By Yaara Piron, April 17, 2008At the end of our first week in Nahariya during the war in summer 2006, we discussed among ourselves whether we should all stay there for Shabbat or whether the volunteers should go back to their homes to rest. But when we found out that most of the volunteers had already left, a group of us decided to stay and visit all the bomb-shelters over Shabbat. In the evening, just as we were organising all our equipment in the room we were using in City Hall, an explosion rocked the building, as if the Katyusha rockets had scored a direct hit. There were no warning sirens in Nahariya during the war, and we just stood still, as we knew that the missiles usually came in twos or threes. But they did not stop. There was another salvo, and then another. When they finally ended, it turned out that a missile had hit the room next to ours. It had been totally demolished, yet we had been there only a few minutes earlier. Only once a missile had fallen right next to us did I began to understand what life must have been like for the people who lived there. It wasn’t just distant booms any more. I began to realise how the local people felt, without safe-rooms in their homes, and the public bomb shelters dilapidated and unprepared. They had been turned into storage spaces, the sanitation systems ruined, and were full of cockroaches and mice. We mapped out the city, located the shelters that were in the worst condition, made lists of missing equipment, and sent teams of volunteers to start fixing and painting them. Other teams went out with toys and games, to keep the children busy. But the most important thing we were doing there was simply being with the people. That was the strongest experience for me: seeing these volunteers, of all ages, without any real training, just sitting with the local people and hearing about their problems, their fears and feelings of helplessness. In one bomb-shelter, they organised a barmitzvah; in another, a wedding. These meetings have stayed with me more than anything else — more than the danger of the bombs that were falling around. One of our volunteers saw a man fatally wounded by a direct hit. She was in shock, but insisted on staying. Missiles fell next to a bus of volunteers who had just arrived, but still they kept on coming. The municipal workers were under fire too, and not all of them could carry on with their jobs, although some did. We had to fill the vacuum. Those who could left, but the poor, the elderly, and new immigrants without family in other cities, had no choice but to stay. So we were there for them.
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Last updated: 12:35pm, September 16 2008