Monday, May 27, 2024

Diary from Yerushalayim-Operation Protective Edge

Last Monday night, when sirens wailed through Yerushalayim for the first time, everyone was caught off guard. Although the rising tensions, particularly in the southern regions, were unnerving, Yerushalayim was thought to be out of the line of fire of rocket attacks.

The first siren was said to be a false alarm. Yerushalayim breathed a sigh of relief. However, moments later, my children experienced a close call. They were on their way from Beit Shemesh to Kibbutz Chofetz Chaim for a family sheva brachos. As they were walking with their baby from the bus stop near Beit Chilikiyah towards Chofetz Chaim, an open area where there are no houses or shelters, the sirens started. They instinctively dropped to the floor, with my son-in-law protecting their baby. Rockets lit up in the sky, crumbling as they were intercepted by the Iron Dome. Shaken, they picked themselves up and continued on to Chofetz Chaim.


By Tuesday, Operation Protective Edge’s affects were felt throughout the country, particularly in the south, with the constant wailing of sirens.


There were reports that by Tuesday, both the army and citizens had mobilized. The unprecedented call-up of more than 40,000 reserves, the biggest call-up in recent history, was cause for concern. 


Although at this stage people were trying to go about their routines as usual and authorities were trying to reassure citizens, when the sirens started wailing in Bnei Brak for the first time at 8 p.m., residents were shaken up. For many of them, the wailing sirens brought back memories of the terrifying experiences of the scuds in the Gulf War.


I was on the phone with one of my children when the sirens wailed in Bnei Brak. He lives across the street from City Hall, which has speakers that amplify the sirens, and he quickly hung up to carry his terrified children to safety. Now, a week later, he says the children are used to the routine and quickly run to the protected room, where they look forward to getting a candy.


Within two hours, sirens were wailing in Yerushalayim, and within minutes, the normally busy streets were deserted as everyone ran for cover. It was a moment of “Hark hear the cannons roar,” as people implemented the necessary procedure. My young daughter was babysitting and had to carry the sleeping children to the protected room. Once there, she promptly called the parents to come home.


Although much of the country had been affected by the rising tensions, officials assured nervous citizens and tourists that Yerushalayim was not in danger.


Some schools and seminaries had carried out practice drills that morning to be prepared. Those responsible for overseas students and campers had reassured the worried parents that their children were safe in Yerushalayim and there was no need to panic.


It was a big surprise when sirens wailed in Yerushalayim that evening, sending everyone for cover. In fact, Neve Yerushalayim had already offered for their wedding hall to be used for weddings originally scheduled to take place in parts of the country that are under attack.


People in the Yerushalayim area were asked to open their homes to residents from the south and other areas of the country where there is a constant barrage of attacks.


It brings back memories of the Lebanon War, when residents of northern Israel had to leave their homes and temporarily relocate to safer parts of the country. Many of them spent that summer with families who graciously opened their homes to them.


Although there is tension in the air, life continues as summer vacation begins and simchos take place. We were at a simchah when the siren went off and everyone huddled into the safety of the protected room and the staircase.


Many bochurim in yeshivos have been totally oblivious to the sirens in Yerushalayim, which often cannot be heard inside the botei medrash. My nephews in Brisk said that they learned as usual and did not even hear the sirens. Although the sirens are deafening, they are often not heard in well-constructed buildings and reinforced basements.


The wailing sirens continued over the next few days as more rockets were launched. School and day camp programs were canceled in many cities, forcing parents to rearrange their schedules.


Parents became anxious to know of their children’s whereabouts at all times. Many people canceled or relocated their plans for Shabbos, choosing to avoid what was considered “the less safe areas.” Many baalei simchah tried to relocate their simchos. Mymechutonim attended their grandchild’s sheva brachos at Kibbutz Chofetz Chaim, as it could not be relocated on such short notice. Although over Shabbos they heard a few sirens, they said that the sheva brachos was beautiful.


My family had plans to go to Arad, which, although in the south, has never come under rocket attack. However, to get there, one has to travel through frequently targeted areas. My younger children were nervous, as they felt safest in Yerushalayim. That was until 6 p.m. on Thursday, when, once again, sirens wailed through Yerushalayim. By then there was no panic. Everyone simply followed the rules and crowded into the nearest safe place. We could hear the booms of the falling rockets. After waiting the required 10 minutes, we went outside, and as we looked up toward the sky, we could see the trail of debris from the intercepted rockets that had come so close to the city. An hour later, there was a siren in Arad. I asked a Hatzolah paramedic who was tuned in to his radio if it was safe to travel. He answered, “Just go ahead with your plans. You see that it is the same throughout the country.” My children also realized that no one place is safer than the next, so we left Yerushalayim that evening and traveled to Arad, thankfully without incident.


On Erev Shabbos, Beit Haknesset Hagodol in Tel Aviv was hit by a rocket. It was mid-morning, long after davening, andbechasdei Hashem no one was injured.


Shabbos in Arad was a welcome break. The tranquility and detachment we felt in Arad made the volatile, tense situation seem unreal. Although we heard planes from the nearby army base, everything was extremely quiet. People throughout the country had turned on their radios to the special silent stations which would give instructions in case of emergency.


Residents of Ashdod and Bnei Brak heard a few sirens over Shabbos. In Yerushalayim, all was quiet until just before 7:00 in the evening. Many people who were davening and learning in air conditioned shuls did not even hear this siren. My friends were on their way back from the weekly shiur in Ezras Torah, caught unawares as they walked through a park. With a warning of 90 seconds, they did not have to think about what to do. They were invited in, together with all the passersby, to the big Bialer Shul, where they were directed to the miklat, or shelter, where they remained with hundreds of people for the required 10 minutes.


