Photo Credit: Rabbi Akiva Dovid Weiss
The author’s wife and son, Nataly and Eytan, in the mall’s miklat (bomb shelter).

Last Friday was the first time in ten years that air-raid sirens sounded in the Gush.

For my family and I, having just made aliyah, it was the first time ever.


We live in the Zayit neighborhood of Efrat and the previous day we had decided that we would take our 7-year-old, Eytan, out for some special Abba and Ima time together after school. We left his older three siblings at home, and with our youngest, Eyal, still at gan, we made our way down to the new Efrat Center, which is located just below where we live, and headed into the store “Katzefet” to get some ice cream.

Naturally, Eytan wanted to try all of the flavors. The staff was very patient with him; my wife Nataly explained that he must make a decision and choose a flavor. He chose and received a tall cup filled with two colorful flavors of ice cream topped with whipped cream and sprinkles – a real treat. The smile that came over his face was priceless and both my wife and I smiled at each other for this little Friday afternoon delight.

I handed Nataly a twenty shekel bill so she could pay when suddenly, over the hustle and bustle of the ice cream store, I hear the sirens. I called to her, “Sirens! Nat – there are sirens,” and I called publicly, “We have to move indoors!” She couldn’t hear me right away, nor could the others, but as I tried to repeat myself, people began to realize what was happening, and once they did the rush began.

Azakah!” screamed a man rushing out of the ice cream store. “Azakah!” (Azakah means “warning” or “alert.”)

Panicked families who were out with their kids or who were doing some Friday afternoon shopping before Shabbat rushed to find and collect their children and make their way indoors to the nearest secured area. Nataly grabbed Eytan’s hand and told him to follow her. “Ima, I need a spoon!” Trying not to panic him, she said, “Don’t worry, we’ll get one soon.” He swiftly demonstrates to us that he can lick it just as well without a spoon, and, seeing her nervous, and thinking back to his recent Tekes Yom HaZikaron, he said, “Ima, it’s an Azakah. It’s okay.”

With the rest of the crowds, we moved to the more secure location within the recesses of the strip mall and cram into the stairwell where the elevators are located. Neighbors are working to calm children they don’t even know, asking them questions like what their names are; are they scared; would they like to use their cell phone to call their parents? Nataly asks Eytan if he’s okay and he replies, “Yeah, I’m okay. And I really like the ice cream!” As we too try to keep those around us calm, Nataly turns towards me in a panic and says: “The kids! They’re at home! What about Eyal at gan?!”

“Don’t worry,” I replied. “They’re going to be fine. The women at the gan know exactly what to do. And I went over with the oldest just a few days ago what to do in the event they hear the sirens.”

She tries to call them; she can’t get through.

“We need to check! Please! Please go and check!”

“I will. Just hold on for a minute. It’s going to be fine.”

I took stock of the situation and the families and people around me. Parents holding their children, complete strangers and shop workers all huddled together, waiting out the attack. We heard the distant explosion a few seconds later and felt the impact.

Either the Iron Dome had done its job, or the rocket fell in a nearby field.

Not being able to reach our kids via phone was a good sign in my mind, as that meant they were most likely in our miklat, bomb shelter, where once the door is closed, there is virtually no cell reception.

When I saw that Eytan was okay and enjoying his ice cream and that she was okay, I signaled to Nataly that I’ll head back to the house to check on the kids.

Even though the sirens were still sounding, I knew a way to navigate through the underground parking lots of the Efrat Center and arrive directly at our building while remaining undercover and safe.

After ten minutes, the all clear went out and I found my children at home, panicked, but safe. I calmed them down and complimented them on how well they handled themselves in the situation and praised their resiliency. Nataly and Eytan arrived soon after and taking one of my oldest along with me I went to pick up Eyal at the gan.

When they heard the siren, the morot had immediately ushered all of the children into the miklat which is where they had strategically set up the “Gymboree” – a padded obstacle play center which they use daily. During the attack, the morot kept the children safe and entertained by singing songs, playing games, and dancing with them. We returned home safely and as the excitement died down, we worked to get ready for Shabbat.

Last Friday was the first time I had been under rocket-fire as a civilian. As a soldier stationed in Gaza, I had experienced it several times. But as a civilian, with a family, I can tell you, without a doubt, it is an entirely different experience.

Yet huddled in that stairwell within the recesses of the mall, I never felt such an intense closeness and bond with those around me as I did on Friday. Never before had I felt such a firm resolve – not even as a soldier – for the need of our armed forces to eliminate the enemy threat from Gaza once and for all.

It was at that moment, huddled together with other families, that I discovered a profound truth: These Palestinian terrorists are so terribly misinformed. If they think firing rockets and missiles into civilian locales and putting families in harm’s way will somehow physically or psychologically weaken our nation or our resolve, they are sorely mistaken. It will only make us stronger, and more united than they can possibly imagine.

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Rabbi Akiva Dovid Weiss made aliyah with his family in 2022. He is a Torah educator in the Old City and Bar Ilan University. He can be reached at [email protected].