American immigrant David Martin Lelchook's last conversation with his wife took place only 15 minutes before he was killed by shrapnel from the missile that landed in his front yard on Wednesday afternoon. He told her that he had to stay in their small Kibbutz Sa'ar home to care for the crops and for their three dogs and three cats, even though she and many of his neighbors had sought refugee in safer parts of the country.
"He was scared but he refused to leave. He said, 'Someone has to stay,'" Lelchook's wife, Esti, told The Jerusalem Post.
Shortly after that last phone call, she heard on the news that a man on a bicycle had been killed at Sa'ar, near Nahariya. She believed it was him, based both on the pictures of the destroyed home and because her husband had loved to cycle.
"I still can't believe it. He was careful and often went into a protected room," she said. She sighed and added, "But he was not careful enough. Now I have joined the circle of bereaved families."
Lelchook, 52, is the third person from the Nahariya area to be killed by Hizbullah rockets in the past two weeks. On July 18, Andre Zilensky was killed when a missile hit him outside of a communal bomb shelter in the city. On July 13, Argentinean immigrant Monica Lehrer Zeidman was killed when a rocket hit her penthouse apartment in Nahariya.
As a result of the rockets assaults, both Nahariya and Kibbutz Sa'ar resemble ghost towns. On Wednesday alone, some 60 rockets landed in the area. A few homes in the city were damaged and 22 people were lightly wounded or were treated for shock, according to Nahariya police.
Gazing at the empty yards in Sa'ar, member Alberto Ovin said that normally, children would be playing outside while their parents sat and socialized as the day wound down. Instead, a single cat meandered by.
Kibbutz secretary Yair Bauml said that about 380 of the 450 people who live there had left.
Bauml and Ovin both said that it was in Lelchook's nature to have remained behind to care for the animals and the land.
"He was the kind of person who helped everyone," said Ovin. He had asked Lelchook to feed his dog when he left for a few days with his family.
The two of them had been friends for more than 15 years, said Ovin, who is an immigrant from Argentina. "He [Lelchook] was a calm person who was not rattled when things went wrong. And he loved to build things," Ovin said.
Esti said of her husband, "He was a person who gave with all his heart."
She had left more than two weeks ago to stay with their 25-year-old daughter in the center of the country. Their younger daughter, 23, was in the US when her father was killed.
"But he was worried about the animals that were left on the kibbutz. He would leave them food," said Esti. He also distributed food to people stuck in communal shelters in Nahariya, she said.
Rabbi Yisrael Butman of Chabad said that Lelchook was a regular contributor to its soup kitchen.
Esti said that ever since her husband was a young boy growing up in Newton, Massachusetts, he had dreamed of living in Israel. He visited several times as a volunteer before he immigrated in 1980, she said. They met while he was working with children in an outlying area during his first years in the country.
At first they lived in Nahariya, but they moved to Sa'ar 16 years ago so that they could raise their children in a more pastoral setting and fulfill his dream of working the land.
"He wanted a life style that was different from that of the US. He loved the idea of the kibbutz and he wanted to work in agriculture," she said. "He succeeded in fulfilling his Zionist dream even though he was here alone, without other family members. He was happy to be in Israel. He did everything he could for the country."
Esti added that he had served in the army and performed reserve duty.
She has stayed away from their home since hearing of her
husband's death. But kibbutz members and friends have visited the site of the attack, looking at the crater in front of the home and the sections of crumbled wall. The blast overturned furniture, shattered windows and scattered debris in a wide circle outside.
Lelchook's neighbor, Dubbi Lieberman, who was cleaning up rubble that had fallen onto his porch, said he was in his protected room when the rocket hit because he had wanted to watch a movie on TV.
"I heard things fall in the house, so I knew the explosion was
close by," he said. When he walked out, the air was filled with smoke.
When it cleared, he understood that Lelchook was dead.
His black bicycle lay off to the side. It is assumed that Lelchook left it there following his return home, minutes before the attack. Some neighbors said that he was still outside when the missile fell because he was calling his dogs into the house for their protection. Others believe he simply didn't have time to make it to safety.
Ovin, who was inside his home at the time of the attack, said that he had understood from the sound of the explosion that a rocket had landed nearby. He walked toward Lelchook's home and was greeted by a neighbor who told him "Dave had died."