From Volunteers to Near-Victims in Just Moments

This blog entry was provided by Karen Zivan, who made Aliyah last summer from Rochester to Hashmonaim, where she works a school psychologist and yoga teacher.

Shalom!!

And believe me we are all praying for exactly that... every soldier should be home with his family as soon as possible.

I, unfortunately, found myself and Etan, in a very dangerous and horrible situation yeterday in Sderot.  Here is what I wrote, and CNN got a hold of it (because an on-line web paper - Pajamas Media - carried the story.  [view CNN video]

My 16-year-old son Etan and two seventeen-year-old girls, Sarena and Reut from our community traveled the hour and fifteen minute drive with me to Sderot this morning.  Sarena and I  offer Yoga classes to women and girls.  Moved by the escalation of activity in the South, we called two organizations this morning  in Sderot to offer Yoga therapy.  Both organizations quickly  agreed  that it would be helpful, but, on the way to Sderot, they had called to cancel because the spirit of the people was so low, they hesitated to offer any new programs, and many felt more comfortable in their own homes.  Lev Echad, "One Heart" an organization of community aid in Sderote told us there was plenty of cleaning up and windows to board up if we wanted to volunteer.  Lev Echad's main office is in Jerusalem, and once every several days it sends a bus of volunteers from jerusalem to Sderot.  Today they were expecting fifty volunteers on the bus.

On the way down to Sderot we passed through several checkpoints and saw groups of Israeli soldiers with duffels boarding buses.  The mood was war.  We  noticed how quiet the roads were, vehicles were coming up from the South, but few were going in our direction.  Despite the disappointing news that our Yoga therapy wouldn't be received today, we decided that going down and volunteering would be important.
 
Sarena and Reut had been to Sderot before, as we entered the city they pointed out the bomb shelters that line the main road.  I'm glad they did, because it reminded me that there was a new level of alertness I needed to have.   Although a run down city, people were out walking, cars were driving; but, as we drove in more, we noticed stores were closed. We were told to find the Police Station, and to wait there.  After several minutes of waiting, I decided to park the car so we could walk where we needed to go.  Within split seconds of parking outside the Police station, the alarm went off, I only knew it was an alarm because Sarena and Reut had heard it before.  I knew we had 15 seconds to find a bomb shelter.  We found one, and within less than five seconds the loudest explosion I have ever heard went off.  The bomb shelter, no bigger than some people's bath tub shook and it took several long seconds before anyone was interested in checking outside.  Quickly it was obvious, due to smoke, yelling, sirens and hundreds of people appearing on the scene that the Kassam Rocket from Gaza had hit less than 50 meters away from us.  We were besides ourselves, watching everyone busy doing their jobs; police, army, ambulances, neighbors, journalists, photographers.  It was like watching a bee hive, with everyone having a specific job.  We quickly reviewed how fortunate we were not to be in the car, and whether we would have even heard the siren in the car.  Being the adult of our group made me act brave, but inside I was crushed.

Lev Echad, in the end could not meet us, due to the road blocks from the explosion, so we  walked and found our way by ourselves.  Slowly, more people came outside, but it was a very sad, aging neighborhood.  As we walked, only several blocks, we kept our eyes on bomb shelters or staircases we could enter in case another alarm was to go off.  Never before had I experienced the panic and vulnerability that I felt today walking outside. 

Lev Echad' "headquarters" is a bomb shelter,  converted into a afternoon center for children and a sleeping place for volunteers.  Here the operation is run, with several hip twenty somethings organizing the operation.  We were briefed by them as far as our responsibility volunteering and their responsibility to keep us safe.  Communication is key, texting is essential.  They want to know where you are, and that you are OK all the time.  They gave us shirts (white shirts with red Hearts and their logo) suggested  a small donation for them, and sent us with two other volunteers back to the Police station area to help clean the apartments from shattered glass, help with trauma  victims and seal windows.

There was still activity around the apartment area where the Kassam fell.  Gas was leaking from a tank and that was being fixed. Journalists and photographers, Police, Soldiers, social workers and other volunteers.  Every apartment was covered in layers of shattered glass and rubble and dust.  Most of the occupants are Russian who do not speak English or Hebrew.  Hugs and smiles were the universal language.  Every apartment had a broom, a dust bin and an Israeli squeegee.  We had no gloves, no protection, just adrenaline and a will to help.  This was the first time a Kassam had fallen so close to this complex.  The reaction from the people we met was panic and faith in God.  Many blessed God for being alive.

Unfortunately none of the apartments in this complex have bomb shelters.  When they hear the siren, and there isn't always a siren as we found out today, they run into their very small bathroom.  I dread the thought if they need have company and they need to be in there longer than a couple of minutes. 

As we left the complex to drive back to our home, we felt good about helping and happy to be part of the effort.  We had less than a three minute walk to our car, as we walked I said to Sarena, "Gosh, when you look out and the sun is shining and the streets are busy again, it's easy to forget what happened this morning, how can people think about it all the time?".  That second the siren went off, and once again we found ourselves in the same bomb shelter we had been in, less than four hour before.  The question isn't how can people think about "it" all the time, the question is "how much longer?"