Sderot Letter

Posted: August 4, 2011 in Israel, Sderot

SDEROT

December 23, 2007

Dear Brian [1]:

Great to hear from you and I’m honoured that we were dorm-mates at the Base [2]. You and Sam [3] Sr. were the best! You are so well-read. Discussing the ‘big issues’ is such a treat. I know you have a heart for HaShem and I really appreciated that. It was a real honor to serve with you. Maybe Aliyah is in your future ? ? ? ? ? ?

Sderot: yes I got down there. I could not get accommodation until I had already returned to Ashkelon and by then it was too late. Town of 20,000, “no hotels no B&B’s, no informal accommodation” ? I think not. Israelis were afraid I would get injured not knowing that it would be my honor if I were. They have withstood a lonely siege and I would have loved to stand with them.

I met a female police officer in Ashkelon (she lived in Sderot) and she told me there was no accommodation and that even the local Kibbutz was just a “maybe”. I think that no one wanted responsibility for a visitor who might be injured. So, I got the last room on Thursday night at the Holiday Inn in Ashkelon and headed in on Friday morning, Nefar (the IDF Madrichot) was going to see if she could make family arrangements for me but I did not hear from her in time.

It is a wonderful little city, clean and well organized with parks and memorials and mid-sized malls. The policewoman had told me to get off the bus at the police station and that I could see some unexploded Qassam rockets leaning against a wall there. I indeed did and walked into town. When I stopped at a convenience store, I got patted on the back and greeted warmly as people found out who I was and why I as there (‘Mashuginah Goy’ [4]).

I had run out of disposable cameras so went looking to buy some. I also (as a joke) bought about 30 box knives to leave in my warehouse because the ones they were using got lost or damaged and I was ‘hassled’ for it. So I took a bubble-pack of them to Linoy and to Ephraim at the base. They got a good laugh out of my sarcasm and I modestly contributed to the economy of Sderot.

The people were tense but stoic and life carried on. There was no sound of laughter or music.

At the beautiful mall hardware store I asked where I could purchase cameras but no one spoke English. A family followed me out of the store and they were ‘Oleh’[5] from Chicago and the wife and daughter spoke English. They gave me directions to a camera store and I immediately got lost. There was no sign of bomb damage nor shelters but I couldn’t read the signs.

I was told that they get 20 seconds warning from the air raid sirens and have to be under cover. Many mothers have stopped driving their children around because that is not enough time with many children, to assure everyone’s safety. Qassams came in 2 days before and 2 days after my visit largely because the IDF had made a minimal strike into Gaza to ‘hammer’ the rocket-batteries.

Lost, I ran into the family from Chicago again and they took me to a camera shop where I bought 3 cameras. I ventured to ask them about the attacks and they took me to a side-street I had passed where there was a section of street not black-topped. They said the alarm had not gone off and a woman’s car took a direct hit. The shrapnel Hamas put in the bomb (to exact maximum civilian casualties) had shredded the street. The IDF come in, test for unexploded materials, dig out and fill in the crater and repair and paint the street so (like me) no one would know it hit there. The “restoration” psychology is powerful.

The Chicago woman’s brother-in-law and wife spoke no English but he had a broken thumb in a cast and a bruised and swollen lip and mouth. I asked the woman: “. . . Qassam ? ? ? ? ?” and she replied: “no,. . . stupidity. . .!” We all laughed including him. They all had moved out of town.

I went to a restaurant and ordered a large meal I did not need and after repeatedly being told that there was no available accommodation, I went back to the Police Station bus stop – cognizant that Shabbat was coming and not wanting to get stuck by a ‘preparation’ shut-down. Standing at the stop was what I understand to be an orthodox Kibbutz-nik. In 30 degree Celsius weather, she was dressed all in black with a velvet-looking skirt down to her shoes. She wore a black ‘tam’ and I assumed that she was waiting for my bus. A modern tourist-type bus came and her cute little 4 or 5 year old boy got off and she hugged and kissed him with such pleasure, it made me smile. I said “Ashkelon. . . ?” to the driver and he said no and drove off. I waited over an hour.

The bus never came so I tried to make myself understood to a man on the street who looked like the manager of an apartment block across the street. He hailed a taxi with a chain-smoking Turk who gave me a good price to Ashkelon. In the meantime, Holiday Inn had called and said there was a room in Ashkelon, so I took it.

On the way out, I looked across the western Negev landscape to see a side-road with a flat-bed tractor trailer barreling down in a cloud of dist with an IDF Merkava Main Battle Tank as its load.

Ashkelon was a Qassam-target as well over the past years and especially the power plants nearby. But instead I had the pleasure of warm Mediterranean swims and long beautiful beaches with the surf caressing my ears all night long. Those were my 2 nights of luxury in the Army. Looking out my hotel window with binoculars early Shabbat morning I caught a glimpse of kayakers out to sea. They were (I assume) training ‘Seals’ (shy-et-et) heading out into the Mediterranean at full speed and their commander was so fit that he was able to encircle them, (obviously barking out orders) and able to keep up. A Blackhawk helicopter orbited nearby.

I headed back to Tel Aviv next day so I would not be caught late for the Sunday morning muster at the bus station.

The Captain of flight operations had us to a reception at his home; volunteers were giving their impressions of Sar-El. I remained quiet but was asked by ‘Sam Senior’ to give a “newcomer’s” (he really meant ‘Goy’s’) perspective. I reported that it was stunning to be able to assist this ‘miracle’ armed-service in this ‘miracle’ nation that should not exist. Then Michal (the Madricot) broke in and mentioned that I had gone to Sderot and I was given an applause. Unbelievable ! I nearly wept.

Anyway Brian, that’s the story and I know you would have been in Sderot with me had you not had to leave. We might have been able to find accommodation with your Hebrew language skills. But by God’s Grace, maybe next time.

Blessings my brother,
Shalom, Shalom,

Roger.

Notes

[1] Jewish-American pharmacist from Miami, wanted to accompany me to Sderot but had to leave Israel before it could be arranged.
[2] C-130 Hercules Air force Base, Tel Aviv which has been moved to the Negev.
[3] 86 year old American-Jewish air-conveyance design engineer who served as a C-47 flight engineer during WWII. Full head of pure white hair and beard, intelligent, affable, loveable, with a spectacular sense of humour.
[4] “translated: ‘crazy gentile’” – it was Sam who endearingly gave me that label
[5] Oleh are those Israelis, born abroad that become Israeli citizens

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