My wife and I returned to Sderot in the middle of the night. With us came her 87-year-old mother and retarded younger brother. We went to sleep immediately and rose late in the morning. I passed the day unpacking the German and French used paperbacks I bought in Europe, catching up with emails I received while away, and massaging our three cats, who sat on The Cat Chair next to my desk.
Her brother and I attended Mincha, the afternoon service in the synagogue across the street from our home. We are active in that congregation, having raised money to repair the mikveh, brought European Christian volunteers to repair the synagogue’s roof and now hopefully to build a kind of underwater elevator for disabled women to descend into that mikveh.
After we returned home, I returned to my computer, working through the emails for an hour or two while listening to Mozart, until an alarm interrupted my labor and pleasure. The alarm in Sderot is not a siren, but rather the recording of a woman’s voice, made by a young soldier some years ago. I rose from my chair to get my in-laws and wife into our home’s bomb shelter. Almost every home in our town has such a shelter, and they are effective; one shelter had a big scorch mark on its side where a Kassam rocket had struck it.
The family that had been in the shelter when the rocket struck told me that the noise a rocket makes for those inside a shelter when that little concrete room takes a direct hit is volcanic, but that those folks lived to say so says something about how good those shelters are. My wife and I had speculated on how her brother would react to an attack, but he seemed to enjoy the excitement and not to notice the explosions that followed. My mother-in-law refused my entreaties to enter the shelter. She spent the Second World War in Europe; people of her background are hard to impress.
And so, just after hearing “Soave sia il vento,” Mozart’s sweetest and gentlest trio, the young woman repeated “Tzeva Adom!,” “Tzeva Adom!,” “Tzeva Adom!,” or “Color Red!,” “Color Red!,” “Color Red!,” as usual, followed by an almost simultaneous “WHOOOOSH!,” beginning even before the last “Tzeva Adom!” ended.
This extraordinary sound was like a Boeing jet flying through our living room. The singers of Mozart’s trio invoked the winds to blow gently as they saw their lovers off to combat: a fine example of the absurd montage of war, with Mozart’s sweet breeze followed by the pair of Iron Dome rockets blasting off and up to destroy a Kassam that might well have been the third rocket to strike our home.
The seconds slipped by until three ear-splitting explosions blasted the enemy’s rockets above and our eardrums below. Bits of flaming metal fell on downtown Sderot. These descended slowly to parks and streets in our town for children to collect the next morning. Every Sderot child has a little pile of Kassam and Iron Dome remains in his playroom. These rockets have been a part of Sderot childhood for 15 years.
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My wife, a pair of friends and I set off to see what had happened. As we walked out the door a flock of hundreds, if not thousands, of birds flew out of the trees on the opposite side of our little square. We could see the enormous cloud of dark forms and hear their panicky screeches as they reacted to having been so viciously awakened at night, when all is usually calm. Dogs barked at the heavens, and cats stared at us with shock and terror in their eyes. An ambulance passed us.
We had been under the impression that Israel had destroyed the Kassam over another group of homes, but decided to follow the ambulance. It and a pair of motorcycles, all belonging to Magen David Adom, stopped in front of a home. A man on the front porch argued with the ambulance crew about whether or not the ambulance was to evacuate him. It seems he had tripped while running to a shelter.
Tripping while running is another peril in Sderot; I know somebody who broke his collar-bone during a Kassam attack.
This man made light of his injuries. He did not want to enter the ambulance. Israelis are often dismissive of the damage they suffer themselves, though very solicitous of other hurt people. This young man was obviously in great pain. We listened to this conversation for a while. We decided we would not seek the area where the rocket’s pieces had fallen. As we walked home we passed a home whose family and friends were singing and dancing to celebrate Hanukka. I peeked in the open door, silently marveling at the noisy revels with which these people resisted terror.
They noticed me and invited me in for a glass of wine. Children rejoiced there as well, 15 minutes after a rocket attack on their town.
All very fine; Jewish brains have created an effective counter-measure with which to destroy incoming rockets from Gaza. It usually works. We have walked to the Iron Dome rocket system, of which Sderot has two batteries sitting at opposite ends of town. Iron Dome has a computer brain that first notices a rocket coming from Gaza, tracks the Kassam’s trajectory to determine where it will fall, and then decides whether or not to fire a pair of counter-rockets from one of those batteries.
If this modern electronic marvel thinks the Kassam will fall where we live, Iron Dome shoots it down; if the Kassam’s path is to an uninhabited area, Iron Dome holds its fire. Kassams are not particularly accurate. Their target is Sderot, a small city of about 23,000 men, women, and children. A Kassam cannot be aimed at a specific building. Its purpose is terror.
That Iron Dome took out this Kassam, and that the good folks at that party did not allow a missile to poop their unpoopable party makes the Israeli military industry and the people of Sderot look pretty good. I might also point out, though, that when the Kassam attacks began there was no alarm system, and I remember the astonishment I felt when I heard my first Iron Dome shoot a Kassam down.
Things are less devastating today. At the moment when Iron Dome was destroying the Kassam with that stupendous blast overhead, parents tried to calm their children, many of whom cried themselves into hysteria and could not get to sleep that night. The percentage of people here who suffer from hearing disabilities is higher in my town than elsewhere in Israel; many folks have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); one often hears of bed-wetting children; the percentage of premature birth or miscarriage among Sderot women is higher than it is elsewhere.
My worst moment here was talking with a family whose 10-year old daughter was explaining how well she could handle a Sderot childhood. As she spoke, I kept trying not to stare at the stain steadily advancing along her pants between her legs. Discussing her Sderot childhood caused her to lose control of her bladder. These steady rocket attacks on a civilian population have a cumulative effect over a period of years. Let no one say “nothing happened” because that night’s rocket hit no home. Such statements are cruel.
The author was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, and has degrees from Columbia University and NYU. He resides with his wife in Sderot, where they bring Christian Zionist volunteers to the southern Israeli city.
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