Sderot’s B’nei Menashe Live Through Hamas Assault
Updated: Oct 14
“It was the scariest experience of my life,” says 71-year-old Yaacov Tuboi of Sderot, which, like over twenty other Israeli settlements near the Gaza Strip, was overrun by Hamas assailants this week. “I woke up around five that morning, excitedly looking forward to the Shabbat and Simchat Torah prayers in our new B’nei Menashe synagogue that was inaugurated just a month ago. The service was supposed to begin at 7:30, and a little after six I heard gunshots, followed by the boom of a rocket in the distance.
“I’ve lived in Sderot long enough to know that one doesn’t worry about such things,” Tuboi went on. “I assumed that Hamas in Gaza was acting up again and that an Iron Dome had intercepted a rocket. But the shooting not only didn’t stop, it kept getting closer, which was reason for concern. Just then I peered outside through a window blind and saw a pickup truck full of men dressed in police uniforms. It was packed with 10 or 15 of them and they were firing automatic rifles, I couldn’t tell at what. Then they jumped from the pickup and spread out. Some headed for the police station, which is less than 200 feet from our house and visible from it, while others made straight for us.
“It was frightening. I shut the blinds and fell to my knees to pray. I could hear the shuffle of feet outside my front door and banging on the doors of my neighbors. Fortunately, nobody opened. Our own door was passed over.
“After a while the group left building and went to join the others. As soon as they left, I went back to a slit in the blinds to try to see what was going on. By now it was about 6:30 and the rest of my family had been wakened by the gunfire and the commotion. I signaled them not to make a sound. The gunmen were firing into the police station. Though I still didn’t know what was happening, it was clear that Sderot was under attack and that I could forget about going to synagogue. I was afraid that if we panicked and made noise, we might die. Through the blinds I could see a gunman leading two little children of no more than three or four down the street. The worse part of it was knowing I couldn’t do anything to save them.
“About 7:45, soldiers arrived and a gunbattle broke out between them and the Hamas fighters holed up in a wing of the police station. There was a lot of shooting and some loud explosions. Then a bulldozer was brought in to knock down that wing. I watched until I saw our soldiers carry away the dead bodies of the last two terrorists. Afterwards I heard that a lot of policemen were killed, too.”
Tuboi could see the battle for the police station from his apartment. Unlike him, however, many of Sderot’s 120 B’nei Menashe families, who comprise one of the largest B’nei Menashe communities in Israel, had no idea what was happening because, afraid to leave their homes, they were kept by religious scruples from using their cell phones until the Sabbath and holiday ended that night. (In point of fact, the laws of Sabbath observance state that the Sabbath may be violated when human life is in danger, as it was in this case.)
“Although we heard shooting, there was no way of knowing what was going on without access to a phone,” we were told by Ezra Mate, 40. “We live in a new neighborhood with several identical-looking building, each with a front door opened by punching a code. I only found out later that some of them had been attacked. The terrorists broke in by smashing the glass walls of the entrance. Our own building was spared. Not until I finally switched on my phone and saw all the messages on it -- from the municipality, from the home front defense force, from friends and family wanting to know how we were – that I realized the extent of what took place. On the whole, our own neighborhood got off lightly. The older ones were hit worse.”
Although none of Sderot’s B’nei Menashe were killed or injured in the Hamas attack, one couple did lose its home. This was Rivka Chong Guite, and her husband Zevulun, whose house took a direct hit from a rocket. “We only found out about it Sunday morning,” Rivka, told our Newsletter. “We live in an old part of Sderot, near the former Bnei Menashe synagogue. Ours is a simple single family house, with two bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen-and-dining room, small by any standard. Providentially, we decided to spend the Shabbat of Simchat Torah at my mother's, a fifteen-minute walk away.
I slept soundly Friday night after our holiday meal and wasn't aware of anything until I heard gunfire the next morning. I tried to tell myself that it must be our soldiers shooting at Hamas infiltrators, but the shots were too near and kept getting closer. Before we could understand what was happening, the attackers were inside the city. We shut all the windows and hunkered down. You never know when a stray bullet may come your way. We didn’t find out about all the killing and devastation until after Shabbat, when we switched on our mobile phones.
“That night someone phoned my husband to tell him that a rocket had hit our home. It was the first we heard of it. The next morning he went and saw that we had been bombed out. The house was a total loss. Everything was burned or shredded to pieces. There was nothing that could be salvaged.
“Looking back, I see this as a miracle. We could easily have been killed if God hadn’t had other plans. Honestly, I don’t grieve for our home. I’m happy we escaped a terrible fate. When things settle down, we'll look for a place to rent, and meanwhile, we’ll stay with my mother. We haven't thought about leaving Sderot the way many families have. What for? The army has control of the border again and Hamas is being destroyed. I don't think it will ever again have the capability to attack Sderot. I’ll save the worrying for other things.”
Enosh Satsei Lhouvum, 43, chairman of Sderot’s Bnei Menashe community council, confirms that some B’nei Menashe families have left the town, at least temporarily, to stay with relatives in the north, and that he has arranged for others who have requested it to be put up in hotels elsewhere that have offered free accommodation. Most B’nei Menashe, he told us, have decided to stay put, even though the town is still under rocket fire from Gaza. “My job,” he says, “is to take care of them. The local school, shops, and workplaces have been shut down. There are designated times when some stores and supermarkets are open, but the rockets keep people from going out and buying what they need. The municipality is doing its best to distribute such items as food, baby formula, diapers, and the like, and we’re managing for now, but it’s difficult to say how long we can go on this way.”
Sderot’s B’nei Menashe community, some about 20 or 30 families of which are estimated by Lhouvum to have left for the time being, have shown greater determination to stay put than their non-B’nei Menashe neighbors. Ezra Mate has lived in the town for 10 years, the last five of them in a new neighborhood. “We live in one of several identically constructed buildings,” he says, “each with a code to get in. Hamas broke into some of them by smashing the entrances’ glass walls. Although our building was spared, only six or seven families have remained out of the 49 that lived in it.”
Yaacov Tuboi puts this determination well. “The rockets haven’t stopped for the last four days,” he said to us when we spoke with him over the telephone on Tuesday. “The last one was just an hour ago. We’ve been advised to stay indoors, lock our doors, and not open them if anyone knocks. There are still terrorists at large looking to kill who they can. The roads, streets, and parks are all empty. The supermarkets, malls,and shops are closed. We still don't have our normal lives back. But we’re willing to pay the price to finish Hamas once and for all. I hope and pray the army does it job without fearing anyone but God.”
On Friday, October 13 it was announced by the Israeli government that, due to the
constant rocket attacks from Gaza, the entire population of Sderot will be evacuated.
Some of the photos were obtained from freely shared social medias.