As Israel’s offensive in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip stretched into its 12th day of air operations and fourth day of ground battles, soldiers in towns across the southern part of the country are going door to door to make sure that citizens are safe and know what to do during Palestinian rocket strikes.

At the same time, Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries and rabbinical students are making their own rounds of the neighborhoods to encourage people to stay strong and maintain their faith.

“Like everyone, we trust that what Israel’s soldiers are doing in Gaza is just,” said Rabbi Lipa Kurtzveil, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Kiryat Malachi, which last week joined an ever-growing list of cities targeted by Hamas rocket crews. “People here trust that everything will be alright.”

Adding to the confidence is a pervading sense that miracles are constantly taking place. People point to casualty figures comparably low in the face of the threat emanating from Gaza. An average of 20 rockets has fallen each day since the beginning of Operation Cast Lead, but strikes causing fatalities, or even injuries, are relatively rare.

“There are definitely miracles and wonders here,” said Kurtzveil.

Shaiel Yitzchak, a reserve Israel Defense Force soldier attached to the Home Front Command, regards as miraculous the very fact that Israel has managed to survive through more than 60 years of regional wars.

Almost two weeks ago, Yitzchak, 36, and his wife, Charlie, were sitting down for a Shabbat lunch with family in Bet Shemesh when he received an emergency phone call. A senior academic officer, he was told to report to duty immediately. After a few days in Nitzan, he was transferred to Kiryat Malachi, some 30 kilometers from Gaza.

“My responsibility,” he said, “is to get the people to safety in the event of an attack.”

The officer spends his day visiting families and making sure they know how and where to seek shelter when the air raid siren sounds. The residents get plenty of practice: The sirens sound almost constantly.

With Ethiopian immigrants comprising some 35 to 40 percent of the population of more than 19,600, Amharic-speaking soldiers and teenage volunteers help Yitzchak in his task.

“They take responsibility to each other very seriously,” he said. “High school kids translate for their parents.”

And when the siren blares, “they know which teenager is responsible to take which older person to the right place,” he added. “They make me really proud.”

Ashkelon’s streets were quiet as Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip stretched into its 12th day. (Photo: John Daly)
Ashkelon’s streets were quiet as Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip stretched into its 12th day. (Photo: John Daly)

Injured Soldiers Long to Return

On Tuesday, the Washington, D.C., native spent his day off with his English-born wife collecting cakes and candies to deliver to injured soldiers being treated at the Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva.

The soldiers, all of whom had seen action in Gaza, “were in very high spirits,” reported Yitzchak. “Most of them just want to heal and go back to the front.”

Amazingly, added Yitzchak, when the soldiers – who were nursing everything from minor wounds to more severe injuries – heard that seven Hamas fighters had been killed, they regretted the loss of human life.

“I was really proud of us as a people,” he said. “The goal is clearly not to kill, but to make us safe.”

In the coastal city of Ashkelon, John Daly, a staff member at the local Chabad House, said that with each passing day, he sees less and less activity when he looks out his window.

“The city is really a ghost town,” said the native Floridian. “The only cars are from Chabad-Lubavitch teams.”

Yesterday, Daly ventured out to go to a restaurant on the beach; he and his friends were the only civilians there.

The city’s children, he said, are especially shaken up. Many were bussed to the Tel Aviv suburb of Kfar Saba for a day of fun featuring a movie and a clown. But the clown began his act with some opening music that had a slight similarity to the undulating drone of an air raid siren.

“The kids froze and screamed,” said Daly, who heard of the incident from one of the mothers. When it was time to go home, “some cried and tried to run away. They didn’t want to go home.”

Nevertheless, echoing the sentiments of Kurtzveil in Kiryat Malachi, Daly said that he saw the hand of G‑d at work. This morning, a rocket landed just meters away from a 12-story building, striking a fence. No one was injured, and eight people inside were treated for shock.

“This is a densely-packed city,” said Daly. “But almost all we hear of the rockets is that they hit between buildings, or in streets and open fields.

“It’s just a miracle.”