For seven years, Sderot residents feared they had been abandoned by a feckless government and an inattentive public.
We had just arrived in Sderot and were out surveying Kassam damage on Hamaapilim Street when the “Red Rocket” alert sounded. Fifteen seconds until rocket impact. We ran for our lives into the bomb-proof room of Rabbi Simcha and Shlomit Eckshtein, our hosts at 17 Nitzana Lane, one block away. We heard one missile crash, then another. “Tzeva Adom, Tzeva Adom, Tzeva Adom” the siren continued to bark, until the electronic voice got stuck in some computer’s throat and relapsed into a long, throbbing wail – like an old record player running in a rut.
We waited for the squawking to stop, six adults and one youngster crammed into the five square meter household bunker. And then Shlomit began to shriek. “Efraim, Efraim! We forgot Efraim upstairs in his crib!” Simcha: Go get him!” Indeed, the baby had been sleeping in an upstairs room. With six kids to round up and rush into the bunker in less than fifteen seconds, I guess that it’s almost inevitable that occasionally someone gets left behind. This was the eighth alert of the day, and this time it was the baby.
“In the middle of the night it is much worse,” Shlomit explained. “There simply isn’t enough time to wake all the kids and hustle them into the ‘mamad’ (safe room) before the rockets impact. We actually have to choose who to grab and carry into the mamad, and who to leave behind.”
The momentary neglect of little Efraim Eckshtein by his frazzled and heroic parents, and the ugly Solomonic choice forced upon them every night, is a metaphor for the ongoing abandonment of Sderot by the government and people of Israel.
In the course of a four hour visit to Sderot last Friday along with my son Dovi and three friends (Shiki R., Jonathan P. and Moshe T.) we experienced a bit of the fear of life in Sderot. But mostly we were exposed to the city’s despair and sense of rejection. Residents of Sderot are at their wits end, and they feel deserted by the rest of their fellow countrymen.
“I want to feel that I’m considered a soldier at the front, standing firm and resolute for the defense of Israel,” Chaim Bohadana told us as he baked Shabbat pita in an electric pot his living room at 31 Yoseftal Street. “Instead, we’re made to feel like ‘friers’ (suckers). Only the weak and poor stay in Sderot, and no-one visits us – neither government ministers nor residents of central Israel.” “We have nine children and 22 grandchildren – only three of whom have braved a visit to us in Sderot in recent years,” sighs Esther Bohadana.
Beleaguered Yoseftal Street has been hit a dozen times this month by Palestinian Kassam rockets, including the houses on both sides of Bohadana. None of the homes on the street have safe rooms, and nobody in government has offered to help build any. They had no running water or electricity for four hours, twice last week, because Kassams knocked out the power. (Palestinians in Gaza, you see, are not the only civilians suffering blackouts).
The elderly Mrs. Tourgeman at 27 Yoseftal fell while rushing to hide under the steps during one nighttime attack, and has been in a wheelchair ever since with broken vertebrae. Aisha Ifrach at 39 Yoseftal is sick and bedridden. She can’t make it to the bathroom without very patient help from her son, Shalom (who sculpts Judaica out of Kassam shards in his backyard workshop) — never mind run to hide under the steps within fifteen seconds. Mordechai Elbaz at 43 Yoseftal, a third generation Sderot plumber, had his backyard plumbing supplies warehouse blown to smithereens by a Kassam rocket at 8:30 am Thursday morning, about 24 hours prior to our visit. All the windows in his home were blown out too. Government authorities said they would replace the windows “within two to three weeks.” Not fast enough in the middle of winter? “Then pay for it yourself,” Elbaz was told.
Abandoned. That’s how the residents of Yoseftal Street feel.
Twelve Kassams fell on Sderot that Friday morning. According to the radio “they fell in open areas, with no casualties and no damage” — which is only very partially true. Each and every rocket wrought deep psychological damage to the emotionally shattered residents of Yoseftal Street. With each siren they jump, even if there is no-where to go or hide. Each time they ache as the rockets explode. Yesterday and today it was the neighbors. Tomorrow, simple statistics dictate, it will be them.
This has been going on for seven years!
Shlomit and Simcha Eckshtein are in Sderot by choice. She runs the Reut Sderot Afikim Banegev Association, which provides social services to residents in distress. He teaches Jewish studies across the city, and is starting a municipal yeshiva high school. They are part of a 50-family-strong religious “inner city kibbutz” (“Garin Torani”) that purposefully settled in Sderot. They really are volunteer soldiers at a war front, because they could easily move elsewhere. They don’t want to abandon Sderot, but the situation is wearing them down too. This past Shabbat lunch was interrupted four times by rocket alerts…..
The women of Nof Ayalon, my hometown in central Israel, bake cakes every Sabbath eve, and the men take turns distributing them in Sderot. The three dozen cakes (each with a note of appreciation and support) that my neighbors and I distributed last Friday to the exhausted Israelis on Yoseftal Street in Sderot perhaps helped to raise their spirits a bit and allow them to feel like valued soldiers, not forgotten ‘friers.’
Perhaps. But deep down, Sderotites fear that they’ve been abandoned by a feckless government and an inattentive public.
Let them eat cake, because that’s about the only support they seem to be getting.
Originally published on the Israel Insider website on February 11, 2008