Normal life resumes quickly in Ashkelon

Sha'ar Hanegev residents: We will fight for our right to a normal life.

French Oleh Ashkelon (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
French Oleh Ashkelon
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
From his perch next to the gaping rocket hole in the roof of the Hydrotherapy Center next to Sapir Academic College on Sunday, Oded Koren had a perfect view of spots where rockets fired from neighboring Gaza have struck over the past eight years.
Pointing to the white plastic chairs set up under a green plastic awning just outside the center’s indoor pool, Koren said that rockets hit twice before, in 2007 and 2008.
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Each time, they shattered windows in the building, but there were no injuries, said Koren, who is in charge of security for the center.
A security guard was once wounded by a rocket on a road leading to the center, and a student was killed on the campus, Koren said.
Miraculously, he said, the center, located between the college and Sderot in the Sha’ar Hanegev region, was closed on Saturday night, when the rocket tore into a fitness room for disabled children. It also destroyed a room used for yoga and birthing classes as well as an office.
Late on Sunday afternoon, wires and tiles hung from the ceiling and furniture was overturned in the rooms, which were filled with dust and debris.
The direct hit followed a Grad rocket in nearby Ashkelon on Friday morning, which narrowly missed a large apartment building.
But the damage to the three rooms on the second floor of the Hydrotherapy Center in Sha’ar Hanegev, which serves as a fitness center for locals and offers rehabilitative services for the disabled, was limited.
The rest of the building was unharmed. Outside of the red taping material that blocked entry to the second floor, it was not possible to see any damage to the structure from the first floor or even outside.
“We opened as usual in the morning,” Koren said.
Leading The Jerusalem Post through the building, he showed how swimmers were busy doing laps in the pool and the fitness room, with its treadmills and weight lifting equipment, was crowded.
“Normal life was restored very quickly,” he said as he stood in the lobby as calming music played and members of the center entered the airconditioned building with sports bags thrown over their shoulders; just like any other summer day.
The receptionist said that on one hand it did make her nervous to work there when she thought about the attack, but on the other hand, she lived nearby and a rocket could just as easily strike her home, and almost had in the past.
The center’s fund-raiser, Varda Goldstein, said, “No one will get the better of us.
We will continue to fight for our right to have a normal life here.”
She returned from Europe on Sunday morning and went straight to her office from the airport.
Luckily, Goldstein said, it was unharmed. She added that the center was the only one in Israel that integrated the disabled into a regular fitness center.
In Ashkelon, Friday’s attack left more visible damage.
The shattered windows of the apartment building’s ground floor, where office space was under renovation, had yet to be replaced.
A car whose rear window was also destroyed when the rocket hit nearby was still parked in the small lot.
Glass shards littered the sidewalk all around the building.
But half a block away, it was a normal day for French immigrant David Baruch-El.
He manned the counter in a hardware store that also sells toys and cutlery.
Outside his store, not far from the beach, he had hung rubber boats. Leaning against the window were rubber rafts and inner tubes. Balls tied up in a net hung from the cement awning.
Customers flowed in and out. Baruch-El said that it was in all ways a normal day.
On Friday morning, he was in the parking lot on his way to open the store, when the siren rang.
He understood immediately what was happening and sought refuge behind the wall of a building.
Within moments there was an explosion. The ground and the building shook. “It felt like an earthquake,” Baruch-El said.
He held his ground for a bit, fearful that a second rocket was on its way, before going to find out what had happened.
He filmed what he saw on his iPhone and showed the Post shots of that morning.
The tall, slim, dark-haired man came to Ashkelon six months ago, in spite of the rockets, because he thought it would be a good place to live.
He is not deterred. “I came to strengthen the country. I am a very strong Zionist.”
Similarly, he had no problem continuing to work in a store that lacked an area protected against rockets.
“You can’t change your fate. If you are supposed to die, you will die,” Baruch-El said.