The sounds of missiles, the reality of an attack

A Howard Community College sophomore tells of her flight under fire from Israel


It wasn't easy for Miriam Malnik to leave Israel. The Howard Community College sophomore had been excited to be at Machon Alte, a religious seminary for young women in the ancient holy city of Sefad, and she wanted to stay.

The sounds of missiles were faint at first, and classes were held as usual.

"I guess we spoke about it in school with the rabbi, so people were a little concerned. But life was still going on," Malnik said recently, back home in Howard County.

Heavy fire from Lebanon started July 13, a day of fasting that began three weeks of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the Romans.

Meron, a holy site near Sefad, was hit, and the dry forest surrounding the graves of Jewish saints was burning.

"That whole cloud was coming over Sefad and you could really see ash falling from the sky. It was like blowing in the wind; it was charred and ... floating around," Malnik said.

Still, classes continued. "We had Rabbi Turkoff's class and for the first 20 minutes we spoke about what was happening in Israel, the soldiers that were captured and Meron, and then we just went right into class," Malnik said.

After class, about 15 students walked down the steep hillside to the grave of the Ari Zal (16th-century scholar and mystic Rabbi Isaac Luria) to say Psalms.

The rain of missiles began on the way back.

Malnik and a friend had stopped at a health food store in Sefad's small central square when the first rocket hit.

"You heard it come screaming in. Nobody had to tell us what it was," Malnik said. "It was like in the movies, just hearing the sound; it's loud, but also it sends out shock waves. You hear it and you feel it also."

Malnik pulled her friend into the nearest store, and the shopkeeper closed the door behind them. Another rocket whistled over their heads. The young women looked out to see people running for shelter and ran after them, but the bomb shelter was locked. Malnik and her friend began to pray.

Someone ran to get a key but it did not work, and Malnik decided to go back up the cobblestone street to school, where the students had taken refuge in the kitchen.

"A lot of girls were saying Tehillim [Psalms]. Some girls were crying hysterically," Malnik said. "My grandparents were in the Holocaust and so many times I've heard our history, and I felt like I was finally given the opportunity where I could stand up for being Jewish. ... We don't realize how fragile our lives can be, but when there are bombs falling on you, you see life in a different reality. You literally see Hashem's [God's] hand in every little thing."

The principal, Rabbi Rosenfeld, called the English-speaking students into his office. The Sabbath would be celebrated as planned, he said; he would not leave. But Malnik's parents wanted her home, and he told her to go.

"So we arranged that he was going to drive us down to the bus station, and the bus was leaving at 11 o'clock and it's 10:50 now," Malnik said. She grabbed her passport and ticket, drove with the rabbi to the open-air station, and sat down with three others to wait for the bus to Jerusalem. They were still waiting at 11:10 a.m. when four Katyusha rockets whistled in.

"They were so close to us," Malnik said. "You have about four seconds to get up and move."

She tried to jump over the railings but her bag caught and she fell on the concrete. "This Israeli man pulled me to the side; then all four Katyushas hit," Malnik said, describing the impacts across the street from the station. "The past few nights, I've had dreams -- me running for cover in bomb shelters."

A student from the school came by to offer the students a ride to Jerusalem, and Malnik and the others got into the car. "For the first 30 minutes of our trip, we said Tehillim; [a student] would say one word and everyone else would repeat. And that's how we got out of Safed," Malnik said.

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