Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I'm Back

Just got back from Safed, and I'm fine.

Today was a quiet day, rocket-wise. The town was practically deserted, but those who remained behind emerged from their shelters and enjoyed the fresh air and opportunity to run errands. As my bus wound its way through town, I noticed that most food stores were open today, though nothing else was. Of course, everyone was hoping that things stay like this.

To give you an idea of how deserted is the town: A neighborhood I visited that usually has 1,000 children in its kindergartens alone, now has a total of about 20 children ages toddler-10 in the day camp they've made in a renovated shelter. They said there was another day camp nearby as well with similar numbers. That should give you a picture.

A grocery there had remained open every day throughout the war, the only source of food in town. But nearby was a fruit-and-vegetables store, on the ground floor of an apartment complex, locked up and reeking -- because two weeks ago the owner closed shop in a panic, left town, and has not been back yet to deal with the mess.

I only had one scary moment. I was interviewing a family, who were so happy to be outside, just sitting on a bench on the street instead of inside their bomb shelter -- they were ecstatic, even though they still had nothing to do but sit around; at least they were outside -- when a police car drove by announcing over the loudspeaker: "Residents of Safed, you are urged to return to your houses. There is a rocket warning in effect." This meant that they'd gotten word back from the army that there might be attacks on Safed today. But the siren wasn't going off, so no attacks yet. (Residents told me that the siren gave them about 7-10 seconds of warning before they heard the first "booms.")

The family reacted so fast, I've never seen anything like it. Their bomb shelter is down one flight, across the street, and over one block from their house. This explains why they'd been in the shelter all the time; no one can go that distance in 7-10 seconds. So after the police warning, they decided to go home, put together some food, clothes, and things to do, and then go into the shelter.

The shelter was so depressing. Just a big white room with harsh lights and three mattresses in the corner for the several families who share this neighborhood shelter. But the city recently installed an air conditioner, so they were excited.

You'll all be happy to know that I received 3 large shopping bags of toys, puzzles, dolls, and books from readers to distribute, and they were all given out in the space of about an hour (I didn't give them out; the humanitarian volunteer person knew the families and kids' ages, and he made the decisions about which toys were most appropriate for which families). This particular family I visited got a Hebrew translation of "Days with Frog and Toad" for the 4-year-old, plus a game for him (the whole trip to their apartment and then to the shelter, he hugged those new treasures to himself), and one of the teenage girls got an embroidery kit, which she opened up and started threading as soon as she was in the shelter. I witnessed a few families get their new toys and they were really happy. The kids were ga-ga over it. So, thanks to all the readers who donated their old stuff (and even more so to the reader who especially went out and bought new books and games to give away! Wow.)

Anyway, I left after that to go around town some more with the guy who was distributing food. Given that, as far as I know, the siren never went off today in Safed, I hope they eventually emerged from the shelter.

I saw where two rockets had hit houses, one across the street from another. A resident told me that in her neighborhood alone, they've been hit about 8-10 times. A few rockets hit and destroyed homes, a couple hit the courtyard of the complex, and two went into the valley just below her window. But here's a miracle if ever I heard one: several residents told me that one rocket suddenly and oddly changed course just as it approached a building, broke a hole into the new room a family was building onto their apartment -- exactly where they were planning to put a window-- and landed in their home without exploding, just one room away from where several of them were sitting down for a Shabbat meal. Crazy stuff. How do you even begin to say bircat hagomel -- the prayer thanking God for sparing one's life -- for something like that? Just crazy.

Anyway, I'm really tired and have to go to sleep. Just letting you all know that I'm safe! But still, do not tell my mom where I went, OK?

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