Olim in Ashkelon unfazed by the missiles

"The thing I'm worried about most is how worried my parents are. I'm trying to calm them down."

Ashkelon Olim 224.88 (photo credit: Yaakov Lappin)
Ashkelon Olim 224.88
(photo credit: Yaakov Lappin)
Situated in the unenviable locale of south Ashkelon, under the shadow of a dramatic rise in rocket attacks from Gaza, fresh olim from around the world at the Kalanit Jewish Agency Absorption Center said Sunday that they were uncomfortable because of the security situation, but not fazed by it. "I feel fine. It's not pleasant, but I'm not scared," said Veronica Litvinovsky, a 21-year-old immigrant from Uzbekistan, speaking just two hours after Ashkelon was rocked by a powerful blast from a Grad missile slamming into a residential building. No stranger to conflict, Litvinovsky said she was accustomed to news of war from neighboring Afghanistan in her old country, but added that she had never before heard the sounds of rocket attacks as she did now. "The thing I'm worried about most is how worried my parents are. I'm trying to calm them down," she said. "These youths are not alone. We are like family, and that's what this place is about," Ester Parlenata, a staff member at the center, chimed in, placing her arm around Litvinovsky in a motherly embrace. "We give them support, hold intimate conversations with them, and they know that they're not alone in this. We are here with them all the way," Parlenata added. Yuriy Krasnick, 22, made aliya from Poland just six days ago and has had to become accustomed to the sounds of exploding rockets. "On my first day, I heard a Kassam explode after lunch. It was a very strange feeling - I knew this was a dangerous situation, as a rocket could hit our building any time. I saw anxiety in the eyes of many here," Krasnick said. "At first, we were joking about it, but when we had to descend into the bomb shelter, we realized this was no game, that this was a serious situation," he added. "This touches everyone," said Abraham Oz, 25, who immigrated from Argentina a year ago. "It's scary. The first time I heard the rocket, I didn't know whether to stand up or sit down," he added. "But I feel very secure in this building. I feel that I have the support of the people who live and work here. I feel that this is a safe place." "We hear helicopters overhead constantly," Krasnick said. "We try to be positive all the time." "My family tells me I'm naïve," laughs Oz. Alizka Yarden, manager of the Kalanit center, said the support offered to the olim by Jewish Agency staff would overpower the fears caused by Hamas's rockets. "We have the tools to deal with this and provide counseling. We have a video conferencing room, which is used to provide psychological help to anyone who needs it, or to speak to their parents," she said. "We're as worried as much as we should be, but this will always be a supportive place." Ely Goldsmith runs the neighboring Beit Canada in Ashkelon, which houses new immigrants from Ethiopia. "The olim have handled this situation with total maturity," Goldsmith said. "During the rocket attacks, they assembled in the bomb shelter. We have taught them paramedic skills and share all of our knowledge with them."