THE JERUSALEM POST May. 17, 2007
The first Tzeva Adom (Color Red) Kassam rocket warning siren went off while I was across the street from my office, using a friend's computer on the fourth floor.
As usual, we stepped into the corridor - the safest place in the apartment building - and waited.
I counted: 15, 14, 13... I had gotten to 12 when I heard the screams. It was a type of scream I couldn't recognize, half laughter, half terror, complete madness: 11, 10... it hit. A block away at most.
Everyone else raced outside; it wasn't until 30 seconds later - when I woke from my daze - that I realized the screaming hadn't stopped.
I was about to join everyone outside when, once more, Tzeva Adom: 15, 14... I had barely reached 13 when it crashed, shaking my entire body - half a block away.
My phone rang: It was my boss, Natasha, telling me to immediately come back to the office, as the fourth floor of any building was not safe.
My roommate in Tel Aviv, Jackie, was with me for the day, curious about my work in Sderot, and we ran back across the street to my office, as quickly as we could.
Natasha looked us over, then asked if we had heard the scream. She said a young mother was pushing her child in a stroller when the first siren went off.
She should have had enough time to pick up her son and rush into a nearby basement. Instead, she knocked the stroller over, child inside, and fell to the ground - screaming. She didn't stop until Natasha and others carried her and her child to a neighbor's apartment.
What do you picture when you read about Sderot's "anxiety victims?" It's this woman, convulsing, flailing. It's her inability to think rationally - to protect her child. She was only able to collapse, beating the ground.
Natasha, Jackie and I sat in the social work office, trying to work. That's what you do in Sderot. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. We didn't get much done as every few minutes we received phone calls from hysterical parents. It was 7 p.m., parents were still at work and their children alone at home.
All I could hear was Natasha screaming on the phone: "Calm down... calm down. listen to me, breathe! I won't talk to you until you breathe. Listen, your children are fine. No, I don't know why they're not picking up the phone. They probably ran downstairs. I said calm down."
Then Purim Yaakobov walked in; I will be taking her son to a summer camp in the States in June, and we had set this meeting last week. She had walked amid the Kassams to keep the meeting.
Yaakobov was still dressed in black, mourning her husband, who was killed by a Kassam six months ago. She lowered herself slowly onto a chair, her face absolutely white.
She was reliving her husband's death. She took my hands and, tears rolling down her cheeks, pleaded, "Please, I have nothing. I have no one. My sons are everything. Promise me he will be happy. I need to hear it from you, please, they are all I have."
Jackie - experiencing her first Kassams - threw her arms around her. Yaakobov left the office, and then... Tzeva Adom.
We ran into the corridor; there were many of us now, as the student volunteers were holding a meeting. I tried to count down from 15 again, but was interrupted by a student. She was laughing: "Hamas and Fatah finally made up, and in celebration, they're firing a nice salute to us!" she said.
We all burst out into fits of painful laughter... Boom.
The laughter stopped, and someone said what was on all of our minds: "That one was really close."
Again I heard screaming; I looked around and realized that Natasha was no longer there. Suddenly I heard her voice, "Masha, water! Hurry!"
I ran outside and found a circle of women, Natasha at the center, trying to comfort a young girl. Hyperventilating, choking on her tears, yelling for her mother, over and over again. Another "anxiety victim."
Natasha quickly poured cold water on the girls face, and embraced her. The girl clawed Natasha's back and shoulders, leaving deep scratches. Eventually her breathing returned to normal, when it came again: Tzeva adom, tzeva adom.
The girl fell to the ground screaming, "No, no, no, no, no!"
As I write this, Kassams are hitting Sderot. Children are screaming, mothers are collapsing in despair, and doctors are pulling shrapnel out of the bodies of Jews.
Cornell University junior Masha Rifkin of Newton, Massachusetts, is a volunteer at the Mishol social work office in Sderot.