Tuesday, July 18, 2006

every katyusha has an address

Yair Ettinger writes in Haaretz,

On Friday night, during the prayer welcoming the Shabbat, a siren interrupted the prayers in the synagogue of the Sanz Hasidim in Safed. About 20 worshipers - the few members of the congregation who remained for Shabbat - all moved close to the inner wall of the synagogue, as far as possible from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Such sirens have been heard in the city since Thursday, when a resident of the city was killed, and the confused worshipers held a discussion as to whether it was preferable to finish their prayers inside the synagogue or to obey the instructions of the security forces.

"Daddy, the sealed room," said a child pulling on his father's sleeve, prompting a debate that was held in Yiddish laced with Hebrew terms from the security vocabulary: "The security room? Never mind," another person answered, and the prayers were renewed inside the largely empty synagogue. Five minutes later a whistling was heard in the distance. Those of the worshipers with sharp ears and fast reflexes quickly made for the nearby kitchenette, a kind of impromptu security room; others, even before the building trembled from the nearby explosion of a Katyusha rocket, managed to lie down on the floor. In Safed people lie down like that, and not only on the local graves of righteous men.

The Divrei Haim synagogue of the Sanz Hasidim is located in Tarpat Alley (Tarpat is the acronym for 1929, a year infamous for Arab rioting all over Palestine). Overall, Jewish spirituality and the Israeli-Arab conflict are combined in the streets of the old city - "Defenders' Square" with "Messiah Alley," the mikveh (ritual bath) of the Ari (Rabbi Isaac Luria, a leading kabbalist) with the Arab house in which Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) grew up.

In Tarpat Alley a Magen David Adom ambulance was parked on Friday night, outside the synagogue. The motor was running, the red lights were flashing. In front sat two Sanz Hasidim. They wore Shabbat clothes, including the traditionally festive coat made of silk, but they were on call. Both are volunteers for Hatzala (Rescue), an organization whose ultra-Orthodox volunteers, MDA paramedics, have evacuated over 100 victims in the Galilee since Thursday.

While their friends were praying in the synagogue, they sat frozen in the ambulance listening to the intercom, forbidden to open the door or perform any activity not related to saving lives. When the falling of the Katyushas was heard, the ambulance disappeared. Fortunately, one of the rockets fell on Friday night on a synagogue that had not opened because there were too few worshipers.

Barely a soul
Safed and all its neighborhoods is a city that is beaten and in shock, which is worriedly monitoring any sliver of information and every Katyusha landing in Haifa and Tiberias. Its unexpected joining of the "Katyusha club" led to the closure on Friday night of local shops, hotels, banks, postal services and most of the drugstores. There is barely a living soul on the streets. The Safed municipality estimated that 50 percent to 60 percent of the 13,000 inhabitants of the city have abandoned their homes.

"Anyone who remains here is someone with nowhere to go, or someone who can't afford to leave," said Moshe Madar, the municipality treasurer and the head of Safed's emergency headquarters.

Apparently many of the residents of the Canaan neighborhood belong to this category. On Friday afternoon, a Katyusha hit a wretched and peeling housing project on Hashiva Street. Eleven residents were injured, two moderately. On the sidewalk lay a dead Pekinese dog. His owner was injured as well. After the evacuation of the wounded, many residents went out into the street, and the desperate policeman called on them to enter shelters and other protected spaces. Protected spaces? Security rooms? Who has heard of them in the housing projects? "Where should we go?" asked one resident in panic.

On the third floor of the building that was hit the door was opened a crack, and from it Yaffa Ben-Porat peered inside the stairwell. Her husband, Ephraim, was in the other room, and she was beside herself with fear and helplessness. He is a chronically ill and bedridden, and needed care - even under the barrage of Katyushas that in the end hit the building in which they have lived since immigrating to Israel from Morocco in the 1950s

"I have nobody," said the 62-year-old Ben-Porat. My children are in Ashdod, so we're here alone. There is nobody to come and visit us. Please sir, speak to the municipality, speak to someone about taking care of us." A few minutes later an ambulance crew came to evacuate Ben-Porat and his wife to Ziv Hospital until things blow over.

Perhaps few people remained in Safed, but for the most part those who stayed there over the weekend tried to demonstrate high morale. Both religious and secular people spoke of determination and patience, and expressed faith and confidence in the Israel Defense Forces, or in God.

Shlomo Zeid is the owner of the only hotel in the old city that opened its doors on the weekend. Only one room was occupied - by a journalist. Zeid himself is an atheist, frustrated by the fact that Safed is becoming ultra-Orthodox, but on Shabbat morning, when his ultra-Orthodox neighbor came to visit and spoke of faith in the shadow of the Katyushas, they both managed to agree that "every missile has an address." They're not sure why, but this saying gave them confidence.

Memories of 1948
In 1948, legend has it, Safed held out through natural and miraculous means - through natural means, because the Safed old-timers didn't stop reciting Psalms, as is their wont; and miraculously, because the Palmach (the pre-state commando strike force) arrived in time.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Shlomo Makleb, one of the city's old-timers today, says that he and his neighbors are praying. "Imagine if we didn't pray, a Katyusha would land here every second," he said.

Rina Kobi, who lives in the old city, was a newborn during the 1948 War of Independence, but this weekend she pulled out the arsenal of family stories from her memory: how her older brother used to run between the outposts of the Haganah (the pre-state military force) and the Etzel (right-wing militia), and distribute cans of sardines to the Jewish fighters.

"I grew up on those stories about 1948," she smiled. "Who would have believed that missiles would be flying over our heads?"

In the afternoon, with Katyushas rumbling in the background, she sat on a bench in the street chatting with an ultra-Orthodox neighbor. She was calm. "Me?" she said. "I have no fear at all. The children and grandchildren asked me to come stay with them in the center of the country, but why should I leave my house? In 1948 we didn't leave, and I'm not leaving now."

Kiryat Bratslav was full compared to the other ultra-Orthodox neighbors of Safed; almost half the members of the community remained. In the large Bratslav synagogue they decided to try to maintain routine as much as possible. They even celebrated a circumcision there on Shabbat morning; the baby was named Israel. After prayers, they read the haftara from Jeremiah, which includes the verse: "Out of the north the evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land." The rabbi said in his sermon, based on the words of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav, that "out of sadness comes happiness."

Some of the worshipers found relief in jokes about Nasrallah, but Nahman Klein, the head of Hatzala in the Galilee, instructed them, in a very severe tone, to make sure their children did not play outside.

Before the beginning of Shabbat we m et Klein in the mikveh. "On a day like this, immersion is a very exalted thing," he said. "We remove from ourselves everything we have undergone during the week. Today and yesterday we evacuated over 100 casualties. I personally immersed myself in the hope that the sanctity of Shabbat will preserve us from all evil. I prayed that God would help us, that we will see better days."

Two hours later the ambulances raced to Moshav Meron, where Yehudit Itzkovich and her grandson, Omer Pesachov, were killed. There were no casualties in Safed.

1 comment:

eli over at jewschool said...

*beautifully written*