SAFED, Israel—Battleworn from years of war and border skirmishes, residents throughout Israel’s north are reacting with a mix of confidence and foreboding in the face of attacks and counter-attacks from Iran and its allies in what threatened to become a cataclysmic war with the nation’s enemies to the north and east.

Shterna Sara Marzel is the co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Old City of Safed. With her husband, Rabbi Gavriel Marzel, she helped guide the community through direct missile attacks during the two Israel-Lebanon wars in 1982 and 2006. She was among many awakened around 2:45 a.m. this morning from the sound of what could have been enemy missiles but turned out to be blasts from Israeli defense missiles launched from the area against enemy fire.

“It was a little alarming, but we just have to do again what we have to do,” Marzel told Chabad.org, referring to the sense of calm and faith that the longtime emissaries provided their community with during the earlier conflicts. Speaking to a visibly shaken male congregant who appeared in her office doorway the next morning, she said: “You don’t have to be afraid. Say Tehillim [Psalms] or better yet, put tefillin on people. That’s the best thing to do.”

Israel’s security cabinet continued to discuss the escalation on the northern border. Devastating Israeli aerial attacks on multiple Iranian installations in Syria had been preceded by enemy missile attacks that failed to hit their marks in Israel. No one appears to have been injured on the Israel side.

Across Israel, and with greater urgency in the north, city officials ordered the opening of bomb shelters based on directives from the military, with communities in the Golan Heights already having put their shelters to use.

Rabbi Moshe Sasonkin, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Metula, Israel’s northernmost city, which is surrounded by Lebanon on three sides, reported that his congregation and the rest of the city seemed to be going on with business as usual. One would never have guessed that a bomb of unknown origin had landed in a residential area at 4 a.m. and did light damage to a couple of homes. “I came to shul this morning at 6 a.m., and everyone was there to pray as usual,” he said.

The cities in Israel's north are in easy range of rockets from Syria and Lebanon.
The cities in Israel's north are in easy range of rockets from Syria and Lebanon.

Confident in Face of Escalating Tensions

Longtime Israeli citizens, many of whom have lived through multiple wars since Israel’s founding in 1948, alongside tourists and new immigrants, appeared to be mostly optimistic despite the escalating tensions.

“People are posting on the websites about how the war has started, and are getting all worked up and worried,” said Pesach Sherbow, who operates an outreach outpost on behalf of the Chabad House of the Old City of Safed for Jewish and non-Jewish tourists, and one of thousands of Israelis who have weathered most of the country’s historic battles. “People who haven’t been through things like this don’t realize that we’ve essentially been at war since 1948. We are always prepared for war here. So it’s best for people not to get too uptight about it.”

The typically busy spring tourist traffic does not appear to have slowed, reported Rabbi Zalman Traxler, who operates a busy tefillin and mitzvah station on behalf of the city’s umbrella Chabad organization. From his post, he greets hundreds of tourists as they disembark daily from buses near Safed’s renowned artists’ quarter.

“When we strengthen ourselves in Torah and mitzvahs, G‑d blesses us with power and victory over our enemies,” said Traxler, quoting the oft-heard guidance of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

A non-Jewish tourist couple visiting from Poland, also startled from their sleep by the sounds of blasts near their guest house in a hilly area above the Israeli city of Karmiel near the Lebanese border, sided with their Israeli counterparts.

“My wife was a little bit worried for a moment and awakened me, but then we realized there’s always something going on here,” said Jacek Karasiewicz, with a shrug of his shoulders.

Despite recent military activity, life went on as usual in Israel's north, like at this bar mitzvah celebration in the streets of Safed.
Despite recent military activity, life went on as usual in Israel's north, like at this bar mitzvah celebration in the streets of Safed.

That attitude seemed to be the prevailing sentiment among Safed residents.

“These are serious moments, but we simply have to rely on Hashem, and pray and learn with more concentration and focus,” said Baruch Zibell, a relatively recent arrival from New York, who was about to sit down and teach a class in Jewish mysticism at the Chabad-Lubavitch Tzemach Tzedek Synagogue.

“Why should we worry?” said Gershon Broder, another relatively recent immigrant and a retired lawyer, who was about to join Zibell’s class. “We have the IDF and Hashem.”

With reports of at least 23 dead resulting from the Israel Defense Force attacks using 28 fighter jets, Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shihab told Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen channel, aligned with the Hezbollah terror group, that there is no alternative to a military response to the Israeli attacks, Arutz Sheva and other local media reported.

In the raids, Israel’s army said it had hit dozens of Iranian military targets around Syria in one of its largest military operations in recent years and its biggest such assault against Iranian targets, the news group said.

The strikes came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin and just days after U.S. President Donald Trump’s rejection of Iran’s nuclear deal.

One of Israel’s often animated and expressive taxi drivers, a common fount of street wisdom, was asked what he thought the immediate future held. “Now it is quiet,” said the driver, David Sabag, whose driving turf is mostly the Upper Galilee. “Only G‑d knows what will happen next.”