Safed reemerges from the ruins

Over 600 rockets fell in Safed during the war; About half of the 32,000 residents sought safer places.

katyusha damage 298 ap (photo credit: AP)
katyusha damage 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Once a mecca for mystics and art lovers, its narrow alleyways exuding the spirit of the Kabbala that emerged from the city, Safed is slowly recovering from the effects of a month filled with the explosions of Katyusha rockets that shattered the landscape and routine of the quiet, Upper Galilee town. According to the Safed Municipality, more than 600 rockets fell in Safed during the 32 days of war, with 70 overall casualties, including one fatality. About half of the city's 32,000 residents sought safer places of refuge. With the ever-so-fragile cease-fire that went into effect last Monday, however, residents of Safed were slightly hopeful on Sunday for a return to some semblance of normalcy. A sudden summer rainstorm washed away some of the dust and despair that had settled on the city at the height of the Katyusha rocket onslaught. Many of those who fled are now beginning to return to their homes and businesses. With yeshivas reopening, the downtown mall jumping and locals and tourists visiting the city's famed art galleries, the idiosyncratic quality of Safed, which combines modern business and spirituality set against the backdrop of majestic Mount Meron, is slowly being reborn, at least for the time being. "Things are not yet fully normal, but it's coming back today a bit," said Dikla Kamisa, manager of a women's clothing store on the city's downtown Jerusalem Street. She reopened her store last Tuesday after closing it on July 12, the first day of the war. Shmuel, a photographer originally from New York, has lived in Safed for the past three years and stayed in the town during the past month. He noted the dramatic difference in the number of people in the city's streets Monday. "Forget about seeing a few hundred people on the streets - for most of the time during the rockets, you didn't see more than two people outside," Shmuel said. "Except for the supermarkets being open in the morning, and a bakery and pizza place open at times, everything was closed." For Safed's many famous synagogues, the mass exodus of residents and students impacted heavily on the town's holy character. One resident said that out of the hundreds of places of prayer in the area, only five were able to attract a daily minyan, and just barely. Yeshivas were largely empty. Amid the rockets falling, however, there were many stories of kindness and courage. Municipality spokesman Moshe Ohana said hundreds of volunteers came from all over the country to help out in various ways. He stressed that many government officials, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, came to the town to show support. "People came here to help, mostly total strangers, and that really warms the heart," Ohana said. "There were people bringing food from shelter to shelter while the bombing was actually taking place." Ohana told a story of how Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter brought 70 prisoners to Safed who volunteered to paint and fix electricity inside the shelters. He related how Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar invited a family of nine from Safed into his home. "The last month was a very hard time, but hopefully we are past it," Ohana said, adding, "it was a hard time yet a beautiful time all at once." But despite the quiet that currently exists in Safed, most residents are not very optimistic that the war is over. Eyal Shelli, a married father of twin girls of 20 months and a resident of Safed for more than 30 years, had his house heavily damaged by a Katyusha that fell July 12. "If you ask me who won, I say we lost," he said. "My family right now has nowhere to sleep, no electricity. The government gave us $6,000 for the month, but that's not nearly enough. What do I hope for? I hope for somewhere to live soon." Shelli and his family are currently sleeping in their car while their home is being repaired. Kamisa, voicing an opinion similar to many others, said she thought the war would start up again soon. "This is just a break," she said. "This is a conflict that has been going on for many years. You need more than a month to solve it."