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December 22, 2014 / 30 Kislev, 5775
 
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Ground Zero, Sderot


I was actually starting to believe I was the lucky charm of Sderot. Over the past eight months I had been to Sderot on business nearly every other week, and each time I traveled down from Jerusalem, things were quiet. No Kassam rockets, no “red color” warnings, no Israelis fleeing for their lives.

While in town I made a point to set aside time to visit the countless Sderot residents whose homes had been destroyed and lives shattered in the attacks, but until last week I had never quite grasped what it all meant.

I arrived in Sderot a few minutes past noon on Feb. 25 and made my way to the hesder yeshiva for a meeting with the rosh yeshiva along with a mother and son team, both representatives of a Jerusalem-based media placement firm who were actually in Sderot for the first time. Just minutes into the meeting, the wail of the “red color” siren pierced the calm and in a split second I realized that my luck had run out.

The rabbi, who has heard the dreaded siren literally thousands of times over the past seven years, instructed us to run for our lives since we were not in a safe place.

The nearest bomb shelter was about 40 meters away. Within 5-7 seconds of sprinting and jumping a flight of about five stairs I made it to the door. When I landed off the stairs, I felt a shooting pain in my surgically repaired right knee, but was thankful it had held together (I owe a debt of gratitude to my surgeon).

I then looked back to see the mother of the Sderot “rookies” struggling to make it to the shelter in a pair of heels. I’m sure that by now the locals in Sderot know that a good pair of shoes can make the difference between living and dying. Without thinking twice, her son, who was right behind me at the shelter door, went back to assist his mother.

Just a few seconds after we took safety in the shelter, we heard the rocket slam into the ground. The result was a deafening boom that shook the entire structure. The ripples of the powerful blast reminded me of the reverberations I’d felt of a bus blowing up in a Jerusalem suicide bombing in 2003.

Some of the hesder student/soldiers who also ran into the shelter said they heard the “whoosh” of the Kassam, indicating it had landed close by.

As I scanned the room following the incident, I noticed that some of the hesder students who were already in the shelter prior to the “code red” were actually napping and had slept right through the ordeal. This particular shelter was being used as a makeshift dormitory because the old housing units were deemed unsafe, and to these students yet another Kassam attack was hardly justification for losing crucial sleep time.

After several more seconds the “code red” alarm stopped and people started making their way out of the bomb shelters (Sderot has become a town of bomb shelters) to carry on with their lives, as if nothing happened. I found it disturbingly unnatural how natural it has become for people in Sderot to run for cover many times a day and then carry on as if it were part of a normal and accepted routine. My thoughts then turned to the elderly and disabled of Sderot.

How is it possible that they made it to safety in those 15-20 precious seconds before the rocket landed? There is no way that many of them made it. I wonder if, at this point, they even try.

After all the drama, the rabbi, the media reps and I resumed our meeting, but I found it extremely difficult to concentrate following such a traumatic event. I was sweating profusely and could only think about what might have happened to me and what probably did happen to someone at “ground zero” of the attack.

At the conclusion of the meeting, about 45 minutes after the rocket landed, I decided to drive to the site of the impact to find out for myself what had happened. Sderot is a relatively small town, and after getting directions from people on the street I only had to drive a few blocks to reach my destination.

About the Author: Josh Hasten is president of the Jerusalem-based Bar-Am public relations firm. He and his family are moving to Gush Etzion this summer.


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