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Miracles during the Massacre

At about 7:15 Simchas Torah morning, vans loaded with ammunition and terrorists drove into the city of Ofakim. For close to four hours, terrorists walked around the city shooting in every direction, killing and maiming everyone they met. Dozens of Jews were killed al kiddush Hashem in Ofakim.

Only one street separated the gunfights from Ateres Shlomo’s Yeshivah L’Tzeirim Toras Yisrael, where the bachurim were dancing hakafos with sifrei Torah in the beis medrash.

The yeshivah received special heavenly protection and not one of its talmidim was hurt during the terrible events of the day.

בנין הישיבה באופקים

In Retrospect

A few weeks after the Simchas Torah massacre, pained by everything Klal Yisrael has gone through, we sit together with Rav Mordechai Meir Kramer shlita, Rosh Yeshivah of Toras Yisrael, and three of the yeshivah’s talmidim who found themselves in the line of fire and were saved by miracle.

The bachurim who attend Toras Yisrael come from a number of cities around Ofakim. The boys from outside the city were in the dormitory over Yom Tov, while the local boys slept at home.

“On Simchas Torah morning,” Rav Kramer says, “At about 6:20, we heard the first air raid siren. Unfortunately, we’re used to sirens. Without thinking about it too much, the bachurim went into the shelter that is also used as a shiur room and prepared for Shachris. As time went on, bachurim from Ofakim started arriving and Rav Hershtik, a rebbe who lives in Ofakim, arrived with his sons, so we had no reason to think that something unusual was taking place.”

“At around 7:20, we heard gunshots. That was scary and someone passed by and yelled at the bachurim who were in the yard to go inside because there are terrorists. But even then, we thought that there were one or two terrorists and the gunshots meant that they had been eliminated. When a helicopter called down from a loudspeaker to my family who was in the yeshivah courtyard to go inside, we realized that something bigger than usual was happening.

“But even so, we went ahead with davening and danced hakafos. The only thing we did for added security was close the windows and cover them with white plastic tablecloths so terrorists wouldn’t be able to see us dancing.

“During the seventh hakafah, a staff members told me that soldiers were taking up positions outside the yeshivah and that finally got me nervous. Then, all of a sudden, the soldiers burst into the yeshivah with weapons drawn. Apparently, they were checking out our building because the yeshivah was marked on maps that the terrorists held.”

חצר הישיבה

A Long Walk to Yeshivah

Despite the sirens, Eliezer, Matisyahu and Menachem walked together to the yeshiva for davening. They didn’t know what was happening in the city, but found out when bullets started flying in their direction. They miraculously escaped to the apartment of a family living nearby. Today, they tearfully share their experience.

“The sirens started in the morning, but we didn’t think about terrorists. We each left our house on our own and met along the way.

“As we were getting close to the yeshivah, someone yelled out, ‘Terrorists! Come up to our apartment.’ Since we were already close to the yeshivah, we thought we would get there safely and continued walking.

“But then we heard gun shots and soon we realized that they were shooting at us! We saw the bullets flying by, but miraculously they didn’t touch us.

“We ran back, desperately looking for the family that had called down to us, because we didn’t have anywhere else to go. The terrorists were chasing us and shooting at us. The family saw us from the window and told us to come up. We ran as fast as we could, with the terrorists right behind us. As we ran, one bachur fell, hurt his foot but he got up and continued running with bullets falling all around us.

“We managed to climb up to the family’s apartment, while they looked out the window to make sure the terrorists didn’t climb up after us.

“We stayed in that apartment until about 2:30. Everyone was scared to death. We heard screams in Arabic and gunshots from the street. We couldn’t stand next to the window because the terrorists would see us. We heard that terrorists were going into apartments, and then someone knocked on the door. The women and children hid in a little room next to the kitchen. The men blocked the door with couches and armed themselves with kitchen knives. At the end it was just a neighbor. But it was frightening.

“We davened in a side room, tried to learn and said Tehillim. We made kiddush on bread. We didn’t drink because we didn’t know if the cups needed tevilah and if we could drink from them. They wanted to turn off the big screen in our honor, but we told them that it was chillul Shabbos to turn it off.”

“There are so many miracles in our story,” the bachurim say. “The fact that the family called out to us from the window was miraculous, because it gave us a place to run back to. And then they let us into their apartment, even though they were terrified and terrorists were chasing us! That was also a huge chessed on their part and from Hashem.”

Sadly, the brother of a bachur in the yeshivah was killed during the massacre. After the levayah, the Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Shalom Ber Sorotzkin, went with the three talmidim to thank the family that had opened their door for them on Simchas Torah.

“When we knocked on the door,” Rav Shalom Ber said, “They didn’t want to open the door. But when they saw the talmid in the peephole, they opened up. The couches were still there in front of the door and they were holding knives, they were scared. They told us how they had seen the bachurim from afar and how the terrorists chased them. They themselves said that the story was yad Hashem, because they don’t know how they dared open the door for them.”

שעשה לי נס במקום הזה. אחד התלמידים מראה לרבינו רה"י שליט"א את מקום הנס

Even Greater Miracle

“After Yom tov,” Rav Kramer shlita tells over the next part of the story, “When the battle was over, I got a telephone call from Rav Oded, the yeshivah’s administrator. He told me emotionally that the whole yeshivah has to say the brachah of Hagomel with “shem u’malchus.

‘Why?’ I asked him.

“He told me that “Chamad,” someone who used to work in the yeshivah called him out of the blue on Wednesday of Chol Hamoed, two days before Simchas Torah, to ask if everything was okay and if they had any work on Shabbos.

“When Rav Oded asked him why he was calling and if he needs a job, he said that he’s not looking for work and gave a very obscure answer to explain why he was calling.

“Chamad is an Arab from Gaza who used to work in the yeshivah. He left the yeshivah when his father-in-law, who also worked in the yeshivah, was caught stealing. He hadn’t worked in the yeshivah for two months, so his phone call was strange.

“Apparently, he called for a purpose. He was either asked by the terrorists or decided on his own to find out if the yeshivah would be operating on Yom Tov. That’s why the yeshivah was marked on maps found in the pockets of dead terrorists.

Since Simchas Torah, Rav Oded tried calling the worker a few times, but he hasn’t picked up.”

הגר"מ קרמר שליט"א מראשי הישיבה והתלמידים שניצלו בנס
ימים ספורים לפני, שמחת חג לתלמידי הישיבה באופקים בחול המועד, נושא דברים המרא דאתרא הגר"י פינקוס שליט"א

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