Only an Hour Away



How can I begin to describe the experience I went through yesterday?

How can you capture the shaking ground, the unbearable noise of the impact, the tears, the screaming, the mothers in hysterics — how can you, the reader, feel what I felt, see what I saw — just by reading these words? I ask you, leave your homes, your offices, your classrooms — and step into this world for a moment, into Sderot.

It was a type of scream I couldn't recognize, half laughter, half terror, complete madness.

The first 'tseva adom' (red alert) alarm went off as I was across the street from my office, borrowing a friend's computer on the fourth floor of an apartment building. Like usual, we stepped into the corridor — the safest place in the house — and waited. 15 ... 14 ... 13 ... I had gotten to twelve when I heard the screaming. A type of scream I couldn't recognize, half laughter, half terror, complete madness... 11 ... 10 ... it fell. Maybe a block away at most. Everyone in the apartment raced outside, and it wasn't until 30 seconds later, when I woke from my daze, that I realized the screaming hadn't stopped. I was about to step outside to join the rest when, 'tseva adom'. Again. 15 ... 14... I had barely reached 13 when it crashed, shaking my entire body — half a block away.

My phone rang: it was my boss Natasha, telling me to immediately come back to the office, as the fourth floor of any building was not safe.

I grabbed my roommate Jackie who had come with me for the day, curious about my work in Sderot, and together we ran back across the street, as quickly as we could, into the office. Natasha looked us over, then asked if we had heard the scream. She explained that a young mother was pushing her child in a stroller, when the first 'tseva adom' alarm went off. Rationally speaking, she would have had enough time to pick up her child and rush with him into a nearby basement. But instead, she toppled over the stroller, child inside, and herself fell to the ground, screaming. She did not cease until Natasha and the others who ran out of the apartment lifted her and her child, and carried her into a neighbor's apartment. How often have you read about Sderot's 'anxiety victims'? What do you picture, heightened blood pressure, breathing at a faster pace? No, it is this woman's body, convulsing, flailing. It is her inability to think or move rationally, to protect her child. She was only able to collapse, hitting the ground, as if the tremor of her beating fists would keep away the Qassam.

Natasha, Jackie, and I sat in the office, trying to keep working. That's what you do in Sderot. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. We didn't get through much as every few minutes we would get phone calls from hysterical parents. It was 7:00, parents were still at work, their children alone at home. All I could hear was Natasha screaming, "Calm down? CALM DOWN. LISTEN TO ME, BREATHE! I WON'T TALK TO YOU UNTIL YOU BREATHE. Listen, your children are fine. No, I don't know why they're not picking up the phone. They probably ran downstairs. I SAID CALM DOWN." Every few minutes another parent would call, having heard that a Qassam fell by their home, unable to reach their children.

It was at this moment that Purim Yakobov walked in, a mother of one of my children. I will be taking her son to a summer camp in the states this June, and we had set up this meeting the previous week so that she would be able to ask all of her questions. She walked, amidst the rainfall of Qassams, to keep the meeting. There she was, still dressed in black — still mourning her husband — who died 6 months ago from a Qassam attack. She lowered herself slowly onto a chair, her face absolutely white. She was reliving it at that very moment, the sound that killed her husband. She took my hands, and pleaded with me, "Please," she said, "I have nothing. I have no one. My sons are everything. Promise me he will be happy. I need to hear it from you, please, they are all I have". Tears rolled down her cheeks, and Jackie, even amidst the stress of dealing with her first Qassams, threw her arms around her. Purim left, and shortly after, 'tseva adom'. We ran into the corridor, there were many of us now, as the student volunteers were holding a meeting. I tried to count down from 15 again, but was interrupted by one of the students. She was laughing. "Hamas and Fatah finally made up, and in celebration, they're firing a nice salute to us!" she said. We all burst out into fits of painful laughter? BOOM. The laughter abruptly stopped, and someone spoke what was on all of our minds, "That one was really close".

Again I heard screaming; I looked around quickly and realized that Natasha was not there. Suddenly I heard her voice, "MASHA, WATER! HURRY!" I ran outside and found a circle of women, Natasha at the center, trying to console a young girl. Another 'anxiety victim'. Hyperventilating, choking on her tears, her screams, yelling for her mother over and over again. Natasha quickly poured cold water on the girls face, and put her arms around her. The girl buried her face in Natasha's neck, clawing her fingers into her back, her shoulders, leaving deep scratches all across body. Eventually her breathing returned to normal; we seemed to be all breathing together, getting lost in the few moments of calm, when 'tseva adom, tseva adom'. The girl fell to the ground screaming, 'NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!'

I had to hold my breath to keep from gasping when I saw his bleeding eyes A half hour later, two reporters from Tel Aviv arrived. They asked Natasha if she could take them to the places that were hit by Qassams. I asked to go along, and we shortly arrived to the first location — a house which was hit directly. I followed the gaze of the crowds of people outside, and saw that the Qassam had completely demolished one side of the house. A man emerged from inside, and we all rushed over to him. I was surprised by how calm he was, until someone shown a light over his face. I had to hold my breath to keep from gasping when I saw his bleeding eyes. Or, what I thought was bleeding — red welts had formed across them, he seemed unable to focus on anything. He stared at nothing for a few moments, and then said seemingly to no one, "If you hear tseva adom, you can go here" and pointed, without averting his blank gaze, to a small cement wall behind him. We were eventually able to gently coax some answers out of him. It was not his house, it was his sister's. "She was standing in the kitchen" he paused "her body was completely torn by shrapnel. I don't know how she is." Natasha probed further about the children. "Three of them were in the basement — baruch HaShem — but the fourth, I think he may have been with her. The ambulance took them both away, I don't know how they are," he repeated. Another man pulled me aside to show me where a woman had been standing, only a few meters from the house. She had witnessed the entire scene, and had collapsed in shock. He then pointed to a truck parked nearby, with a large hole in the back windshield where a shrapnel had flown through. The shrapnel had missed the woman's face by mere centimeters.

The next location was in an apartment complex which houses mostly invalids, senior citizens, and single mothers. The Qassam fell directly into the center of the complex. We came across a man standing, staring at the damage. He showed how a shrapnel had flown through his window and into his apartment. "My neighbor, she was just watching T.V, a shrapnel went through her wall and into her eye." Location after location, gruesome story after gruesome story, 'tseva adom' after 'tseva adom', boom after boom. It felt endless.

Later that night, Jackie and I drove back to Tel Aviv with the two reporters, amidst 'tseva adoms' and the sound of Qassams crashing nearby. In the car, we wondered what our friends were doing back in the States — studying for finals, or perhaps celebrating their completion. We were trying to avoid missiles, funny. Back in Tel Aviv, we were unable to go up to our room. We were too heavy with guilt knowing that merely an hour away, people were suffering without help. We decided to take a walk, and soon after, a nearby construction site made a noise all too similar to the Qassams. Jackie ran to a bus stop nearby, and screamed, crying, pounding her fists against the walls:

"I'M JUST SO ANGRY! PEOPLE ARE DYING, SUFFERING, AND EVERYONE IS SO SILENT! WE'RE AN HOUR AWAY, AND NO ONE CARES! WHY ISN'T ANYONE DOING ANYTHING, WHEN THEY CAN DO SO MUCH?"

As I write this, Qassams are falling in Sderot. Children are screaming, mothers are collapsing in despair, doctors are pulling pieces of shrapnel out of the bodies of Jewish people, and you are reading this article out of the comfort of your home.

From Masha Rifkin, Sderot
[Source: shorashim.com, Jerusalem Diaries]

posted: May 29, 2007   |   permanent link  |  

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