A Grad rocket fired from Gaza at noon on Saturday tore through a 10-story building in the center of Ashdod that houses a Chabad synagogue, which less than an hour earlier had been packed with congregants.

“It was a miracle that no one was killed or injured,” said Chani Friedman, co-director of Chabad of the City in Ashdod.

Only a few people were still in attendance inside the ground floor synagogue as sirens filled Ashdod, and they were able to flee to safety rooms in nearby buildings. “All of a sudden they heard a loud bang and realized that the building they had just evacuated was hit,” said Friedman.

“The windows of all the shops were shattered, and the third floor of the building was damaged very badly,” she said. “It was thanks to the fact that families followed the instructions of the army and immediately entered safe rooms that their lives were saved.”

With dozens of rockets raining down daily and causing extensive property damage and disruption to their daily lives, many Ashdod residents say that they are living from one miracle to another.

“If you stopped a person in the street, he would tell you about the miracle that happened to him and to his family,” said Friedman. One woman who owns a store in the building that was hit approached Friedman after the attack to thank her for the challah and candles that she and her daughter had given her every Friday afternoon. The woman was convinced that lighting the candles and conducting Shabbat meals with the challahs provided her family with extra protection in a time of extraordinary danger.

While a few residents in the Grad-stricken neighborhood have sought shelter with friends and family in the north, most Ashdod residents have chosen to stay in their homes.

The Chabad of the City in Ashdod.
The Chabad of the City in Ashdod.

“In this neighborhood most of the houses are new, so they all have a safe room. Residents know the city and feel good here, so they prefer to stay. Plus, some of them work at the Port or at the Israeli Electricity Company, so they cannot leave,” said Friedman.

When asked for her own thoughts about Operation Pillar of Defense, Friedman said that she hopes that G‑d will guide the army, and that this time the actions will have the right effect and they will be able to live in peace for a longer period of time.

Friedman promised that the attacks would only serve to increase the activities and resolve of Chabad’s Ashdod centers. Friedman’s center has long operated a soup kitchen for the indigent, and in face of the new challenges has dramatically increased the soup kitchen’s capacities in order also to serve many ordinary residents who are now in need of both food and camaraderie.

“Some of them have lost their homes,” said Friedman, “Others cannot work due to the attacks, and many are traumatized after their homes were struck by rockets. This is why we’ve opened up our soup kitchen to everyone, and it’s why we are determined that all our activities will only increase.”