From Puppet Therapy to Outings, Anglo Residents Cope With Rocket Barrage

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Israelis from English-speaking countries found themselves in the line of fire - or perilously close to it - during this week's barrage of more than 200 rockets from Gaza that rained down over cities and smaller communities from the country's midsection through much of its southern region.

"It's very scary to know that your child is exposed to that kind of danger," says Renana Yaakov, as she stood with her 16 month-old son, Yagil, in front of his heavily damaged kindergarten in Kibbutz Nir Oz, which borders Gaza. "Then again, we live that kind of danger every day."

Ravit Greenberg demonstrating how she protected her infant from a recent attack on Be’er Sheva.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

From last Friday through Wednesday, approximately 80 mortar rounds, Kassam and Grad missiles fell on the Eshkol Regional Council, which includes the Kibbutz and stretches for 40 kilometers along the border with the Gaza Strip, according to Ronit Minaker, a council spokesperson.

Yaakov, an Israeli mother who lived in London for several years, recalled Monday, when a 120-millimeter mortar shell landed inches from the kindergarten shortly before six in the morning - two hours before Yagil and his classmates were to arrive. The fortified facility now has hundreds of deep, pock-mark-like craters carved into its concrete facade. The exploding projectiles ripped through its ceiling. Fluorescent lamps were shattered. Yet hours later, classes began.

"It could have gone through one of the children's heads," says Judih Haggai, a longtime kibbutz resident and Goshen, New York, native, who teaches English and resorts to a self-imposed regimen of haiku, meditation, and puppetry to maintain her peace of mind.

"It's therapy," says Haggai, 58, a mother of four, who also brings puppetry into her junior high school classes. "My puppet expresses what I feel. It can be as ridiculous as it chooses and it can laugh. As soon as I hold it up, I can become schizophrenic and divide my personality to coach myself," she says.

Be'er Sheva resident Ravit Greenberg was in Jerusalem last Saturday when the barrage over her city began. "I have a newborn daughter, and we do not have a mamad [safe-room] in our house," says Greenberg, 28, a native of Albany, New York, who works for Ben Gurion University.

Judih Haggai of Kibbutz Nir Oz uses puppetry as therapy both for herself and for her junior high school classes.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Several weeks earlier, she was in bed with her daughter when the sirens sounded. "So I was required to get on top of her," she said. Greenberg said she thought twice about returning. She did go back to her home, but later spent a day by her husband's work in Sde Boker and also visited friends out of town.

Robert Klein lives in a multi-level house in Be'er Sheva with his four children and wife, Sarah, who is recovering from major hip surgery. Like other residents in the city, they have an estimated 60 seconds to relocate to a shelter or safe-room, as required by the Home Front Command.

"It was bad enough as a one-off," says Klein, formerly of Minnesota and North Carolina, describing his wife's attempts to descend three flights of stairs while using two crutches. "But when it happened a third time, at around six in the morning, my wife didn't make it on time. So she was in danger, as we were, holding the shelter door open for her."

Hannah Rendell, a Be'er Sheva resident since 2008 who runs a business promoting the city to tourists, spent most of the week fielding cancellations. She says a one-day excursion to Tel Aviv with the intention of giving her two young children "a break" from the hostilities was unsettling. "I was arguing with people there who seem to think it's not a serious situation until the rockets fall in Tel Aviv," says Rendell, 30, an immigrant from Bournemouth, England. "It makes me crazy that people think Be'er Sheva is a moshav in the middle of nowhere, not one of Israel's biggest cities with a few hundred thousand children not able to go to school."

Living in a Jack-in-the-box

"It's frightening when the siren goes off," says Ali Brand Stern, who, along with her husband, Noam, are United States residents working and studying here. Their week has had the serenity of a tripwire, as they "jump" at the sound of the blaring siren sounded by the Be'er Sheva municipality located across the street from their apartment.

"It's like living in a Jack-in-the-box," says the 28 year-old Stern, a native of Boulder, Colorado, who works as a fundraiser for Maslan, a sexual assault and domestic violence support center in the city. "You don't know when it's going to come, but you know it's going to happen again."

Her husband, Noam, a Silver Spring, Maryland, native, sees a silver lining. "Being in the hospital when the sirens go off, and seeing both the Jews and Bedouins taking shelter together, made a powerful cultural impact for me," says Noam, a third-year student at the Medical School for International Health based at the city's Soroka Medical Center. Noam Stern says, "We really haven't considered leaving Be'er Sheva. We feel pretty safe with the Iron Dome and think it has added a lot to our sense of security."

He says there are about 40 students in his class and some 160 in the entire program, mostly Americans and Canadians but doesn't know of anyone leaving. "The position of the medical school was that the students who have not yet begun their clinical work were not expected to come in to study," he says. "The students who are in my year and above were told they were expected to come but would not be penalized if they decided to leave Be'er Sheva and take time off."

Stern added: "I think I am also at a point in my medical training that I feel like a part of a medical team and there's somewhat of a sense of duty that I wouldn't want to run away during an hour of need."

Yossi Landau, a first responder for Zaka, a voluntary emergency response team, rode around the port city of Ashdod late last Friday, in the hours before the Sabbath. It was shortly after the Israel Air Force launched a strike on Palestinian targets in Gaza, killing Zuhir al-Qaisi, the secretary-general of the Popular Resistance Committees.

Speaking from a loudspeaker, Landau warned children to stay off the street and urged Friday night worshipers to vacate the city's many makeshift synagogue structures for more secure ones. "We knew something was going to happen," says Landau, a 43 year-old native of Brooklyn, New York, who has lived in Israel for 22 years.

This week, Landau showed journalists the devastation wrought by an incoming rocket that landed in the middle of Rogavin Steet on Sunday, shattering the entire glass facade of a building on one side while piercing the building across the street with hundreds of holes that reached as high as the fifth floor. One person was injured in the blast and 12 were treated for shock, according to Landau, who said he and team arrived at the site of the attack within minutes.

"To cope with this situation is quite stressful, but generally we manage because we're a strong group of people," says Durban, South Africa-immigrant June Narunsky, who lives with her children and small grandchildren in the port city of Ashkelon - which has seen its share of rockets in recent years. A neighbor of hers was killed by a stray rocket two months ago. "Otherwise I don't think we would have made aliyah."

For Greenberg, who protected her baby, there is no other place. "Unfortunately, I believe that when we made aliyah we knew that life in Israel includes the highs - for which we moved - and the lows," she says. "We feel safe in Be'er Sheva 98% of the time and would not feel safer anywhere else in the country."