Ramat Gan residents have faced their share of blasts

First came the Scuds, then a mob bombing. Compared to that, hosting relatives fleeing the 2nd Lebanon War was a pleasure for Elizah Yosef.

gas mask 311 (photo credit: AP)
gas mask 311
(photo credit: AP)
Elizah Yosef was at home with her niece Sefi when a Scud missile struck outside their apartment house on Ramat Gan’s Rehov Abba Hillel on January 22, 1991.
The missile tore out the front half of the building, where Sefi had been sitting in her apartment minutes earlier. Her life was spared because Yosef had called her niece to help rearrange some furniture. Sefi was lightly wounded by a falling window.
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“I just happened to tell her, come over, help move this. If I hadn’t, half of the building would’ve fallen on top of her,” Yosef said.
Earlier this week, exactly 20 years since the allied air campaign against Saddam Hussein’s military began, the 74- year-old sat in the living room of her spacious apartment, on the seventh floor of the residential tower that was built on the site of the buildings smashed by the Scud attack.
She said she didn’t live with any trauma from the incident.
“I had a little bit of shock at the time. All of a sudden you don’t have a house. But once I realized I hadn’t been hurt, I was okay,” Yosef said. After the explosion, she recalled, she wandered around the neighborhood almost until dawn, before she went with family to stay at the city’s Kfar Hamaccabiah Hotel.
A Baghdad native, Yosef made aliya without her parents at the age of 15 and stayed at a transit camp near Kfar Hassidim, outside Haifa. She described that experience as very difficult and “not something you forget easily.”
Though she had a brush with death in the Scud attack, it appears that Yosef’s experience in the transit camp, and the three years in the ’90s when she was displaced from her Ramat Gan home while the new tower went up, were much harder. She described the latter process as “torture.”
Then, during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Yosef hosted her sisters and their children and grandchildren who live in the North, with more than a dozen family members crowded together for safety in the building that had suffered a direct hit the last time the home front was targeted in war.
But Yosef laughed as she talked about the Second Lebanon War. “It was nice, everybody sleeping on mattresses and couches in the living room.”
Like Yosef, many residents of Ramat Gan are of Iraqi origin.
The city is practically synonymous with Iraqi Jewry, leading to black humor during the First Gulf War that Saddam was targeting his former compatriots and that the missiles were being drawn by the smells of amba and sabich. Ramat Gan was one of the places worst hit by the 40 or so Iraqi Scuds that hit Israel, killing two people and wounding around 230.
The tower on Rehov Abba Hillel, near Rehov Bialik, is part of a four-building high-rise complex built on the site where four small buildings, each with six to 10 apartments, were destroyed by the Scud attack at the beginning of the war. Each of the nine-story towers houses close to 20 apartments. Most are inhabited by new tenants, renting the apartments that were given to those who lost their homes. It’s a poorly kept secret that a number of those residents were compensated with newer, larger and significantly more valuable apartments than they had before the attack.
But the First Gulf War wasn’t the last time an explosion rocked the complex; not long after the new buildings were completed, a car bomb meant to take the life of alleged mobster Nissim Alperon exploded in the parking lot. Alperon, who lived in the building, was not harmed.
Downstairs from Yosef’s apartment sits the Roni Rachel Shuki Josef hair salon, where stylist Roni Yosef, 43 (no relation to Elizah or Sefi), a lifelong resident of Ramat Gan, works.
He worked in another hair salon in a building destroyed by the Scud missile 20 years earlier. At the time, he was around the corner at his parents’ house on Rehov Bialik, huddling in a safe room with his immediate family.
“The building was very badly damaged, windows were shattered, and the shutters were blown off. My mom was hurt as well, cut on the forehead by flying glass,” he said.
Roni Yosef, today a married father of three, said, “It was a complete mess back then. It was terrifying putting everyone in the safe room and waiting.
It’s just not something you picture, that the center of the country will be the front line of the war.”
When asked what he thought when he heard that in the next war, Hamas and Hizbullah would have missiles capable of reaching the Tel Aviv area, Yosef said that for him, the issue was even more difficult now, 20 years down the road.
“I was a kid then [in 1991]; today I’m married with kids.  How could I explain something like this to them? It’s very frightening,” he said.
Yosef said that to this day he thanked Ramat Gan for the help it had given to people whose homes were damaged, saying the city had gone out of its way to attend to their needs and arranged for them to stay at the Kfar Hamaccabiah Hotel while their homes were being repaired.
After staying in the hotel for a little over a week, Yosef and his family left, mainly because “you can’t imagine what it’s like to be in a hotel full of [relocated] people in a time like this. Everyone is stressed out and tense, and every time there’s a siren, they panic, so we moved in with my sister in Petah Tikva for a while.”
In 1996, after the new buildings were completed, Yosef and his partners reopened the hair salon.
“When you think about a war with Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas, you know that all of the country is in their range now,” he said. “It’s just something that’s impossible to imagine happening, so you hope for the best.”