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Feb 28, 2008

Adventures in Eretz Yisrael: Sderot: Dodging the Kassam

The beleaguered city of Sderot. A living hell for the residents. They can't move away, they don't want to move away, and the government has practically ignored their situation with empty promises.

The government has not performed any military activity to defend and protect Sderot (and the surrounding villages). They have refused to fortify the buildings, until they have been forced into agreeing, and then they only agree to a partial fortification.

The government talks about helping them, but today the coalition government voted against a series of tax benefits for business in the Sderot area that have suffered from the security situation (the bill of tax benefits passed, against the wishes of the coalition heads, because the opposition parties pushed it and garnered up enough support from within the coalition to overcome the coalition position).

Last week 10,000 people from all over Israel flocked to Sderot in a show of solidarity. They went to make their weekly Shabbos purchases at the shops in Sderot, as a way of boosting the local business, rather than just giving charity, help their businesses during tough times.

A group of people where I work wanted to arrange such a group, from our office. We put it together and scheduled the trip for Wednesday. We would do (some of) our shopping in Sderot, specifically looking for the "Mom and Pop" stores, rather than the big supermarket chains.. Those who could not, or would not, come along, were askd if they wished to donate towards the people of Sderot. We arranged with a local organization called Afikim Ba'Negev that we would be coming to spend the evening shopping in Sderot and making a donation for the people of Sderot.

Plans went full steam ahead. Wednesday arrived and we had about 20 people ready to go to Sderot. The guy in charge of raising the money, arranged the company to give "matching funds". He raised about 11,000 NIS, meaning the donation would be about 22,000 NIS (I do not know the exact final amount).

So off we go. I had to go pick up my car, so I left seperately from the group. We made up at which junction I would meet them. I got there way ahead of them. As I was driving, the radio reports that in the past hour 15 Kassam rockets had been shot at Sderot. Some hit a factory injuring a few, some hit a University injuring a few and killing one. The situation looked bleak.

We meet up at the junction and pull into the adajacent shopping mall to figure out what to do considering the situation. Some of wanted to continue on to Sderot, others thought it was being foolhardy and there was no way to continue. The guy from the organization called us and said we should go home. "All the stores," he said, "are closed anyway, everyone is in the bomb shelters, streets are empty. There is no point in coming today. It has never been this bad. I have never told peopel to not come, but today I have to."

We wait a little bit to see if things calm down, as the IAF was striking targets in Gaza, so maybe they would stop shooting rockets. Things just heat up more. We keep getting reports of more Kassams falling in Sderot.

Some people decide to go home, but some of us wanted to continue to Sderot. We were so close, and we did not believe things were as hairy as the guy described. Some of those who wanted to go could not because of rides and arrangements, so only three of us continued onwards to Sderot.

We make it to Sderot and find a city that moves on. Cars were driving the streets, people were waiting at (reinforced) bus stops, the shopping center and other stores were open.

We are driving around and suddenly we hear the siren "Tzeva Adom (color red)". That means an incoming Kassam has been detected and we have 15 seconds to find shelter. We pulled over to the side of the road, nearly getting into an accident as other cars were also pulling over, and got out of the car. We crouched close to the ground next to a wall for protection. About 10 seconds later we hear a "BOOM" and feel a faint thud from somewhere not too far away. We wait a little bit longer in case there would be another, as often they shoot off two or three rockets one after the other. A few moments later we get back in the car and continue on our way.

We find a little shop open and decide to stop in. It was a nice little store that sold snacks and varieties of "tchachkes". We bought some candy and potato chips. I told the proprieter (Nissim) our story and he said, "Of course we are all open - we need to make a living!!" He thanked us for coming and after chatting for a few more minutes we moved on.

We saw some flashing lights in the distance and decided to see if that is where the Kassam had fallen. We drive up there and find some police cars. Right there is a small supermarket, so we park and go in.

We are looking around, collecting a few items to purchase when suddenly we hear the siren. The storekeeper also had the radio on and a walkie talkie, so we heard all sorts of noises from different places. He had a bomb shelter in the store (it doubled as his storage area) and he, his partner, and his 16 year old girl cashier ran quickly into the shelter screaming at us to get in.

I was the closest to the shelter and went right in with them. The other 2 guys were further back in the store and the owner was screaming at them to come to the shelter. One guy came right away and the other did not come. He must not have heard (I think he was ont he telephone). They started screamign at him and eventually he came in.

They were very frightened, especially the girl who was very shaken. They were talking about how they cannot take it anymore. All day they have been in and out of the shelter (40 Kassam rockets fell today in Sderot). He told us that a short while before, one of the last Kassams had fallen right behind the store.

We waited a bit and they decided they were closing the store for the night and going home. We paid for our stuff and went on our way.

We are driving around, looking for some place to get a Shwarma or Falafel or something, and we pick somebody up. He says he will tell us where to go, and he needs to go right nearby where we want to go. So we give him a ride and thanks us for coming and tell sus how crazy the day had been..

He directs us to Shwarma place that would be open in the main shopping area, and we drop him off. We go in and look around a bit, buying some small things. We find the shwarma place and sit down to eat. This is the happening place, as people come and go, some sit, some are chatting, some are eating..

We eat our shwarma and decide it is time to go home. we drive through the city and as we are leaving the city, the intersection just out of the city is blocked by about 20 young men (upper teens probably) burning tires in the middle of the street, blocking traffic, in protest of the indifference of the government. The police basically let them get out their frustrations, as there are not too many cars anyway in that corner of the world, and cars could really go around it after waiting a few minutes. One of the guys saw someone he knows, who was a volunteer in Sderot with an social welfare organization. They chatted a few minutes and then we were off. Back up to Ashkelon and then home.

While we did not, could not, make a big difference, we made our little moral contribution to the people of Sderot. We did what we could, and hopefully we will reschedule the trip with the original group for sometime next week or in two weeks.

My pictures were no good, so if the pics I get tomorrow from the other guys are good, I will post a few...

4 comments:

  1. shkoyach rafi. good of you to show support in the face of danger. while the others who returned or couldn't go are also correct in their choices, I salute your decision.

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Typo, that's all...

    Totally amazing. While we often (OK, really it's not "we" it's "I") feel removed from what's going on in E"Y, your post really gave me a first hand feel for what's happening.
    For what it's worth, my son's 2nd grade Rebbe at ACHDS has encouraged his students to say Tehillim. My son has asked me several times over the past few weeks if I mind if he davens for E"Y.

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  4. Kol Hakavod and thank you for the excellent report on the trip.

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