By Simona Kogan Israel21c May 27, 2007
Mechi Fendel may seem like an ordinary mother with an ordinary life. When she picks up her cell phone, she’s going to her four-year-old son’s day care to collect him, and her voice sounds typically hectic for a mother juggling daily responsibilities and seven rambunctious children.
But when you consider that the day care facility is inside a bomb shelter, and that Sderot, the southern Israeli city Fendel lives in has been bombarded by hundreds of Kassam rockets in the last week – 22 over the weekend alone – then the uniqueness of her life becomes apparent.
“We don’t maintain a normal lifestyle,” she later says matter-of-factly from her home as she tends to her nine-week-old baby and helps her other children with their homework.
Unfortunately, her family is used to the barrage of rockets as they have fallen on the development town for the past six years. In the last week, the missiles have grown in frequency.
“We were having warnings from 7pm to 12am,” she tells ISRAEL21c, explaining how festivities for Jerusalem Day had to be curtailed. “We couldn’t do anything. The food was prepared, the celebrations planned, and of course no one came out of their houses.”
In Sderot just a few kilometers from the Gaza Strip, unemployment has risen to 14 percent and homemade Kassam rockets are now coming at least two or three times a day. The Jerusalem Post reported that 8,000 of the town’s 23,000 residents have fled the city. But Fendel, a 39-year-old American immigrant, is among those who remained.
Fendel understands why her neighbors are leaving. “You can’t blame anyone
because that’s the situation. Every single part of the city has gotten hit,” she says. But she believes her family has a reason to stay.
“We were sent with a mission to try to strengthen others around us. When you go with a mission, you’re strong and you don’t get influenced by things that are not positive,” she says. “It’s really just my attitude and my husband’s attitude. We don’t get hysterical.”
Fendel came to Israel 20 years ago from Staten Island, NY and met her husband, also a new immigrant from West Hempstead, Long Island. The pair came to Sderot 13 years ago with four children as part of the Sha’alei Torah movement in order to rehabilitate poor development towns in Israel and make them stronger. Her husband founded a yeshiva (a Jewish learning seminary) that grew in size from nine to 400 students in 11 years.
When 32-year old Sderot resident Shirel Feldman was killed last week in her car near a local bakery by a Kassam, Fendel made it a point the next day to visit the scene just to show her support.
“I wanted to give it business, but it was closed unfortunately,” she says.
On Sunday another Israeli was killed in Sderot when a Kassam rocket hit the car in which he was driving. Thirty-five-year-old Oshri Oz, from Hod HaSharon was wounded in his neck by shrapnel and died when he was taken to Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon.
Owing to her religious observance, Fendel says her faith keeps her optimistic about the future, and instead of focusing on the ongoing missiles, she prefers to wax poetic about the miracles in Sderot.
“We have had up to 2,000 missiles launched at us, and only three or four people have lost their lives. I don’t like using only, but every single one of those missiles could have killed,” she said. “A miracle is that a Kassam fell at 11pm. on a Thursday at a shopping center and damaged 20 store fronts but no one was there. I see the miracles.”
Every time the air raid siren blares throughout the city, the residents of Sderot have five to 10 seconds to run to the nearest shelter or safe area. For Fendel and family, that means hiding under a stairway, leaning against cement walls, finding a walk-in closet, dashing into a nearby store when outside and waiting until they hear the boom of the rocket landing.
Last week, sirens went off more than once while the family was at the dinner table. Another time, Fendel was returning from a trip to Jerusalem and had to leave her suitcases in the middle of the street before running to the nearest store for safety.
Lately, she explained, as the rockets become more advanced, these warnings haven’t been helping. Often there are only one to two seconds before the missile lands, while other times there is no warning at all.
“That’s always a big scare because what happens if we get a warning signal while I’m taking the kids to nursery school or kindergarten? Then I have three little kids in car seats and we only have five seconds to run for a shelter.”
Despite a constant battle to maintain positive spirits, Fendel’s resilience to remain in the town she calls home keeps her strong and her family has no plans to leave. The family is in the process of building a new Kassam-proof home on one and a half acres of land. The home has already been hit once, but the Fendels will receive compensation and continue building.
“Sderot is a very loving community. The residents don’t close their homes. We’re even on a first name basis with the mayor,” she said.
Would she ever take up offers from friends to leave the missile-ridden town? She says no, but appreciates the support. “People are calling me from all over Israel. They are afraid to come down, but they ask, ‘How can we help?'”
“Everyone is trying to help, and that’s very strengthening.”