A stockpile of spent Hamas rocket shells at a storage depot in Sderot, Israel.
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
The Gettysburg Address is one of the most recognizable speeches in American history. It is also one of the briefest – amounting to a powerful but spare 269 words. For the average person, reading the first thirty words of this speech takes about fifteen seconds.
Now, imagine your life depended on finding a secure bomb shelter in the time it would take to recite Lincoln’s familiar opening line.
For over a decade, running for their lives has been a reality for the people of Israel. Bearing witness to this truth is the Bomb Shelter Museum – an exhibit currently on display at the Greenspring Shopping Center in Pikesville, Maryland.
Since its completion earlier this year, the mobile museum has traveled the country with stops in New York, Miami and Washington, DC.
Berly Hershkovitz, a board member of the Baltimore Zionist District (BZD), told the Baltimore Post-Examiner the Bomb Shelter Museum presents a simulation of what it’s like to currently live in Israel. “Everyday, someone somewhere in Israel is running to a bomb shelter.”
Fran Sonnenschein, the associate director of the BZD, added this is the first time the museum has been loaned to a private organization. “Usually, it is set up somewhere for a few hours at a time. They have given it to us for five days so that we can use it in Baltimore.”
An incredibly stark model of an actual bomb shelter – four dark walls and a gripping three-minute video presentation – the museum was created by the group Artists 4 Israel to demonstrate the effects of Hamas terror attacks against the civilians of Sderot. Sderot – a city of 21,000 – is located less than a mile from the Gaza Strip.
On winter nights, the temperature in these simple shelters can reach as low as 10 degrees. In the summer, it can reach over 100. The shelters have no windows for air or light, nor do they have toilet facilities. Huddled en masse, Israelis are left to wait for the all clear signal to sound, only to return again with each new wave of Hamas rocket attacks.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, since 2001, more than 15,200 rockets and mortars – an average of over 3 rocket attacks a day – have targeted Israel. Counted within that number are more than 11,000 rocket attacks since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
These numbers are eerily similar to the final tally of the deadly German Fieseler Fi 103 V-1’s and Vergeltungswaffen V-2 rockets of WWII. And like the infamous Nazi buzzbombs, Hamas rockets mete out a devastating psychological toll. According to one study, more than 75% of the residents of Sderot suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The IDF also notes that most rockets launched from Gaza into Israel are capable of reaching Israel’s most populous cities, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, leaving more than 5 million Israelis under the threat of attack.
Robert Slatkin, the BZD’s treasurer said the shelter will be manned by members of the organization to answer questions about the display. Slatkin also said the display is free and open to the general public.
“We heard of this about a week ago and thought this is something that needs to be here in Baltimore. The management here (at the Greenspring Shopping Center) has been great. We hope to be able to display it somewhere in downtown Baltimore sometime in the near future so that more than just the Jewish community can see it.”
One person who will be manning the shelter on Monday is an area resident named Leigh. Leigh said she has just returned from visiting family in Israel.
“I got to see firsthand what is going on over there.”
“There has been a huge focus on the number of casualties in the current crisis. Israel has invested millions if not billions – I’m not sure how much – in a defensive system, the Iron Dome. That’s the only reason we don’t have the same number of casualties as the Palestinians do.”
Did Leigh encounter any attacks while she was in Israel?
“Yes, several times I had to run to safe rooms or into those bomb shelters. I was in Tel Aviv the night it was attacked with 27 rockets. We actually saw the missiles right over us.”
“One particular day, we were in the shelter for over 15 minutes, then had to go right back in when another wave hit. On another day, I was with my grandmother, who is in a nursing home, when the alarm went off. That was very emotional for me because my grandmother is a holocaust survivor. I realized as I was standing in that shelter with her and about 15 other holocaust survivors, that these are people who will never see peace; whose grandchildren are still living some of the horrors that they endured.”
Leigh almost reluctantly added that, when she came home from Israel last week, she was awakened one night by a clap of thunder; certain for one terrifying moment that her home was under attack.
“It took me a minute to realize it was only a passing storm.”
If you go to the Greenspring Shopping Center today and park in front of Miller’s Delicatessen or the Shopper’s Food Market, think about how long it takes to make the leisurely stroll from your car to the Bomb Shelter Museum. Then ask yourself: Could I reach that shelter in 15 seconds if my life depended on it?
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The Bomb Shelter Museum will be on display Sunday Aug. 3 from noon – 8pm and Monday Aug. 4 from noon – 4pm at the Greenspring Shopping Center, 2801 Smith Ave., Pikesville, Maryland 21209. The exhibit is free and open to the public. Please be aware that the short video presentation may be too intense for small children.