I was pleasantly surprised by the large number of people, locals and visitors, who had come to celebrate Jewish Arbor Day in Sderot, particularly in light of the dozens of Kassams that had fallen on the town recently. The event came to an abrupt end when the "Code Red" alert was sounded over the community center's public announcement system. It was a surprisingly calm, gentle sound. We all crowded into the large protected hall and, when the danger had passed, everyone went to their homes with some leftover dried fruits.
Elad and I waited for Gilad, an 18 year-old Sderot resident who lives with his mother and little sister. When he arrived, we spoke to him about his daily life there. We put our overnight bags in his house and went out on the town, around midnight. Like an experienced tour guide, Gilad showed us the sites of the missile landings in his neighborhood, Schunat Hatsanchanim, and at his school. On the way, I am going through "incident and response" scenarios in my head which I learned to do during my military service; I am continually looking for optimal cover and every dog howl or noise from a passing car makes me jump, in case it's the beginning of a "Code Red" siren.
We returned to Gilad's house and went to bed. The house is cold and unheated in order to save money, among other reasons. We set our alarms for the morning, without knowing if we will be lucky enough to wake up from it. And indeed at seven in the morning we were woken up, together with the rest of the house, by the wailing of the "Code Red", which was much less pleasant than the siren at the community center. As an experienced soldier, I immediately woke up and headed for the reinforced room. Within a few seconds, we were joined by Elad and Gilad and his sister and mother, who were still wiping the sleep from their eyes. Within a few seconds we heard the noise of a distance landing. Luckily, the Kassam did not fall on us. We tried to get back to sleep but within a short time, we again heard another "Code Red". Back and forth to the reinforced room. We could no longer get back to sleep, so we got up. We drank some coffee and took Gilad to Ashkelon on our way north. On the way, we listened to the radio, hoping to hear the daily report of Kassam landings – this time with a kind of pride felt by the local residents who survived it. There was no such report. "How could it be?" I asked. Gilad chuckled. "It happens all the time," he says. "Sometimes, people are injured by shrapnel in the city and the radio reports on landings in an open area without any casualties or damage." He gives a bitter smile. We let Gilad off in Ashkelon. He thanks us for the visit of solidarity and we are flustered. We thanked him and his family for the warm hospitality.
I am not going to preach here about this or that solution to the Kassams landing on Sderot. But I will say that the residents of Sderot are right. It would be worthwhile for each one of us, who lives in this pain-stricken but interesting country, to experience a night in Sderot at least once in his life (which is very easy to arrange through the local community center). It is an eye-opening experience and helps one start to understand what our brethren in Sderot have experienced during the last seven years.
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