Statements such as “a rocket landed in an open area” or “no one was wounded and no damage was reported” permeate the news reports from Sderot.
But what happens when these rocket attacks result in death and serious injuries?
The Abekasis Family lost their daughter Ella four years ago. Seventeen-year-old Ella was returning from a “Benei Akiva” youth group meeting on a Saturday night when the “Tseva Adom” siren sounded. She lay on top of her brother when a Qassam rocket landed near them and saved his life. In doing so, however, she sustained injuries from the rocket and died a week later.
This Thursday, February 5, 2009, a memorial will be held in “Mishkan Ella,” a bomb-safe activity center in Sderot that was built in her memory.
Livnat Shauvi from the Sderot Media Center met her parents, Yonatan and Sima Abekasis, who shared stories about Ella’s unique personality and final heroic action.
Ella’s story spurred President Shimon Peres to visit Sderot after a long absence from the city. Following his “kasam shmasam” remark two years ago in the media, Mr. Abekasis called him on the phone and told him that his mocking of the citizens of Sderot was a disgrace. Peres, who was not President at the time, told him that the mayor of Sderot did not invite him to visit the city. Mr. Abekasis told Peres that Sderot is not the mayor’s kingdom and that he is welcome to visit. After Peres was elected President, he came to visit Sderot for the first time. There, the mayor introduced him to Mr. Abekasis. The President was impressed by the father’s story.
Yonatan repeatedly shares the story of Ella’s final, courageous act. Mishkan Ella was built with the assistance of “Mif’al HaPais”and houses a commemoration hall dedicated to Ella. Different photos of Ella from different periods of her life hang in the room. Also in the room are different papers she had written for elementary and high school. In the commemoration room, a short video is on display that describes the moments after rocket attack and the building of Mishkan Ella. Mishkan Ella hosts a variety of social meetings and gatherings, in addition to offering visitors from across the country an insight into Ella’s unique and selfless character.
A conversation with her mother Sima revealed a noble and extremely unique girl: “When Ella wanted to apply for “Ulpena” (religious high school) she went in for an interview. After a few minutes of conversation with the principal, he told her she was accepted and that she could return to her classroom. Ella did not have to take any exams, but rather her interview alone won her acceptance into the school. Her passion for study was so clear that there was no doubt she was fit for the school.
Ms. Abekasis recalled Ella sharing her feelings with her while talking about her girlfriends. “Once when another girl insulted her, she wouldn’t let me interfere with the situation. She would say each person has her way to express anger and that it is not her duty to educate them. For her, each person was responsible for their own personal growth.”
Ella’s heroic action shocked the entire country. With no regard for her own life, this brave teenager threw herself onto her brothers’ body to protect his life. In that moment, fear ceased to exist and only the devotion and care for a young brother dictated her actions. Ella reacted in a matter that tells of a heroic story that cannot be forgotten. Since her death, the Abekasis family has been to different places in the country and around the world, and wherever they go they meet people who have heard the story and sympathize with the courageous act. In Italy, they went together to the “Benei Akiva” branch, where the relative introduced him to all of the people who already knew the story already. “In Switzerland we were in a hotel, and the daughter of the hotel manager came up to us and said we looked familiar. We told her that we live in Sderot and we lost our daughter. She immediately recalled seeing us on a television news report” said Yonatan.
In this painful week, the fourth annual memorial for her death will be held. The family members repeatedly tell all the things Ella achieved in her seventeen years. For example, they discuss her capability of multitasking-as if she knew she only had a short time to do everything she had planned. Her room remains as she had left it that afternoon before going to Benei Akiva. The same sheets, pictures, closet, and the same smell that has been missed for the past four years. Ms. Abekasis has not gone into the room since Ella’s death because it is too hard for her to cope with the loss and the pain. Again this year, family and friends from all over will come to take part in the memorial service. In her memory, a few friends are planning to get together and have a monthly meeting in her memory, in which she will be remembered not only through words but also by deeds. The Benei Akiva branch will also be moving into Mishkan Ella. It is the youth group to which Ella devoted all of her time and to which she will never be able to return.
May her soul rest in peace.
Translated by Avital Mimran-Rosenberg