his head and said, "Davka, specifically on a fast day they had to start this."

"You know what Moshiko?" I answer. "Our enemy knows our calendar well; they know exactly what day this is." I flash back on a story of Nazis bringing a feast to some Jews at work on Yom Kippur, Jews who would not break their holy fast. And neither did we break our fast as we sat waiting. The passage of time was surreal. Finally I ran into the house and quickly threw a few things into a suit case as my family jumped in the car to travel south to safety.

We're in touch with some of our neighbors by cell phone; most of them are staying with relatives. Many residents from the north have moved south, staying with family and friends as rockets continue to rain down in the north.

We're officially refugees now. We are out of our home and don't know when we can return safely. When people in the Jerusalem area where we are staying find out I'm from Tzfat, their eyes soften and I can sense their hearts open. They know the price of war and loss. For the time being, we are staying with friends. There are communities all over Israel where people are opening their homes to those that had to flee to safety. We've had many offers from friends all over the country to stay in their homes and that if we didn't need to, but knew someone who did, to please pass along the offer. There is an amazing network of people who want to take care of each other.

Keep praying for peace, keep performing purposeful acts of loving kindness, and give the benefit of the doubt as much as you can.

I'm still processing all that I'm experiencing. When I meet someone else from Tzfat, the connection is healing -- a piece of home -- that "knowing" of what it was to feel the shock of being bombed. Cell phones are ringing, emails are flying, people want to know who's where, is everyone okay? My thoughts go back in time to WWII when there were no cell phones to connect, no internet so you can know where your loved ones are. Today we have an army to fight back when we are attacked. And we are fighting back.

And my thoughts fly back in time to the Holy Temple, the Beit Hamikdash. We of this generation have no idea what we lost. How could we? We never knew it. But if my home is a mini Temple, if my table is a mini altar, and now I know the grief of the loss of my home -- a home I can't get back to now, a home I long to return to -- then how much more intense is it that we have lost that central hearth of the Jewish people?

I can't really wrap my brain around war. I cling to the notion that what we can do to change this world are more acts of kindness. It's okay to get out of your comfort zone on this one. All the great rabbinic teachers tell us about the miracles that occur when we guard our speech. Talking negatively about someone (even when it's true!) may be the most damaging habit of our time. May our words always be gentle and kind. Right now is a good time to let go of grudges and forgive. What I've been working on lately in my own path of growth is "Love the unlovable." I read that in a book about being close to your teen and have been applying it to all different kinds of situations. Judge less, embrace more.

Keep praying for peace, keep performing purposeful acts of loving kindness, and give the benefit of the doubt as much as you can. It's the best strategy I know for rocking the heavens and changing this world. May we all choose right action and share many sweet, joyous times.


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