Today, Monday, for the first time, I experienced a Katyusha attack up close.
I was visiting a bomb shelter in Tiberias, a town hard hit by days of rocket attacks. Together with Yonah Berman and Rabbi Yamin Levy, I tried to bring joy to the children cooped up in these stuffy, cramped rooms with little ventilation and horrific sanitation facilities.
One set of parents invited us to see their home just 100 feet away. As we left their apartment after spending a few minutes there, the siren went off. I moved slowly, not believing I was in any real danger when suddenly the shouts came: "Run, it’s coming this way!"
It was impossible to reach the shelter in the few seconds before we heard the thunderous booms hitting the ground. Between four and six rockets landed about 100 yards away. The Katyushas set the fields ablaze and people were afraid that the synagogue just down the road would be set on fire. Thank God that didn’t occur.
Other rockets hit upper Tiberias, injuring five people at the same time as the attack we witnessed.
No one was physically hurt in this attack, but I could see the fear in the eyes of children in the bunker. Little girls were digging their nails into their mothers’ hands. Their knees were shaking as they looked to their parents for embrace and love and protection, which their parents could not offer in any foolproof way.
Such is the goal of terror — to instill fear, to immobilize, to make children’s bodies quiver and the elderly shake in trepidation.
What could we say to these children as we left? We just hugged them and told them how much we love them.
This incident brought home how vulnerable one can feel not knowing where or how rockets will hit. I wondered, How is it that any human being can target civilians, even children?
Even hospitals are potential Hezbollah targets. This was brought home hours earlier when we went to see the Nahariya Hospital.
Nahariya, a northern coastal town, has been shelled relentlessly. The hospital rooms on the floors aboveground have all been cleared out. In fact, the entire hospital has moved underground. Imagine, a hospital functioning through underground tunnels and wards.
Many of these wards are filled with people undergoing normal, scheduled hospital treatment, but there are also a number of soldiers and civilians who were injured in the war.
Among the soldiers we encountered was Eyal, a tank commander from Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi. As his girlfriend and mother sat close by, Eyal insisted that he would return to the battle after his recovery.
"My friends are there fighting; I can’t allow them to be there without me," he said.
Together we recalled Matan Robinson from the same kibbutz, who died fighting militants in Jenin.
We went to see the family of abducted soldier Ehud Goldwasser, in Nahariya. We met his wife, Karnit, and his parents, Shlomo and Mikki.
The family is full of hope and the joy of life. We expressed our support and told them of the outpouring of love for Ehud around the world. We discussed ideas about possible public activity to try to secure his freedom.
Over the years I have encountered many families of kidnapped sons, but in Karnit I found an unusual spirit. Karnit expressed such deep love, the love of a soulmate for her husband.
As we left Nahariya, we stood in prayer for a few moments on the beach. The air was still warm.
Perhaps, some would suggest, standing out there was foolhardy. But we needed this moment just to look around and see the beauty of a peaceful Israel. As we heard more booms in the distance, all we could do was offer the prayer that peace come soon.
Avi Weiss is senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and president of Amcha-The Coalition for Jewish Concerns.