Quiet descends on Ashkelon on 3rd day without school

Reporter's Notebook: Parents describe break from school as essential safety measure, but staying cooped up indoors is hard for the kids.

AShkelon Gaza rockets cars 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/ Nir Elias )
AShkelon Gaza rockets cars 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/ Nir Elias )
City streets and public parks across Ashkelon were largely bereft of children on Tuesday, bringing a certain stillness to the city of over 100,000.
Tuesday was the third straight day that schools and kindergartens have been closed in Ashkelon, Beersheba, Gan Yavne and Ashdod in response to the ongoing rocket fire since Saturday. One of those rocket attacks in Ashkelon killed 56-year-old local Moshe Ami, who died of shrapnel wounds Saturday night.
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Inside the Giron Mall across from City Hall, parents let off steam with their young children in a small play area in the upstairs food court. The parents described the three-day school break as an essential measure for safety, but one that is hard for energetic children to endure, at least for toddlers and other children not old enough to have become accustomed to sequestering themselves indoors behind smart phones and video games.
“I was with my kids at home for three days straight and they just started going crazy, climbing up the walls,” said Tali, a young mother of a four-year-old and an 18-month-old.
Tali said she brought her children to the mall for their first outing in three days, a short respite for ice cream and window shopping before returning to the close proximity of their apartment’s bomb shelter.
Yaniv, an engineer at a factory outside of Ashkelon, said he and his wife have taken turns this week taking days off from work to spend with the kids.
“We’ve switched off each day one of us working and the other staying at home. My work hasn’t said anything though, they seem to understand.”
Yaniv said his two boys aged eight and four-and- a-half are enjoying the time out of school playing video games and spending extra time with their parents, but that staying cooped up indoors has still been hard for them.
“You can’t just stay inside all day, you have to go somewhere, but you can’t go to the park or the beach because you have nowhere to run,” Yaniv said, adding that as soon as they finish their outing at the mall they’ll head back to spend the rest of the day at home, near the shelter of their safe room.
For Ariella Baiduch, the decision of where to spend the day with her two young children was affected by a sense of helplessness and vulnerability across the city.
“They need air, they need sun, and in our house we don’t have a bomb shelter. So we might as well be outside, it can happen anywhere,” said Baiduch, whose friend Mor Matesna, 26, of Rishon Lezion, said she took the day off to help her care for her two kids, aged one and two.
Management of the mall said it provides a certain level of safety for those who find themselves inside during a rocket attack. According to Shulamit Malkah, a young mother and manager of the mall’s marketing department, there are a few safe rooms in the building, and each floor has stairwells that can provide a measure of safety.
She added that mall security guards are trained to file customers into the safe areas within 30 seconds.
Malkah said that while the mall is usually packed on school vacation days, when the day off is a result of the security situation, the mall slows to a halt just like the rest of the city.
“On days like this the whole community shuts down. The children only go from house to house or one relative to another and everyone just stays inside and tries to maintain their daily routine as much as possible.”
She added that the situation has had some affect on her two-and-a-half-year-old son, who as a result of the frequent “Code Red” rocket alarms, grows panicked when he hears an ambulance or a police siren.
Like other residents, the safety or lack thereof of public and private buildings in Ashkelon is a source of ire for Mayor Benny Vaknin, who said Tuesday that in his estimation, over 50 percent of the buildings in the city don’t have bomb shelters, and that since Operation Cast Lead in January 2009, the state has not financed a single new shelter in the city.
Vaknin said city officials will meet Tuesday night to assess the situation, and will decide whether or not to have class Wednesday depending on if there are further rocket attacks in the nighttime.
Few areas of the city seemed more vacant than the seafront, where the combination of the security situation, the low access to bomb shelters, and the slightly chilly autumn weather cleared the beach of almost all visitors.
A young couple and their two children who said they immigrated to Israel four years ago from France strolled along the beach before dusk, seemingly in no hurry to get home.
The husband, Aharon, said that if they were to hear a Code Red siren they would lie down on the beach and cover their heads, and not run off in a panic searching for a safe area.
He added that the they have become used to such situations living in Ashkelon for four years, and that dealing with the rocket threat is just another burden to shoulder.
“C’est la vie,” he said, and headed for the parking lot with his wife and daughters.