Chabad Centers in Beer Sheva, Ashkelon Double as Bomb Shelters As Children, Adults Wait Out the War

Chabad Centers in Beer Sheva, Ashkelon Double as Bomb Shelters As Children, Adults Wait Out the War

AOL/AP Photo:Bernat Armangue

An Israeli man walks past a hole in a road after a rocket fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza hit in the southern Israeli town of Beersheva.

by Zalman Nelson - Beersheva, Israel

December 31, 2008

( Following a quiet night of silent and empty streets in Beer Sheva and Ashkelon, the sun came up Wednesday morning to the terrifying sound of rockets that continued intermittently throughout the day. An influx of reserve soldiers in both locations helped prevent chaos on the streets as countless numbers of locals flocked to Chabad centers for support.

Still reeling from their first ever rocket attack on Tuesday, residents of Beer Sheva, the largest city in Israel’s Negev area, were on edge as incessant air raid sirens and explosions filled the air. An empty girl’s school near the municipality took a direct hit. Because of the city-wide school closure, no one was injured by a Grad rocket that penetrated the building’s roof and caused severe damage.

Beer Sheva

Operating from his Chabad center built in a large, centrally located bomb shelter, Rabbi Zalman Gorelik of Beer Sheva has opened his doors and increased programming to accommodate locals, many who have no shelter.

Gorelik is also reaching out to IDF soldiers. “The soldiers started arriving last night and we were prepared to address their needs, distributing food and books of Tehillim, [Psalms],” said Rabbi Gorelik. “Today, we gathered several community members to reach out to soldiers in the nearby base. People want to do something about the situation and the soldiers are so grateful when we come.”

With air raid sirens and rocket explosions in the background, local Ben Gurion university Professor Velvel Greene led his normally scheduled class on science and Torah last night. Other classes were set to take place, including impromptu programs for children since all schools are closed.

“It’s a new situation. Parents and children are still adjusting,” said Ariella Edry, a volunteer at Chabad of Beersheva. “We’re doing what is needed. Kids from all over the neighborhood are here. Parents are dropping off their children with us here as they run out quickly to the stores. Everyone is working together.”

Ms. Edry told that she arranged a class for women on Tuesday night to bolster their morale. She said that many braved the situation to participate in the program which included group recitation of Tehillim and distribution of prayer books. Walking home she said “there wasn’t a person or car anywhere to be found.”

“This is the safest place,” said Ms. Edry. “Physically it’s a bomb shelter, spiritually it’s a place of prayer and learning. The whole neighborhood feels comfortable here.”

Today, two women suffering from shock turned to the Chabad House for help. After an hour in the secure, supportive environment, they seemed to regain their composure and chose to remain in the safety of the Chabad House.

The center, which has begun serving breakfast and snacks throughout the day, is now teeming with children watching videos and participating in improvised programs.

Neve Zeev

In Beer Sheva’s Neve Zeev neighborhood of 5000 families, Rabbi Nitzan Chalak has his Chabad center open full time, providing every form of support to locals including literature and books of Tehillim from the center’s Judaica store.

“We’ve given out tons of Tehillim books and various literature,” said the Judaica store’s director, Ofir Gozlan. “Even the Police came to us to get inspirational learning materials to distribute amongst themselves.”


In Ashkelon, a rocket barely missed Chabad’s special education center – Shalvim – and hit an empty building across the street. Despite several sirens and rockets Wednesday morning, Rabbi Menachem Liberman is conducting classes and programs in several bomb shelters across the city for local children, many of whom have no shelter of their own.

“Our shelters are used for sleeping at night and learning during the day,” said Rabbi Liberman. “We are managing and doing all we can.”

Several of the rockets fell without triggering the warning system, and the city has suffered through periodic outages of cellular and phone service. All public gatherings outside of a shelter have been banned in the city. A plan to bus children out of the city was denied at the last minute by city officials. Rabbi Liberman told that there is a steady stream of traffic going out of the city as residents seek safer ground.

To better serve locals, Chabad of Ashkelon has gone mobile, forming a rapid deployment team of rabbis that visits the bomb shelters and responds to rocketed sites and trauma victims. They spent much of Wednesday visiting the classes in the various shelters, distributing gifts, sweets, and Tehillim. Mid-conversation an air raid siren went off and a loud explosion could be heard nearby. Rabbi Liberman ran out of the office with the responders to attend to the scene.

“We are dealing with it,” said Chaim Becker, a resident of Ashkelon helping in the Chabad office. “I have a shelter in my house, but I can’t stay at home all day. I am emailing and calling as many friends and family as I can to keep them updated about the situation.”

Mr. Becker said that his son’s army unit was just repositioned to the North over concerns that a second war front might break out.

The response team returned to the office and described the miracle they had just witnessed. The rocket landed between two large apartment buildings full of people and exploded in the back parking lot. No one was injured. It fell about 2000 feet away from the Chabad center.

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