At 2:30 p.m. on Monday, a Katyusha rocket gauged a gaping black hole into the outer wall of a shabby apartment building in the Cana'an neighborhood of Safed.
It was the latest in a series of some 30 missiles that have struck the city since last Thursday and, according to residents of the run-down neighborhood, the seventh to strike Cana'an.
The missile hit a fourth story apartment and exploded in the bedroom. At the time of the blast, three elderly people, Eli and Zohara Yisrael and Zohara's sister, were two rooms away.
"I was sitting in the living room when I heard an enormous explosion," an amazingly calm Eli Yisrael told The Jerusalem Post. He, his wife and sister-in-law were waiting near the entrance of a neighboring building together with horrified neighbors for the sappers to come and examine whether there were unexploded bomb fragments remaining in the burned out apartment.
"At first I thought the bomb had exploded outside the building," Yisrael continued. "I went to get my cell phone to report the incident when suddenly I saw flames. I tried to douse them with a bottle of water, but they grew bigger. I went to get a pail of water from the bathroom, but the fire came closer." The three managed to escape from the apartment unharmed, while a neighbor called the fire department. Yisrael returned to the apartment afterwards to find it flooded and filled with smoke and char.
The family was lucky. No alarm was sounded before the missile struck and the old apartment did not have a safe room. The building has a bomb shelter six floors below the Yisraels' apartment, but, the husband said, his 70-year-old wife has trouble navigating the stairs.
Canadian-born Chabad rabbi Menahem Mendel Kumer does not believe the Yisraels were lucky. He believes the incident was one of a series of miracles the inhabitants of the neighborhood have experienced over the past few days.
Kumer immigrated to Safed from Toronto in 1979 and lives in Kiryat Chabad in the Cana'an neighborhood.
By his count, this is at least the fourth miracle in his neighborhood alone.
One of them was experienced by Yoram Ne'eman, Kumer said. On Thursday, Ne'eman's children were playing outside the house when his father called them to come inside. Before they managed to sit down at the computer, a Katyusha rocket exploded in the very spot where they had been playing.
On another occasion, four youths were sitting in a car outside an apartment building on Zalman Shazar Street. Two of them left the car to go into an apartment. The other two remained in the parked car, when one of them suddenly suggested that they buy something to eat. No sooner had he driven off when a rocket struck the entrance of a building next to where the car had been. The two youths who had headed upstairs were nicked by fragments of shrapnel and glass. The other two were not aware of what happened until they saw the site of the explosion during a newscast later on.
The greatest of all the miracles, said Kumer, happened to Erez Horowitz. A Katyusha was heading toward his house when its trajectory changed at the last moment and the rocket exploded outside a new addition that Horowitz had built underneath his home. If that wasn't enough, a boy was supposed to have been sleeping in the new addition, but was not home at the time of the explosion.
One person's luck is another person's miracle is a third person's idea of fate. Earlier Monday, before the Katyusha struck the Cana'an neighborhood, I noticed an open shop among the largely closed businesses in the old city of Safed, opposite City Hall. It was Eliezer's House of Books, a religious book store owned and operated by an American who had immigrated to Safed 12 years earlier. Asked why he dared open his store in such dangerous times, Eliezer replied that he lived in the Cana'an neighborhood and it was no less dangerous than downtown Safed. Wasn't he afraid, I asked. "No," he replied. "Hashem [God] decides where every bomb will fall." Then why, I insisted, had others been killed by bombs. "I don't know," he said. "I guess it was their time to go, and Hashem had them go in this way."