Hours earlier, the reporter intoned, Hamas militants had fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel quassam rockets, including some longer-range katyushas that hit the large coastal city of Ashkelon, damaging houses and apartments. This is the first time that a quassam has ever reached Ashkelon in the western Negev, in the South District of Israel.
Here, in this ancient maritime area (site of one of the five cities of the Philistines) Shimon lives with his parents while writing his doctoral dissertation in psychology. The bible records that Samson, King Saul and his son Jonathan, and King David, among others, spent time here, too.
Fifteen seconds to find safety
As with all cities and towns that are designated Color Red — the code for an attack on civilian populations, warning sirens pierced the Sabbath quiet as Shimon, his family and entire community understood the dreaded message. Within fifteen seconds, a rocket would land close by. Fifteen seconds to absorb the information, to manage the terror, and to seek and then find and enter a safe place.
Only days earlier, I had introduced Shimon and Josh Gomes (both shown in the photo). (Josh, a grandson of my beloved Stella, of blessed memory, is a professional American basketball-player now helping to bring the local Binyamina team to victory.)
On learning of the katyusha rocket attack about fifty miles from my radio, inside my head images of Shimon danced to rippling sounds of his voice, his laugh — broadcasting his signature wit and wisdom. Shimon: a human anchor in sea of chaos, seeding humor and intelligence, goodness and compassion — in danger? Unthinkable. Untenable. Possible.
In her blog diary entry, March 1, 2008, Karen Alkalay-Gut muses —
Thank goodness we only paper-trained our dog. Even though she goes out four times a day she still pees on the paper at home. And there is much to piss on today. What terrible developments. Katyushas on Ashkelon. Kassams on Sderot. Attacks on Gaza. Human lives targeted. And of course both sides become more and more determined. We of course would stop as soon as the rockets cease.
Life may go on amid this madness, but sometimes I can't get my head around it. So I almost didn't go to my good friend's birthday party, but I did, and I forgot everything in the celebration - until the final song of the sing along - Shalom-Salaam. Then suddenly the absence of the very thing we were singing about returned to me with such pain. How many people were killed since we began the party? How many people irretrievably traumatized? How do we get around this?
Early the next morning, my phone rang. As I grabbed it, spotting Shimon’s name and number in the caller ID window, relief engulfed me.
Me: Are you OK? How are your parents? You must have a long list of calls to return so I won’t keep you.
He: Yes, I’m OK. My parents are in denial. I accidentally left my phone in the car last night, and it was too late to return messages when I discovered it. Yes, I have lots of calls to return.
Our staccato exchange ended, I burst into smiles as I temporarily blocked out thoughts of lingering terror and the immediate tragedy for others in Ashkelon (and elsewhere), unlucky this time.