Meanwhile, not far away, on Rechov Menachem Meishiv, Rebbetzin Faiga Esther Finkela”h, who had arrived with her husband from New York a few days earlier, collapsed.


As soon as Shabbos was over, the relative tranquility of Shabbos was all but forgotten as the sirens resumed, and the barrage of rocket fire started with a vengeance, from north to south. There were even sirens in the area of the Yam Hamelach.


Hamas had threatened to take down the Iron Dome intercept at the Azrielli Towers in Tel Aviv if their demands were not met by 9 p.m. There were constant sirens and subsequent booms throughout the country. We were told to stay put for what was anticipated to be a night of intense activity, but my family was already on the way from Arad to Yerushalayim. Traffic was flowing as usual and, boruch Hashem, we arrived home safely, without incident.


Not only were rockets fired from Gaza. The northern cities of Nahariya and Tzefas were under attack from Lebanon, and the local area command posts had instructed that bomb shelters were to be opened in the north as well.


Last week, my daughter went to Nahariya twice to run programs at the Ezer Mitzion Summer Retreat. Imagine: Each time a siren wails, men, women and children, including the infirm and sick, have to be taken with their equipment to shelters and protected rooms. On her way back late Thursday, my daughter saw tanks and heavy equipment being moved south, as then Nahariya seemed relatively safe. By Friday, the tense situation was affecting the north as well.


Many people who had left their homes for Shabbos for what they considered safer surroundings stayed put and did not attempt to return to their homes in areas more prone to attack. Sirens wailed again very early Sunday morning. The reprieve that most of the country felt over Shabbos was short-lived.


Last week,bechasdei Hashem, a serious infiltration by five terrorists planning a deadly attack was thwarted. An alert citizen saw suspicious activity in the water as the heavily armed terrorists dressed in black were coming to shore. He alerted authorities.


Given the events of the past week of Operation Protective Edge, we in Yerushalayim not only empathize with our neighbors in the south, but are also living through the daily uncertainties that the country-wide threat brings.


In Ashkelon, right near Gaza, soldiers, many of them very young, described how they prepared for Shabbos under primitive circumstances, with heartfelttefillos said between maneuvers. Soldiers near Chevron made asiyum as they finished Maseches Taanis together with lomdei Daf Yomi throughout the world.


With each siren, people round up their children, and no one wants to be far from home. People are urged to follow instructions and procedures posted in all buildings, some under the heading, “Venishmartem me’od lenafshoseichem!”


The Iron Dome makes us feel somewhat more secure, but when the sirens are ringing simultaneously in Yerushalayim, Tel Aviv, Bnei Brak and Ben-Gurion Airport, it frightens us.


On Sunday, my daughter, a kallah, went shopping in IKEA in Rishon L’Tzion. Since there are sirens and rockets everywhere, no one place feels safer than another, so there was no reason not to go. I had confidently told her to go ahead with her plans.


Boruch Hashem, she arrived home safely at 2:30 p.m., before a heavy rocket attack.


On Sunday afternoon, a house in the center of Rishon L’Tzion was destroyed. The rocket that fell in Rishon L’Tzion next to gas tanks did not explode, boruch Hashem.


As I write this, the evening round of sirens is sounding in Beit Shemesh, Ashdod, Modi’in, and Kiryat Malachi.


In Ashkelon, a 16-year-old boy was seriously injured in a rocket attack as he ran the 20 meters to a wall for protection. His father said that the prompt response of rescue teams saved him. He underwent specialized treatment and was in stable condition in intensive care. His doctor, Dr. Levy, said everyone should daven for his recovery.


Meanwhile, in cooperation with authorities and security forces, buses were provided as usual to thekever of the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, Rav Chaim ben Atar (1696-1743), on Har Hazeisim, on his yahrtzeit, the 15th of Tammuz.


I attended this special trip. Since Motzoei Shabbos, thousands went to be mispallel at the kever of theOhr Hachaim. Everything was set up as usual. There was a large canopy for shade, with a shehakol drink truck and refreshments, as well as portable facilities.


Mispallelim poured out their hearts. One group of women davened to give shevach for the nissim taking place every minute. Mothers davened for the safety of their soldier sons near Gaza. One woman said that she had three sons “drafted in Gaza.” Another woman gave a brachah that no one should be harmed. Rabbonim and rebbetzins were among those who navigated their way down to the kever along the maze-like stone path, while holding on to their canes. Such is the hashpa’ah of having the zechus to daven at the kever of the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh on his yahrtzeit.


As I write this evening, sirens are wailing simultaneously in Beit Shemesh, Ashdod, Kiryat Malachi, Modi’in and Nitzanim. More than 130 rockets were fired today.


Of course, theirgunei chesed are working on overdrive, not only supplying soldiers with food, drink andchizuk, but also going to the heavily affected cities, where they provide welcome treats and activities for the children.


The Toldos Aharon Rebbe and the Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Rebbe have canceled their regular trips overseas. They do not want to leave their chassidim during this eis tzarah.


Everyone knows someone who is in the line of danger. My daughter’s dentist says that he does not sleep at night, as he knows that his son is on active duty in Gaza from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m.


We are all davening for Avinu Shebashomayim to protect us. As we all know, it is not the Iron Dome that protects us, but the Divine Dome. “Shomer Yisroel shemor she’eiiris Yisroel…ha’omrim shema



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