Living Under Terror

Smoke from rockets fired from Gaza on November 12. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

An interview with Yaakov Greenbaum of Ashdod, father of eight, who was still in Yerushalayim on Thursday morning, awaiting a possible return later in the day.

From your viewpoint, how did this recent uptick in violence all begin?

I have been living in Ashdod for nearly 20 years, and we have had more than our fair share of rockets over the years, including many wounded people and, lo aleinu, several who were killed al kiddush Hashem.

So it was a seemingly normal Tuesday morning. I woke up at my regular time of 5:50, and just 10 minutes later we heard the first alarm. With that, I realized that the day, or perhaps longer, was about to change.

We are accustomed to these situations, unfortunately, and the kids know exactly what to do. There are hotlines for each of the kids’ schools, and the municipal council also has a hotline with security updates and relevant information for the residents. We soon ascertained that there would be no school for the day.

How is it to live under terror, for the kids?

While it might sound nice to say “we’ve gotten used to it and know how to cope with it” — that’s totally not true. So on the one hand, yes, we have gotten used to it, and we know the procedures. But that doesn’t in any way mean that it’s easy. I think we can use the term “easier.” Yet, for the children it is difficult, no difference their age. Every time a siren blasts, the panic and anxiety that come with it as we make the run for the shelter can leave its mark on the children.

It is imperative that parents learn how to deal with these issues properly and professionally and not just let themselves believe that if the kids aren’t showing anything now, this means that they’ve learned to live with it, because that’s not true. And I know that for myself … if we, as grown adults, get shaken up by the sudden sirens, there’s no way that younger children aren’t shaken up.

So the children are going to stay at home for the day. What’s next?

Once we check up with all the schools and confirm there are no studies for the day, and things are a little settled, I can finally go to daven. The shul where I daven is in a caravan (as are many shuls in Ashdod), and the nearest bomb shelter is a walk across the street. Being “war veterans,” we already know the halachos of when one can leave during davening, or krias haTorah, and how to continue Shemoneh Esrei or chazaras hashatz. As I start davening, my main concern is to be at least after chazaras hashatz when the next siren sounds … and baruch Hashem, my minyan finished without any interruptions. After Shacharis, one of the mispallelim was learning the daily Chumash-Rashi, and was reading the pesukim aloud, with the trop. In that day’s kriah, shelishi, the passuk describes Lot fleeing from Sodom and how the malachim had to pull Lot as he was tarrying. The trop on the word “vayismama (and he tarried)” is known as shalsheles, which is sounded like a ring three times. When he read this passuk out loud, the mispallelim nearly fell for it being a siren.

But, not to worry, minutes later there was a real siren. We all ran to the bomb shelter across the street, and waited until it passed. As I was leaving, I heard the baal tefillah of a different minyan continuing the chazaras hashatz where he had left off when they ran out: “V’lamalshinim al tehi sikvah …”

Have conditions in Ashdod gotten better over the years?

The most obvious answer to that is the Iron Dome system. This has neutralized nearly 90% of the rockets, they say. The systems are updated and upgraded all the time, and — of course, with much siyatta diShmaya —have prevented many tragedies.

On the other hand, due to advances in the technology, it also has its pitfalls. Ashdod is a city of nearly 300,000 residents. The city decided that, now that the system can pinpoint the place of impact, why should the sirens blare across the whole city, if they can limit it down to the areas where it might fall and allow the others to stay in their own regular schedule. This is a good idea, just that it is a little more scary, as we now know that if there’s a siren blaring it means it’s going to be near us, and not the other side of the city, as we had thought in the past.

Not all apartments in Ashdod have safety rooms, known as mamad, which is the most inner room in the house and is built of 12-inch concrete walls. The building we live in is a newer building and has safety rooms; we hosted several nieces and nephews who live in an older building.

What do people do throughout the day?

My wife works in Ashdod, and she didn’t go to work. I work in Ashkelon, which is closer to the Gaza envelope region.

If in Ashdod, we have 45 seconds from the siren to get into the safety rooms; in Ashkelon, it’s 30 seconds. The industrial zone in Ashkelon, where I work, is a 15-second zone. Naturally, many workers don’t come on these days, and it’s a very difficult quandary — to choose the responsibility for the family or for the job.

At home, the kids are logging in to their schools. Many teachers record the classes and post them on the school’s hotline, so the students have what to do and don’t miss out on studies.

As parents, we need to play it tough for the kids’ sake, but as much as we are used to it over the years, it still can be traumatic.

A friend of mine from shul collapsed as we arrived in the shelter and lost consciousness. A local paramedic checked him later and he was good, baruch Hashem. It was better that it happened in shul and not in front of his wife and kids.

Whenever there is a terror wave, the ambulances and other services change their sirens so as not to be so similar to the red alert sirens. Even in Yerushalayim, where I am now, the ambulances have different sirens. I told this to my father, and he hadn’t even noticed.

When did you decide to move out?

After a day, I saw that nothing was happening. The kids are all stuck at home; as no one will risk even going down to the grocery or to play in the park; we decided to go to my parents in Yerushalayim. As of Thursday morning, we’re still here, but as the ceasefire has been announced, I hope that we’ll be home for Shabbos.

Back in 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, we moved out after a few days of fighting. That was before the Iron Dome, and the Hamas had many more rockets in their artillery. We came back after a few weeks, and the menorah was still on the counter, as we had left the day after Chanukah. So no, I didn’t bring my menorah along when we left.

As a resident of a city on the firing line, do you feel these military operations are worthwhile?

Each time we have these mini-wars, we feel that it’s worthwhile — our pain and panic — and perhaps this time the terror will finally stop. So if it “costs” us a few days of living under threat, nu, it’s worth it. And then we see the impressive pictures in Hamodia of the buildings that the IDF took down in Gaza — we may actually believe that this was the last time and now it’ll be calm. And then, come a month or a year later, and it’s all back again, with no light at the end of the tunnel.

But, who knows, perhaps this time, with Hashem’s help, it will be the final round of terror on the south.