Mayors of Rocket-battered Towns Emerge as Soul of the South

Be'er Sheva residents would certainly name their mayor as one of the heroes of the recent Gaza operation.

As falling rockets sent residents scurrying, a number of mayors, some of whom had only just begun to settle into their new offices, emerged as the soul of the south. Some were media savvy, seen posing in front of damaged buildings and fallen Qassams on CNN or the BBC. Others were there more for their constituents, working around the clock to ensure shelters were properly equipped and giving people security and hope. These are four mayors who shepherded cities among the hardest hit by Gazan rockets.

Be'er Sheva residents would certainly name their mayor as one of the heroes of the recent Gaza operation. The Home Front Command allowed Rubik Danilovich, who took office last November after eight years as deputy mayor, to decide whether or not to hold school during the fighting, and his decision not to do so saved many lives when a Grad rocket struck a local high school. He also made good use of his rhetorical skills, conducting dozens of media interviews, and demonstrated political savvy in his dealings with government offices and local politicians alike. His associates are certain he will eventually move from the mayor's office to the cabinet table.

David Buskila, unlike the man he replaced two months ago, is no media star. But his modesty and empathy make good substitutes. The first thing he did on starting work was get rid of the door that separates his office from the outside world. During the fighting in Gaza, he worked almost around the clock, showing up at his city's emergency headquarters at 7 A.M. and not leaving until after midnight.

"He doesn't run to the media every time a Qassam lands; he goes to the residents, embraces and strengthens us and gives us a sense of security," said one Sderot resident.

Like his counterpart in neighboring Sderot, Yehiel Zohar refused to cooperate with businessmen who offered to evacuate residents from his town. One Netivot resident was killed by a rocket strike during the fighting, which could have sowed panic. But Zohar did much to bolster morale: He went from shelter to shelter, making sure people had blankets and mattresses and listening to the residents' requests. And by his own steadfastness, he convinced others that fleeing was not the answer.

Yehiel Lasry, a doctor by profession, had large shoes to fill when he took office in November: His predecessor, Zvi Zilker, had been mayor for 40 years. In his previous job as Zilker's deputy, Lasry decided to give the city's psychologists and social workers training in dealing with residents during times of crisis; he also decided to open a center for treating shock victims. Those decisions paid off during the fighting in Gaza. Though Sabbath-observant, Lasry was on the job throughout the fighting, even on Shabbat. The minute a rocket fell, he would be on his way to the site. And almost every evening, he issued statements to city residents explaining the day's events and the Home Front Command's instructions.