As Israel Defense Force air strikes against Hamas targets in the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip extended into the fourth day of fighting, enemy rockets rained down on civilian centers, sending citizens scurrying and damaging homes, including that of Rabbi Chananel and Tzivia Pizem, Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in the border town of Sderot.

The intermittent barrages throughout the morning – which wreaked havoc as far as Ashdod, almost 40 kilometers from Gaza – followed a day of some of the worst rocket attacks in the war. Three Israelis, one a Bedouin construction worker, were killed on Monday.

Tzivia Pizem said that it was because of Divine Providence that she and her whole family were not home at the time of the 11 a.m. barrage. She normally travels to the central Israeli village of Kfar Chabad every Tuesday for a full day of Torah learning, and this time decided to take her husband and children with her.

Reached as she and her husband made their way back to inspect the damage, Pizem was in tears.

“Thank G‑d we’re fine,” she said. “We’re not home yet. We’re getting there. I’m thinking, ‘What now?’ I have no idea.”

Pizem’s 19-year-old nephew, Osher, was with a friend outside when the air raid siren went off.

“We saw the explosion,” said the man. “I said to my friend, ‘That looks like my uncle’s house.’ He said that it looked like his mother’s home.”

It took the pair about 20 seconds to reach the scene, where they found a crater in between the two structures. An old man was covered in blood, and was treated at the scene. Authorities later indicated he suffered minor injuries.

Damage outside the two homes was extensive.
Damage outside the two homes was extensive.

Extensive Damage

At the Pizem home, the youths found a caved-in roof, shrapnel-ridden walls, shattered windows and destroyed furniture. He was unsure about the extent of the damage inside.

“I couldn’t get in,” he said.

The man’s father, Rabbi Moshe Ze’ev Pizem, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Sderot, said that throughout his city – which has dealt with the threat of rocket attacks for years and has become a virtual ghost town – people are fed up. Speaking by phone, he had to stop talking when another siren blasted a warning call. He calmly noted when each of the two ensuring rockets fell.

“There is a feeling of fear everywhere,” he said. “Even us: Even though we are emissaries, we are still human beings. It is horrible and horrendous, the suspense and fear.”

Elsewhere, residents throughout Israel’s south showed an increased determination to persevere. Some rabbis and rabbinical students under the auspices of the Chabad-Lubavitch Youth Organization made special trips to forward operating bases near Gaza to give encouragement to troops waiting for the order to begin an expected ground invasion, while others checked in on frightened citizens ordered by military authorities to remain near bomb shelters at all times.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Menachem Kutner, director of Chabad’s Terror Victims Project, visited with the family of one of Monday’s casualties, identified as 36-year-old Irit Sheetrit, and the wounded.

For his part, Moshe Zev Pizem was encouraging residents to keep up their spirits. He continued daily prayer services at his Chabad House and made a particular effort for Jewish men around him to don tefillin. He urged that people everywhere should keep not only Israeli civilians, but also soldiers, in their prayers.

“At least, the army is doing something,” he added. “The knowledge that they are there is comforting. We don’t feel alone.”