Kala and Jim Paul of Summit found themselves dodging rockets in Be’er Sheva on a recent trip to Israel. Staying at the home of friends, they were awakened by sirens early on March 23, their second morning in the Negev town.
Jim described their experience in a series of e-mails with NJ Jewish News. (The messages have been slightly edited.)
“The siren jolted us out of a deep sleep. It was loud and I know I felt a certain amount of panic and was really disoriented. We had talked about what to do in the event of an attack the night before. The family was in the process of building a bomb shelter. The room was done, but because of the construction around it, we couldn’t get to it in the required 60 seconds. So the plan was to do what they had done in the past: move to the center of their house, lay on the ground with our heads pointed away from the direction from which the rockets would come. When the siren came, it was unbelievably loud. I didn’t know what it was initially. Then I saw the wife of the family telling us to go to the center of the house. We did.”
Her army-age son, however, did not. “He ran out and tried to get to the bomb shelter,” said Paul. “This heightened the tension. In the end, he didn’t make it to the shelter. He found a spot outside to huddle and to count out the time.
“Typically there are two rockets, one immediately after the other. They are shot from trucks which can hold two rockets. We heard both land. Then we waited a minute or so and got up,” he wrote.
The Pauls left Summit on March 10 and arrived back home on March 29. For the first week or so of the trip, their “sixth or seventh” to Israel, they were part of a United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ mission. The second part of the trip included visits with friends and some further exploring of MetroWest projects in Israel. Certain parts of the e-mail exchange were originally sent to Amir Shacham, UJC MetroWest’s Israel representative, who Paul said was immediately in touch following the rocket explosions.
A little later that same morning in Be’er Sheva, the Pauls were walking around the old section of the town when another siren went off. Jim Paul wrote, “We actually did not panic as much as we had when the first attack occurred in the morning.” Because it was so early, most of the shops had not yet opened. He wrote, “We couldn’t find a shop close by to go into. We found a spot next to a solid wall and lay down on the ground and just counted. After the rockets hit, we got up like other people and continued on. [We were] a little shaken, but not too much.
“The rockets had landed about four blocks from the home where we were staying and probably 10 blocks from where we were in town.”
The couple planned to leave Be’er Sheva for a few days to attend a wedding in Tel Aviv. Paul wrote, “As I was driving out of Be’er Sheva, beyond rocket range, I began to feel a bit more relaxed. I wasn’t sure what we would feel like driving back to Be’er Sheva” a few days later.
“To my pleasant surprise, I didn’t feel any apprehension about coming back. On Saturday, I walked to synagogue with our friend in Be’er Sheva. All along the way, I was asking him if the siren went off again, where would we go?”
As Paul explained later, “Knowing what to do helped.” But as he learned, having enough time to react also helps. “In Be’er Sheva, a minute between the siren and the rocket landing is a long time. You really can get to safety. A bomb blast like what occurred in Jerusalem is another story. No warning.”
And a few days later, while in Sderot, they realized that the time there between the sirens’ going off and the rockets hitting is just 15 seconds.
“Personally I was overwhelmed,” he wrote. “It is hard to believe what it would be like living in a community a kilometer from Gaza.” Since 2001, more than 10,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza into southern Israel.
The trip, Paul said, “was an important part of our understanding of life in Israel. It helps us feel a bit more connected to the people here. In part, this is what the trip is about. Maybe it will help us when we talk to people back in New Jersey about the work that we can collectively do to help people here.”