Anglos Surprised as Rocket Fire Forces Organizers to Cancel Commencement at Sapir College

Dr. Merav Moshe-Grodofsky says she was 'shocked' to receive an SMS informing her that the graduation ceremony was canceled.

The barrage of some 100 rockets from Gaza that reached parts of southern Israel this week has again caught Israelis - and the English-speaking residents among them - off guard in the midst of their everyday lives.

"My daughter was frightened and very upset," said Reesa Stone, who co-chairs the southern branch of Americans and Canadians in Israel. "We could all hear the booms."

Dr. Merav Moshe-Grodofsky, a native of Long Island, New York, said she was "shocked" to receive an SMS Tuesday from Sapir College in the northern Negev informing her that the graduation ceremony slated for that evening was canceled due to a security alert. "Sapir doesn't postpone its programs very often - and certainly not graduation ceremonies," she observed.

Within hours, a code red alert at the fortified campus was sounded, but no rockets fell.

But five minutes away, in the neighboring city of Netivot, a code red preceded the blasts of three rockets as they touched ground. No injuries were reported. Other rockets exploded in the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council and in the Eshkol Regional Council. All rockets landed in open areas and no injuries were reported.

Earlier in the week, an Israeli Border Police officer was moderately injured when a rocket hit a residential area in the western Negev. Three other officers were lightly injured. "It was an eye-opener because it made me see that the situation is bad yet again," said Moshe-Grodofsky, who recalled that Sapir closed its campus for 10 days at the onset of Israel's Operation Cast Lead in January 2009.

"We were really disappointed," said Cindy Flash, an academic coordinator in the department of public administration at Sapir, who is originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. "You get psyched for an event and then it doesn't happen, but we all understood that it was a precautionary measure. People could have gotten hurt in a stampede. Why take such a risk?"

Flash, 56, who immigrated in 1980, said she is not fazed by the alarms. "I don't get too excited about it," she said, adding that she more often deals with students and teachers trying to cope with their own feelings of anxiety in the wake of the alarms that have sounded in the region for more than a decade.

Approximately 1,250 students were slated to participate in Tuesday's ceremony, according to Sapir spokesman Simon Tamir, who said the college had received an urgent security warning from the Home Front Command earlier that afternoon at approximately 3:45 P.M. With families accompanying the graduates, some 3,000 guests were expected to attend both the indoor and outdoor ceremonies. A new date for the ceremony has not been set, said Tamir.

Though the campus' buildings are protected, guests seated in open, outdoor areas could have been in danger, according to Tamir. "It wasn't only the right thing to do - it was the responsible thing to do," he said.

In February 2008, a Sapir student was killed when an incoming rocket hit the campus.

Iris Bitton - a native of Baltimore, Maryland, and a "50-something" resident of Netivot for the last 25 years - was teaching an adult English class at Sapir Tuesday evening when a code red alert was sounded. She instructed her class to stay put, and she shut the door, just as the Hebrew-language sign above the blackboard instructed her to do in the fortified classroom. "So we just continued with class," she said.

After class, when Bitton called her family from the campus, her son informed her that Netivot, too, had a code red alert of its own.

"We've gotten used to it," says Bitton, who reported hearing a second siren when she returned home to her family, including her 89-year-old father-in-law.

"Getting him from the second level down to where the [shelter] is cannot be done in 15 seconds," she noted. "But you hope for the best."