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Memories of Ashkelon

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Amid terror attacks from Gaza, an Oy! reader recalls simpler times in Ashkelon 


Erica, in Israel

During the fall of 1999, I made an effort to see every sunset on the beach in Ashkelon until the air and water finally began to make my teeth chatter. Our beach trips were a highlight of my days volunteering in Ashkelon, but they weren't all postcard perfect experiences. Some of my companions got toppled by the large surfable waves or stung by the numerous jellyfish that swarmed the Mediterranean waters. Once, I tried to explain in my broken Hebrew to the lifeguard about my friend's jellyfish sting, but not knowing the word medusot at the time, I was stuck saying dag (fish) and making a zzzz sound.

Today, the people of Ashkelon are living underground. Schools and malls have been closed. The Chanukah celebration was moved to a bunker.  My interest in reading Israel-related news always peaks when the country is under attack, but an extra level of sadness settles in when the target is one of the places I lived and know so well.

I wonder what has happened to the immigrant absorption center I lived in as a volunteer on Project Otzma, whose residents at the time were from Ethiopia, Iran, Yemen, Russia, and Bosnia--many leaving terrible situations in their homelands. Now Hamas wants to tell them "Welcome to Israel, you're not safe here either."


An Israeli family takes shelter in an reinforced room as sirens sound in the sea town of Ashkelon, December 29.
Photo Credit: Brian Hendler

I always knew that Gaza was just a short drive from town. Many international workers stayed at the Holiday Inn in Ashkelon, escaping their hard days around the pool. But really, Ashkelon never felt like a border town. It was a full scale city where people complained more about the humidity than any potential dangers from our neighbors to the south—the north of Israel always felt to be more of the potential war zone. Kiryat Shmona and the northern kibbutzim faced the threat of ketyusha rockets from Lebanon. Even in Karmiel, a town slightly farther south, I had the surreal experience of watching a TV warning for the residents of the towns just to north of me to go down to bomb shelters as ketyushas rained.

Ashkelon, I hope that one day soon you can return to a state where it feels safe to go outside. Where children can play in the immigrant absorption center courtyard. Where you can learn, work and live freely as Israelis. Where you can watch the sunset on the beach and your greatest fear will be jellyfish.

Learn more and read local reactions to the situation in Gaza.

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