Qassam missiles and mortar shells continue to fall on southern Israel.

Earlier this week, there was a bombardment that caused minimal
damage–the week before, three Thai workers were injured.

Two days ago was the 6th yahrzeit of Ella Abukasis, a 17-year-old killed
by a Qassam rocket in Sderot in 2005. In honor of Tu B’Shvat I’m posting
a piece I wrote on Ella’s 2nd yahrzeit, a few days before Tu B’Shvat,
2007. Sadly, little has changed…

Sima Abukasis looked on quietly as Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger and Knesset
members joined dozens of her Sderot neighbors and friends yesterday at a
modest commemoration of the second anniv ersary of the death of her
daughter, Ella, 17, who died of wounds suffered from a Qassam rocket
attack on Sderot in 2005.

Sima, a slight woman with olive skin and short auburn hair, managed a
wan smile as she greeted her daughter’s friends and family members who
came to take part in the ceremony in the center of Sderot. The pain of
the loss of her middle child is firmly etched on the face of this
bereaved mother. Ella died shielding her younger brother, Tamir, as the
siren sounded on a Shabbat afternoon on a cool January afternoon two
years ago.

That day, the Abukasis family was at Ella’s grandmother’s home
celebrating the birthday of one of the granddaughters. From there Ella
went with her younger brother Tamir to their Bnei Akiva youth movement
activity. They were on their way home when the siren sounded, giving
them 20 seconds warning of an incoming Qassam rocket. With no time to
take cover, Ella lay on top of Tamir, who escaped with relatively minor
wounds when th e rocket fell and exploded alongside them. Ella was
fatally wounded and died a week later without ever regaining

Ella’s older brother, Ran, did most of the organizing of yesterday’s
memorial ceremony. Held just a few days before Tu B’Shvat, the memorial
was also a dedication of a new Bnei Akiva building named for Ella.

Outside the bright new facility that includes several meeting rooms, a
kitchen and main hall, six saplings were planted in honor of Tu B’Shvat
and to signify new beginnings. The fresh earth was dug by a few of
Ella’s male friends who are students at Sderot’s Hesder Yeshiva.

The young men, who combine Torah learning with army service, include
representatives of every ethnic group in Israeli society–Ethiopians,
Russian speakers, Sephardim and Ashkenazim.

Their cameraderie and cooperation is evident as they greet each other with warm hugs and slaps on the back before they get down to the digging.

Many teachers from the the yeshiva and Ella’s AMIT high school show up
too, and the respect and warmth they elicit from the students would be
the envy of teachers anywhere.

Maybe it’s the simple solidarity born from the terrifying experiences they’ve shared over the past six years since Sderot has been under Arab bombardment: several schools in Sderot have taken direct hits from Qassam rockets and now they’re commemorating the death of one of their friends.

Chief Rabbi Metzger affixes a large mezuza on the external door of the
new building, noting that at the request of the family it’s a mezuza
that was blessed by Rabbi Kedourie, the centenarian kabbalist who passed
away a few years ago.

Inside the main hall, a huge banner with a picture of a smiling, relaxed
Ella adorns the wall. At the head table, a single memorial candle burns
in front of the seated dignitaries. In addition to Rabbi Metzger there’s
Rabbi Benny Lau; Knesset members Hanan Porat, Tzvi Hendel, Uri Ariel;
former Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai–a family friend; the
principal of the AMIT High School; Ella’s father, Yonatan and the head
of Bnei Akiva for the southern region.

Each of them speaks lovingly of Ella, her brief life and her heroic
death. For a change, it’s a quiet day in Sderot with no Qassam attacks.
But for Yonatan and Sima Aubkasis and their remaining children, Ran,
Tamir and Keren as well as the families of the other seven Qassam
fatalities in Sderot, there’ll never be another quiet day.


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