As the Israel Air Force continued Operation Pillar of Defense on Thursday, striking more than 320 terrorist targets in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, enemy rockets continued to rain down on civilian centers, sending citizens scurrying into shelters, killing three residents of Kiryat Malachi, and inflicting damage across a 40-kilometer radius. Schools throughout the area canceled their studies, and the all-too-familiar collective bracing and resolve took effect.

Shortly after 8:00 AM on Thursday, the growing barrage of Gazan missile attacks against Israel turned fatal, claiming the lives of three residents in the Nachlat Har Chabad neighborhood of Kiryat Malachi. Rabbi Aharon Smadja, 50, Yitzchok Amsalem, 24, and Mira Scharf, a 25-year-old mother who was involved in Jewish educational efforts in New Delhi, India, perished instantly when a Palestinian rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck their apartment building.

Scharf’s husband, Rabbi Shmuel Scharf, was reported in moderate condition following the strike, while the couple’s four-year-old son was listed in serious condition. Their two-year-old and eight-month-old daughters were listed in stable condition. Scharf was reportedly pregnant when she was killed.

Altogether, seven people were injured in the explosion, one of hundreds across southern Israel since Palestinians resumed their targeting of civilians several days ago. Six more in Kiryat Malachi were treated for shock.

In the tight-knit community of Nachlat Har Chabad, neighbors reacted with shock to the deaths. “This is the first time that rockets have fallen in Kiryat Malachi,” recalled Nechami, a mother of four who lives in the building that was struck. “We don’t have safe rooms where we can hide, and all we can do is go out to the corridors of our building and wait.

“The first alarm caught us early at 8:03 in the morning,” she continued. “My husband was in the synagogue and I was alone at home with my children. I waited to hear the sound of a blast, and then suddenly I heard it very loudly, and realized it was our building that was hit. The next thing I heard were screams from the upper floors and I started realizing that the horror had struck home.”

Nechami, who knew all three victims, said that Smadja’s wife and children survived, but that the rabbi, who was widely known in the community for his kind-heartedness, went into a neighbor’s flat to help them evacuate and was instantly killed by the missile.

Mourners gather at the funeral of Rabbi Aharon Smadja.
Mourners gather at the funeral of Rabbi Aharon Smadja.

Smadja, whose funeral was scheduled for Thursday evening in Nachlat Har Chabad, is also survived by three children. Scharf’s funeral was scheduled for Thursday evening in Jerusalem.

“I can’t imagine that she passed away,” said 12-year-old Sara Bracha Kaufman, who remembered Scharf for a lecture she delivered at her middle school in Beitar. “I couldn’t believe it when my sister told me. I am in shock and really sad.”

“My children and I are terrified after what happened,” said the woman, who was leaving the city to stay with family in Lod. “They won’t leave me for a second. I try to be strong for them, but I cannot grasp this horrible catastrophe. We have to trust in G‑d and hope for the best.”

Meir Ashkenazi, a volunteer for the Magen David Adom paramedic service, lives close to the building. Smadja was his best friend.

“This is a great disaster to our community,” he said. “I still don’t know how we can cope with this horrible situation,”

Haaretz reported today that Amsalem had worked in a local bank, but in recent months had turned to Jewish observance and had started to study in a local yeshiva. When the alarm sounded, his mother said, she tried to get him to go to the stairwell, which served as the building's protected space, but he wanted to try to photograph the Iron Dome system intercepting incoming missiles. He was on the porch when the missile hit the building.

Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Yitzchok Yehuda Yaroslavsky, chief rabbi of Kiryat Malachi, said in a pained voice that the people of his city would find a way to pull through.

“When we are faced with such a great tragedy, all we can do is find the power within ourselves to get stronger,” he said. “We must all work together as one and trust in G‑d that he will help us get through these horrible times.”