After saying goodbye to Staff Sgt. Dvir Emanueloff – the 22-year-old elite soldier who came under mortar attack inside the Gaza Strip – Israelis woke up Monday to the news that five more soldiers and an officer had been injured in clashes with Hamas forces, and that another soldier had narrowly missed being kidnapped. And a day after some 50 Palestinian rockets smashed into southern Israel, injuring three people, residents there once again came under attack at least five times.

Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries throughout the country, who have mobilized various efforts to help the stunned population in cities like Be’er Sheva, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Sderot, as well as soldiers heading for the front, report that with Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza now 48 hours old, people are apprehensive about what the future holds. Thousands of citizens are reciting Psalms together, and soldiers are carrying miniature books of Psalms given to them by the Chabad-Lubavitch Youth Organization into battle.

Residents of Sderot, a desert town not far from the border where people of all ages suffer from the stress and trauma of some eight years of rocket attacks, can now hear the intense fighting taking place in Gaza.

Moshe Iloz, 54, says that for him, “everything is falling apart.”

The father of seven, whose house lacks a reinforced room to guard against rocket attack, lost his business two years ago in Sderot’s severe economic recession, a direct cause of the security situation. Iloz, who suffered a brain hemorrhage six months ago as a result of a car accident, and his wife face crippling debt. And the couple’s 25-year-old son suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by the conflict.

“He doesn’t work, he just sleeps,” says Iloz. “He doesn’t eat, he doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t go out.

“The rockets just magnify everything,” adds the man, who receives help from the local Chabad House in the form of food, essentials and money. “It causes dread. Children’s education, the ability to learn a living, all the planning: the rockets ruin everything.”

Rabbi Moshe Ze’ev Pizem, director of the Chabad House, says that he recently spent 30,000 shekels donated by a generous Israeli on food at a local supermarket to both benefit residents and the shopkeeper. The food, however, will last only a few days, he estimates. At least 1,000 families need such assistance every week.

“There are a lot of people who have difficulty leaving their homes: older people or people with little children,” says Pizem, who also visits soldiers stationed at bases around Gaza to keep up their morale with cakes and sodas. “We’ve already delivered 100 crates of foods this week.”

The soldiers, he adds, have been asking for underwear, socks and deodorant.

In the middle of speaking, a loud explosion interrupts the rabbi. Without a warning siren preceding the blast, Pizem figures that it must be the sounds of fighting on the ground.

“What an explosion that was,” he says. “Oy vey.”

Pizem’s sister-in-law, Tzivia Pizem, who arrived in Sderot with her husband as a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in 2000, is staying with her children at a friend’s house in Kfar Chabad after a rocket attack last week severely damaged her own home.

“The impact smashed the side of the bedrooms,” she details. “The roof is gone. The water tank, windows, everything inside is cracked. I don’t know about the foundation yet. I hope it’s not damaged.”

Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Moshe Ze'ev Pizem blesses an Israeli soldier prior to his deployment to the Gaza Strip.
Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Moshe Ze'ev Pizem blesses an Israeli soldier prior to his deployment to the Gaza Strip.

Soldiers Make Their Way South

Meanwhile in Be’er Sheva, where the central bus station has become a main transit point for soldiers heading to the front, Rabbi Kalman Druk says that Israeli troops – many as young as 18 – are focused on the task at hand.

“The soldiers are in good spirits,” relates Druk, who supervises Chabad educational institutions in the city. “They are motivated, rushing to their destinations. Many are putting on tefillin with us, taking a book of Psalms and moving on.”

At Soroka Hospital in the city, Rabbis Menachem Kutner, director of Chabad’s Terror Victims Project, and Zalman Gorelik, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Be’er Sheva, are also visiting with many of the soldiers injured in the ground incursion. Kutner’s organization will provide help to the victims and their families throughout the recovery process.

“Most of the soldiers are lightly to moderately wounded,” says Kutner. “They want to return to Gaza as soon as their recovery is complete.”

According to Gorelik, as of Sunday, more than 4,000 books of Psalms had been distributed in the city.

Reached in the middle of rushing to catch his bus, one soldier, who didn’t have time to give his name, blurts out that “putting on tefillin definitely gives me confidence.”

“Everyone should pray for us that we should be successful,” requests another. “We should go in peace and return in peace.”

Chabad’s Terror Victims Project urges people to pray for the injured soldiers, whose Hebrew names are: Noam ben Elsa, Lial Hoshea ben Miriam, Neria ben Rivka, Yitzchak ben Nava, Netanel ben Nava, Maxim ben Olga, Yisrael ben Ilana, Yoad Ido ben Freida Rivka, Idan ben Liora, and Nadav ben Maria.