As Israel entered its third week of sustained fighting in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, several communities in the country’s south allowed schools to resume, albeit in bomb shelters. But while the change in posture came after the Home Front Command downgraded the risk from Palestinian-fired rockets, two long-range Grad-type rockets struck Be’er Sheva on Sunday as high school juniors and seniors resumed studying for their matriculation exams.

In Ashdod, grade schools throughout the city opened in secure locations. The school run by Chabad-Lubavitch of Ashdod split its students across four shelters for a shortened school day, but with the war continuing unabated, some parents have already made the difficult decision to send their children to schools in other locations throughout Israel.

Schools also opened in Sderot, the town just kilometers from Gaza that has been targeted by rocket crews for the past eight years. But according to Rabbi Moshe Ze’ev Pizem, director of the Chabad-Lubavitch center there, just 10 percent of the students reported for classes.

Those who came proved once more that they’ve grown accustomed to the almost constant threat of attack when the air raid sirens sounded three times in a row.

“The kids here are professionals when they hear the siren,” said Pizem. “They know how to get to the shelters quickly. Unfortunately, that’s become their specialty.”

The three explosions in Sderot damaged several houses this morning, leading Pizem to speculate that Home Front Command – a division of the Israel Defense Force that manages civilian preparations during wartime – might call off classes tomorrow.

Children Stunned by Fear

As much as it pained her to leave her hometown, said Einat Zarbiv, a teacher in the Chabad-Lubavitch nursery school in Be’er Sheva, she had no choice but to relocate to the central Israeli village Kfar Chabad.

The mother of three, whose home does not have a safe room, turned to Bella Gorelik, co-director of the Chabad Center of Be’er Sheva, for help in getting out after the rocket attacks proved too much. Compounding the Zarbiv family’s troubles is the recent death of its youngest son, which everyone is still coming to terms with.

“There are a lot of difficulties. My children are showing a lot of changes in behavior,” said Zarbiv. “My seven-year-old daughter is having the hardest time: She has a lot of fears, has started sucking her fingers and clothes, and her skin has a rash from the anxiety.”

Of her two-year-old son Yonatan, who passed away in October from a heart defect, Zarbiv said that she has a tough time walking by the baby aisle in the supermarket. The sheer magnitude of the tragedy, followed by the war, has indelibly left its mark.

“He was a really wonderful child, a tzadik, so special. There’s no way to adequately describe him,” related Zarbiv, 29, who has a tough time walking by the baby aisle in the supermarket without breaking down in tears. “Yonatan was developing and blossoming [after an operation at seven months], and suddenly he had a heart attack.”

After the beginning of Operation Cast Lead – the Israeli offensive designed to bring a halt to the rocket attacks – the family went to stay with Zarbiv’s sister in Kfar Saba for a few days. The space was too cramped, she said, and still, the kids cried when faced with the prospect of going home.

“I have to get out of here,” she said, just hours after the entrance to the Chabad girls’ school was struck by a rocket.

Zarbiv’s husband will be commuting from Kfar Chabad to Be’er Sheva, where he manages a storeroom.

Chabad-Lubavitch centers throughout southern Israel distributed food to war-torn residents in advance of Shabbat.
Chabad-Lubavitch centers throughout southern Israel distributed food to war-torn residents in advance of Shabbat.

Over in Ashdod – which two weeks ago became one of the furthest locations struck by rockets, but quickly relinquished the title to places like Kiryat Malachi and Kiryat Gat – Chana Friedman, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary there, went from shelter to shelter checking in on her children and their elementary school classmates. Her husband, Rabbi Yosef Friedman, who runs the local Colel Chabad soup kitchen, went door to door making sure people who were stuck in their homes had hot food to eat.

The couple’s two oldest sons, ages seven and eight, spent last week in the northern city of Safed, but returned on Friday. As they ran errands in advance of Shabbat on their bikes, the sirens went off. They had to jump off their bikes and crouch down on the side of the street, covering their heads with their hands. The rocket struck just six blocks away.

“They’re very worried and scared,” said their mother. “The whole situation is really sad.

“The others get scared from any little noise, like when we open the faucet,” she added.

In two weeks, the Friedmans’ son Asher will be turning three years old, a typically festive occasion marked in Chasidic circles with a boy’s first haircut in a ceremony known in Yiddish as an upshernish.

“We’re supposed to send out invitations today or tomorrow,” said Friedman. “We don’t know yet what we’re going to do.”