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Reesa and her family in Be'ersheva Israel


Blast blows out windows of neighborhood synagogue; older man

By Reesa Stone, March 30, 2011

Life in Israel normally begins much earlier in the day than in North America. Most people here have to be at work by 8:00 or 8:30 AM, so 7:00 AM is already considered 'rush hour'. Nonetheless, Wednesday morning's 5:30 AM alarm was still a little earlier than usual. Because I had a very full day ahead of me, I was actually already awake and up when warning sirens were heard across the city. Nevertheless, it took me two or three seconds until I understood what that dreadful noise was.

I went directly to my 10-year old's room to wake her and bring her to the safe room. My husband, however, preceded me by three seconds and was already taking her from her bed. We then went into my older daughter's bedroom, which is in fact the safe room (built of reinforced concrete), where she was sitting up groggily in her bed. "Don't these guys know it's 5:30 in the morning?" was her only reaction. Shortly after the end of the siren, we heard the whump of impact, waited a few more minutes – as per instructions of the Israeli DefenceForces's Home Front Command – and then headed back to bed. Of course, one of us only had to lie back down again – still cursing under her breath.

I, however, headed straight to the computer to see if I could find out where the Grad missile had landed. The boom of the impact was much quieter than the last one, so I knew the area where it fell must be much further away than the last missile a few weeks before.

Long before any official news updates were released, my Facebook page was full of information. Several friends were already posting that the crash had been loud; the missile seemed to have landed close to their houses. And then another wrote that she actually saw the bomb crash, as she was running with her toddler to a shelter. When I spoke to her a few hours later, she was still shaken. The grad, she said, had literally fallen in front of her eyes. She and her baby were unhurt physically, but in a slight state of shock. Her building does not have a shelter, so she had to run outside to the neighborhood shelter, which was locked. This was not, she declared, how she planned to start her day.

The missile had landed in the older part of a lower-to-middle-income neighborhood. The street where it fell is populated mainly by older immigrants from Northern Africa—Morocco, Algiers, Tunisia, and Egypt. The street is dotted with synagogues, each boasting its own unique customs and rabbi. Observant Jews pray three times a day—morning, afternoon, and after nightfall. It is considered an extra 'mitzvah' – or good deed – to pray as early in each time period as possible. The synagogue next to which the Grad had crashed was full of men who habitually pray at the 'sunrise' minyan (quorum for prayers). They arrive at the synagogue while it is still dark, and time their prayers so that they say the Amidah (the Standing Prayer) as the sun is just coming up. On this particular morning, the prayers were interrupted by the thunder of the crashing missile. The windows of the shul all blew out, and glass flew in all directions. Because this is Israel and miracles happen, the men streamed out unhurt. Not one was so much as scratched.

Had the Grad been launched ten minutes earlier or later, the streets would have been full of men on their way to or from the synagogues. As it was the streets were empty, and therefore, except for one man watching the action from his third floor window, there were no physical injuries. (The heads of these missiles are filled with jagged pieces of metal and ball bearings so that on impact they can cause even greater damage. The man wounded was hit – on the third storey! - from flying shrapnel).

Obviously, the Grad landing in the middle of the street (replaying the miracle of the last grad that fell two weeks ago) minimized the amount of property damage.

Maybe it was because the Grad didn’t wreak the damage the terrorists had hoped for that three hours later the warning siren sounded again. This time I was already at work in the University. I had left my sleeping daughter in the house as school had been cancelled for the day. After returning to my desk from the shelter, which was not a shelter as much as a stairwell, I immediately called her. She was slightly shaken but calm. I returned home (as did most of the mothers in my department - losing half a day’s work) to be with her. My own FaceBook status said that now I was officially annoyed.

That evening, the organization of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI), in which I am active, was holding a meeting featuring a guest speaker who had been an American volunteer in the Aliyah Bet – the immigration of Jewish survivors of Nazi death camps to pre-state Palestine, defying British mandate edits denying their entry. I spent much of the afternoon speaking to army authorities getting permission to meet (as long as there was a protected area big enough to hold all the people there was no problem), calling the guest speaker to make sure he was coming (a gentleman over the age of eighty, his only comment was “What, I should let a few bombs stop me? I’d never get anything done”), phoning expected guests from Jerusalem to see if they were still coming to the war zone [they laughed, but this was before their own war zone opened up that afternoon in the form of a pigua (terrorist attack) near the Central Bus Station claiming the life of one foreign student and almost 40 wounded – 3 critically], and posting updates on the local e-list saying that yes, the meeting was still being held.

More than 80 people gathered together that evening to hear Murray Greenfield, one of the founders of AACI, speak of his efforts in the Aliyah Bet, brining thousands of Jews home to Eretz Israel. Their attitude was one of defiance; that life – no matter how early or how rudely you are awakened in the morning – not only goes on, but is to be enjoyed, celebrated, and to be taken with gratitude.

Introducing Murray to the crowd, I said, “When I was about 13, I read a book that didn’t exactly change my life, but gave my life a very strong direction, a focus. That book was Exodus, by Leon Uris. It made me want to live in a place where people gave everything for others, where others were more important than self, where everyone is a hero. I wanted to live in a country that had such heroes.  A few years later I was blessed by being able to come and live in a country where miracles happen daily, and where heroes walk among us like regular people.”

What a blessing it is to be witness to daily miracles! Grads fall in empty spaces, between houses, outside shuls, in the middle of an empty street. Heroes come in many shapes and forms; mothers protecting their babies, kiosk owners warning people away from suspicious objects, taxi drivers taking people to hospitals, passers by running to give water to those in shock, strangers praying for the health and welfare of others. Because at the end of the day, despite all our divisions, we are all one family, with one history and one destiny.

And then I said that “being in a room with Murray Greenfield is almost as good as being in a room with Paul Newman”. Everyone else laughed, but Murray didn't look too amused.

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