On the second day of Operation Pillar of Defense, a Grad rocket fired at Kiryat Malachi took the lives of three when it scored a direct hit on an apartment building on Thursday morning. Mira Ruth Sharf, 27, a Chabad emissary in India, Itzik Amsalem, 24, and Aharon Smadja, 49, were killed when the rocket destroyed two apartments on the fourth floor of the building.
"The place was filled with smoke, walls collapsed, and windows and cement blocks fell from the fourth floor. It was horrific, everything fell apart from the force of the blast," Netanel Hason, a resident of the city who took cover under the pillars of the building, said.
Medics who arrived at the site helped the injured but were forced to declare the deaths of the three victims.
The attack devastated the Sharf family of five, with Mira Ruth dying in the blast, the elder son Yosef Yitzhak, 4, sustaining medium-level injuries in the chest and hand; Hana, 2, and Geula, 8 months, sustaining light injuries; and Shmuel, the father, 29, sustaining medium-level injuries to his head and limbs. Yosef and Shmuel were taken to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon; Hana and Geula were taken to the Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot.
After they underwent medical examinations, the two young girls were placed in the same room. "It was a very emotional moment," Dr. Shir Dafna-Tekoah, the hospital's social worker said. "When the older girl saw her younger sister, we noticed how she recovered from her initial shock. We saw how her connection with her baby sister helped her and gave her hope."
After several hours, the entire family was reunited at Sheba Medical Center in the central region. Both Shmuel and Yosef underwent operations on Thursday afternoon, without knowing that Mira, who was several weeks pregnant, had died in the attack.
The Sharf family returned to Israel several months ago from New Delhi, India, where the parents served as Chabad emissaries. The idea was to be in Israel for the birth of their fourth child and, in a twist of fate, the visit also coincided with a memorial service the family was to attend marking four years since terrorists attacked the Chabad center in Mumbai, India, and murdered emissaries Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka.
"Mira was a devoted person," Haya Sharf, Mira's mother-in-law, said.
"They lived in modest conditions in India to help other Jews experience Judaism," Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Kalish, chairman of the Friends of Chabad Emissaries in India organization, said. "They were devoted to their work in India and simply saved souls. We promise to eternalize Mira's memory."
At Mira's burial service in Jerusalem's Givat Shaul cemetery (Har Hamenuhot) on Thursday, family-friend Zalman Bernstein, a Chabad emissary in Kochi, India, eulogized her in tears and said, "They invested all of their energy in working with Jews, with pure intentions. This tragedy is unimaginable."
It is still unknown why the family did not move to a more protected area after the siren was sounded in the city. A relative said the reason was probably because of the poor condition of the shelter in the building, which, he said, was "cluttered and filled with sewage."
Itzik Amsalem, who was employed by Bezeq, Israel's oldest and most dominant telecommunications provider, and intended to continue his studies, and Aharon Victor Hai Smadja, who belonged to the Chabad community in the city, both apparently wanted to film the rocket as it approached the city and were killed when it struck the floor they were on.
"We heard the sirens, went to the stairwells and heard loud explosions," Shimon, Itzik's 14-year-old brother said. "We went up the stairs and a minute later we heard another siren. My brother came to film the rocket and wanted to go down the stairs. The neighbor [Smadja] said 'let's go film it' and together they entered an apartment. We heard one explosion and a second one inside the apartment. We laid on the floor for 10 minutes and I didn't know what to do due to the shock. I hugged my mother and tried to clam her down."
Amsalem's friends spoke of a smiling and optimistic person. "He began studying the Torah and his plan was to get married soon. We promised we would dance for him at the party," a friend said. Amsalem is mourned by his parents, Aliza and David, and five siblings. One of his sisters received news of the tragedy in the Philippines, where she is serving as a Chabad emissary. Amsalem will be interred on Friday in the Kiryat Malachi cemetery.
Hundreds attended Smadja's funeral in the city cemetery on Thursday, including residents of the building struck by the rocket. "Why did he die? Because he saw that his neighbors were not going down the stairs, so he went up to help them. That was Aharon, a man who liked to help others," a friend said. Smadja leaves his wife, Fanny, twins aged 10 and a 10-month-old baby.