On Sunday night, the war with Hamas spilled over into the streets of Sderot as terrorists infiltrated the community through underground tunnels. For Sderot residents whom have lived under fire since 2003, it was the worst night they had ever experienced.
Their lives changed 11 years ago when the first rocket was fired into Sderot. They heard a loud noise – residents went out to look to see what it was. A rocket… no one understood what this would mean for them and their families. As years progressed, the rockets became more advanced, as did technology to protect residents.
At the beginning, there was no siren warning of incoming rockets and only in 2011 after 8 years of living unprotected did the Iron Dome get introduced – most families did not have safe rooms and there was nothing protecting men, women, children, and property from rocket fire. Families were injured, loved ones were killed, and everyone lived in constant fear for their lives.
I asked families what it was like before the rockets. They used to go into Gaza regularly to go shopping, to go out to eat, to get their car fixed… they were neighbors in the truest sense. And that all changed when Hamas took over the Gaza Strip.
For Miriam, a grandmother of four grandchildren, with an injured daughter and a home that was destroyed twice by rocket fire – she explained that it is starting to be so long since it all started that she finds it hard to remember what life was like before.
For David, a retired IDF officer, who served in Gaza for most of his career, the last two weeks have been the most terrifying weeks of his life.
For Yael, a mother of four children, who in her rush to the bomb shelter, she fell down the stairs as a rocket tore through their home, watching her 15 year old daughter grow up without knowing what “normal” is like is excruciating.
For Chana, only 20 years old has been growing up with a shell of a mother, her mother was a nursery school teacher and watched one of the children in her care get murdered next to her when she couldn’t grab all the children fast enough. And then two months later, a rocket landed in her front yard – spiraling her into severe PTSD.
For Stella, a young mother whose child ran for shelter under a garbage dumpster and was injured as a rocket landed a meter away.
For Shitrit, who can describe watching a rocket land next to her and her family, and racing back and forth between her parents and sister as ambulances arrived thinking that her sister was killed.
For Yakov and Chaya, 19 year old daughter lives with such severe PTSD that she is still completing high school one class at a time.
As I walked to breakfast on the last day of the OneFamily Therapeutic Retreat, I ran into David. He looked at me with a wry smile and said, “it’s a new day right?”… of course it is a new day I responded optimistically, to which he said, “it is a new day it dates but not a new day in experiences… we still have this lot that we have to deal with, tomorrow will not change that.”
The night before the retreat, no one slept in Sderot as terrorists infiltrated the community. Black-op infantry jumped from airplanes into their neighborhoods, and news rolled in that terrorists had dug a maze of terror tunnels in order to attack neighborhoods. Doors and windows were locked for fear of the war on their streets and families hid in shelters as the Tzeva Adom Siren continued to ring relentlessly about incoming rockets.
Emotions were high as 400 victims of terror came to the hotel in Tiberias. Between the terror of the night before, the harrowing journey to get out of Sderot under rocket fire, and the culmination of two weeks of hiding in shelters – everyone was exhausted and relieved to sit in silence.
No sirens. No fear. Silence.
For three days, the received therapeutic support, reflexology, massage therapy, acupuncture, group therapy, private therapy, yoga, art therapy. And slowly smiles returned, laughter was heard, shoulders relaxed, people were able to cry, to share emotion. It was three days of blessing.
We need to ask ourselves – what are they going home to?
They are returning to a battle field. To homes that they now know have terror tunnels built underneath them, to bomb shelters where they must hide in fear, to the booming noise of the war happening just a few kilometers away.
But they have had the opportunity to begin a healing process, to gain the tools to be resilient, and to return with renewed strength to cope.
And they know that we are going to be there. Just like we have been there since the rockets started, since their families were injured… and we will continue to be there until they heal.