Nahariya residents return to pick up the pieces

'It's summer, so who needs windows?'

With a car destroyed by flames and an apartment with shattered windows and pockmarked walls, Nahariya resident Vered Sela was having a hard time feeling as if she had truly returned home Wednesday. "If you're writing about how we're returning to normal, you're talking to the wrong person," she told The Jerusalem Post. "It's depressing." She was lucky enough to have been out of town when the rocket struck the street in front of her beachfront home, but not lucky enough to be able to sleep in her own bed now that she's back. Instead she's heading to her mother's apartment. It also was hit and lacks windows. "But it's on a top floor so I feel safe being there," Vered said. "And it's summer, so who needs windows?" her mother, Dina asked. The two women were among the thousands of people whose return home gave Nahariya a feeling of rebirth Wednesday. Shortly after the morning of July 13, when an Hizbullah rocket killed Argentinean immigrant Monica Lehrer Zeidman in her penthouse apartment, the city, with its elegant, old fashioned lamp posts and wide shopping boulevard that is normally packed with visitors during the summer, turned into a ghost town. During the war, it was rare to see anyone walking down the street. There were so few cars that traffic lights were unnecessary. Warning sirens wailed every day and residents were instructed to remain in bomb shelters. The Sela family left on July 21 and returned on Tuesday, a day after the cease-fire took effect. Dina Sela said she woke up on July 12 with no idea that war with Hizbullah was about to break out. "I was completely surprised," she said. She was drinking coffee in her home when a rocket landed in the yard outside. She suffered a minor hand injury from the flying glass and ran to a protected space. She left town soon thereafter, as did her daughter, Vered. After a week with relatives in Jerusalem, Vered returned home. She thought of volunteering to work with children in the shelters. Those thoughts ended when a rocket flew over her apartment. Although it landed harmlessly in the sea, it was close enough to convince Vered to flee once more thus, ensuring that she was away when her apartment and car were later hit by a rocket. The Boudanna family had an easier homecoming. None of their property was damaged but it's their work that worries them. Naftali, who builds and sells houses, said he was unlikely to have work for a while as he didn't think Nahariya would be popular with new home buyers. They didn't wait for the first rocket to hit Nahariya; they left on July 12, after Hizbullah kidnapped two reservists. "I knew war would break out," said Naftali. Wednesday was the first time since that they were able to sit on the beach with their two young children. They were among the few who ventured out onto what would normally have been a packed beachfront. They said they were thinking that maybe the Negev would be a better place to live. "I was already leaning in that direction, but the events of the last month are making us think about it even more," said Naftali's wife, Merav. In the city behind them, stores had opened their doors, but it was not business as usual. Hannah Livne spent most of the day in her jewelry store, The Curiosity Shop, reading a Harry Potter novel. Her only customer was a 75-year-old man who came from Herzliya to buy jewelry for his wife because he wanted to do something to help people in the North. Livne said she not begun to calculate her losses caused by shutting her doors in what should have been the height of the tourist season. "Most of my customers are in the summer," she said. The daughter of a Holocaust survivor who was a refugee three times before he arrived in Israel had never intended to flee her home city. "I didn't want to be a refugee," she said. For the first three days of the war, she opened her store on the main shopping street. Then police forced her to shut down. "I would have continued coming here," she said, sitting behind the counter. "For 26 years, every morning I open the store, close it in the early afternoon and reopen in the late afternoon. It's a routine that I'm used to," Livne said. Instead she spent a month hiding under the stairwell during rocket attacks in the home that her father built. It's the first time, she said, that she hasn't understood why her country went to war or why the rockets have now stopped falling. She doesn't believe the threat is over. "I have no sense of security. I could wake up tomorrow morning and find out that Katyushas are falling again," she said. Her neighbor, Shraga Eschel, ignored the instructions to shut down his sporting goods store during the violence. He had no customers, so he repaired things in the shop and moved the merchandise from side to side. On Monday, he had a few customers and by Wednesday sales reached half their normal level, he said. Among his customers were the Arieli family, who had returned Wednesday morning. Top on their to-do list were roller blades for their son, Barak, who turned 10 while they were away. Eschel has a policy of not letting customers leave until he has shown them how stop and go on the blades. He took Barak outside to the sidewalk. Holding his hand, he helped him ride in circles, as if the two were doing a dance. Cars passed by. People sat around tables in open air cafes. After the Arieli family left the store, Eschel said, "Little by little, we're returning to normal."