Just as life in Israel’s northern Galilee region was returning to a semblance of normal after Sunday’s long and hot fast of Tisha B’Av, two Syrian surface-to-surface missiles trained on the north triggered warning sirens and sent people running for bomb shelters, including a group of women who retreated to a safe room to boldly continue a Torah class.
Between 10:05 a.m. and 10:25 a.m. on Monday, two defense missiles were launched to intercept the incoming rockets, complete with attendant booms and trails of smoke, audible and visible above the skies of Safed—both followed by short warning sirens.
“I’m not sure what is happening,” said Pesach Sherbow, gathered with a group of agitated fellow citizens in front of Safed’s city hall while pointing out a series of Golan Heights area Red Alert icons on his phone’s warning app. “I’m going home to reassure my wife.”
A group of women attending a class in the Givat Shoshana neighborhood on the edge of Safed—where scores of rockets struck during the 2006 Lebanon War—were also on alarm but managed not to miss a beat in their learning session.
“We were in the middle of a Torah class, and were interrupted by the sound of missiles and sirens twice,” said Rivky Kaplan, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Safed and teacher of the weekly class. “We went into the safe room and continued learning. When it was all clear, we came back out and continued to learn. We decided not to let our schedule be dictated by their agenda.”
The weekly class took place in the home of longtime Safed resident, Hila Neeman, who took a moment to display a gash on her living room wall caused by shrapnel that entered her house during the 2006 onslaught.
Seeking Shelter in a Synagogue
In the heart of the heavily traveled old city neighborhood of Safed, a man could be seen frantically scurrying into the 160-year-old study hall of the Tzemach Tzedek Synagogue with a baby stroller and two others by his side in response to the first of the two sirens. Within moments, he and his crew, along with another man praying in the space, appeared to relax after scrolling on their phones to learn more about what was happening.
Rabbi Gavriel Marzel, director of the Tzemach Tzedek Synagogue and the nearby Chabad House of the Old City of Safed, said the instincts of the small group seeking refuge in the ground-floor study hall rather than the upper-floor synagogue were right on target.
“We did the same thing during the war,” he said, referring to the estimated 300 rockets that rained down in and around Safed from Lebanon in the summer of 2006. “Upstairs in the synagogue, with all its glass, is not the place to be. Downstairs with its two cement roofs is protected. We just have to keep away from the outer walls, and be prepared and go down.”
An Israeli-army investigation determined that the two defense missiles, launched by Israel’s David’s Sling missile-defense system, were fired in response to two SS-21 Tochka missiles with warheads carrying half a ton of explosives and with a range of 100 kilometers, or 62 miles. The army said they were destined for an area south of the Kinneret Sea, about 11 miles south of Safed.
At least one of the Syrian fired missiles changed trajectory mid-course and fell back in Syrian territory, according to the investigation. The fate of the second Syrian rocket was unknown, including whether it was downed by one of the Israeli defense missiles.
The army reported that this was the first operational use of the David’s Sling system, also known as “Magic Wand,” designed to intercept medium-range missiles as another layer of defense beyond the Iron Dome system, and Patriot and Arrow missiles.
Shortly after the sirens sounded in Safed, more went off on Mount Hermon, Israeli’s northernmost and highest peak straddling the Syrian and Lebanese border, and in Katzrin in the center of the Golan Heights, sending citizens in both regions running for shelter.
All took place a day after Sunday’s fast day, delayed from the day before, Shabbat, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the mournful commemoration of the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem.