I Was 10-Years-Old When The Scuds Came Raining Down…



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    I Was 10-Years-Old When The Scuds Came Raining Down…

    From Beis Moshiach Magazine: Mendy Dickstein was a 10-year-old boy when the Persian Gulf War reached Eretz Yisrael with ongoing SCUD missile attacks. His father, Rabbi Moshe Dickstein was drafted to the army’s casualty identification unit that was expected to work overtime after each attack, but miraculously remained useless… • Full Article

    By Mendy Dickstein, Beis Moshiach

    Purim 5752, I was a boy of about ten, a fifth-grader. The enormity of the experiences I had that winter was such that it remains with me forever.

    At the end of the summer of 5750, the evil dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait. This news did not exactly interest me at the time. A Coalition consisting of dozens of countries formed to oppose him which resulted in Saddam trying to break up the Coalition by threatening to send missiles at Israel.

    Nowadays, the threat of missiles doesn’t sound as frightening since the Iron Dome has proven itself against the threat from Gaza, but back then it was altogether different. It had been many years that the “rearguard” (as the populated areas of the country are called) had not been too involved in what was going on at the borders.

    Dekal

    If that wasn’t enough, the dictator from Baghdad also threatened to send missiles with chemical warheads directly into the populated areas of Israel.

    The period after Tishrei 5751 was both strange and exciting. The Civil Defense (now known as the Rearguard Command) came to the schools with black masks that smelled strongly of rubber and showed us what to do in the event of a real-time alarm signaling a missile attack against Israel. We were shown videos about how to turn a regular room into a sealed room and how to inject atropine if there was a chemical attack.

    People had to carry their masks everywhere. Scud and Patriot missiles became familiar terms to all. Discussions about conventional and unconventional weapons were held at recess and there was a feeling of emergency in the air.

    REASSURING WORDS FROM THE PROPHET OF ISRAEL

    We got word of what the Rebbe was saying about the situation in the Persian Gulf. The Rebbe announced the Medrash in Yalkut Shimoni: “The year Moshiach will arrive, when all the nations of the world will antagonize each other and threaten with war. The king of Persia (Iran) antagonizes the King of Arabia (Saudi Arabia) with war… And all the nations of the world begin to panic and are afraid… Israel will also be overtaken by panic and fear, and they will cry, ‘Where shall we go? Where shall we go’? Moshiach will then tell them: ‘My children, fear not. Everything I have done, I have done for you…’”

    The first time that the Rebbe quoted this Medrash, which provided a clear view into the situation, was at the farbrengen on Shabbos Re’eh 5750. At that time, the world was wondering whether war would erupt and where and when. After that farbrengen, the Medrash was referred to by the Rebbe in nearly every sicha or farbrengen.

    Rabbi Yosef Ralbag, rav of the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood of Yerushalayim, was the first to receive a direct response when he submitted a question to the Rebbe about the developing situation. The Rebbe’s answer was to ask a “ben chameish l’mikra” about what it says explicitly in the way of peshat, “The eyes of G-d your G-d are always on it [the Land of Israel] from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.” The Rebbe said, as far as hoarding food, a very real possibility that was gaining momentum, “That is causing price gouging in the Holy Land.”

    מרכז סת”ם 720

    The Rebbe’s sharp answer made waves and was publicized in all the media where they said that the Rebbe promised nothing bad would happen and that there would not be a gas attack. They quoted Rabbi Ralbag who said, “To me, this was the most reassuring pronouncement to date. After all, all the intelligence and political information, as important and precise as they may be, pales in light of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s assessments. Whoever is still doubtful should check to see how exacting were the Rebbe’s prognostications prior to the Six Day War.”

    At every opportunity and to every question, especially at “dollars,” as well as in sichos kodesh and in answers received, the Rebbe repeated and promised that there was no reason to fear or cause others to fear. The Rebbe forcefully negated leaving the land.

    THE REBBE SPEAKS IN FAVOR OF JEWS

    The sounds of war neared and the mood in Israel became progressively more grim. The feeling was that 45 years after the end of the Holocaust, once again there was a leader of a large country who was openly threatening to destroy Jews with gas. Everyone knew that this wasn’t an idle threat, that Saddam Hussein had the ability to do this. Many remembered when the Iraqis had shot chemicals and gas in the Iran-Iraq War that lasted eight years. No wonder that the Israeli public was terrified.

    Certain rabbanim censured and frightened their audiences with threats of annihilation as retribution for sins. In the sicha said on the fast of 10 Teves 5751, the Rebbe spoke sharply against accusations being made against the Jewish people and the attempt to frighten them with a holocaust.

    The Rebbe’s words of defense of the Jews were not fully exhausted on Asara B’Teves. The following four Shabbosos the Rebbe spoke again and again in praise of the Jewish people. He promised that there would not be a second holocaust and that Eretz Yisrael is the safest place.

    The Rebbe’s prophecies were publicized everywhere and provided great encouragement. He not only said not to leave Eretz Yisrael but called upon people abroad to go to Eretz Yisrael.

    CHILD-SHLIACH DELIVERING THE MESSAGE

    As a Lubavitcher boy, a young shliach in Beer Sheva, I felt a special sense of shlichus to publicize the Rebbe’s encouraging words. In my class at the time there were another two Lubavitchers out of 30 students. During recess, as well as during lessons devoted to this burning topic, we relayed the Rebbe’s answers and about his words of reassurance, encouragement and bitachon that were said at that time, against all prognostications. It made a tremendous impression.

    The closer the date of the ultimatum presented by President Bush (the first) to Saddam Hussein, the greater the feeling of panic among the masses. When America began bombing army outposts in Iraq, there was tremendous tension. Everyone feared a missile attack but the first day passed and there was quiet from Iraq. I felt good, for contrary to all the fear-mongering and warnings, the Rebbe’s words were being fulfilled.

    My father, Rabbi Moshe Dickstein, was drafted with an emergency draft notice to the unit tasked with identifying corpses for the Civil Defense who were preparing for the worst scenes and scenarios of all, including mass burial. He was not at home. He was at the base in Tzrifin as part of a readiness course. There were no cell phones and he would call once in a while in the evening to ask how we were and to remind me that as the oldest son I had to help my mother get through this period as smoothly as possible.

    TERRIFYING NIGHT

    Then it came. The night between Thursday, 2 Shevat and Friday, 3 Shevat 5751 is one I’ll never forget. After weeks of warnings and threats and preparations with masks and sealed rooms, a siren pierced the peace of the night. It’s rise and fall was blood-curdling. I had never heard such a frightening siren.

    I woke up in a great fright and together with my mother we began waking the children and getting them quickly into the sealed room and closing the door according to the guidelines. The fear I felt in those moments I never felt before or since.

    However, I did not allow these feelings to overpower me. I helped my mother soothe my frightened brothers who cried hysterically. I rushed to open two child-masks for my little brothers. Together, we dealt with the hood-masks (active and passive) that we put on the older boys. After a few minutes that seemed like forever, all eight kids had their protective gear.

    The news we got over the phone that we had in the sealed room, and on the radio, went from hopeful that it was an exercise of the Chatzeirim Base near Beer Sheva to a chemical missile attack over all of Israel. My brothers, who had calmed down from being suddenly woken up and the strange masks, slowly fell back asleep. My mother and I remained awake and tense for hours.

    Meanwhile, news from the center of the country paid proof to the fears. According to the radio broadcasts, Scud missiles had been shot from Iraq toward Israel and there were also some direct hits.

    Once we learned that missiles had not landed in our area, my worry and concern were directed towards my father who was now literally at the site of the unfolding events. Who knew whether or not these were chemical missiles…  I was consumed by worry until six in the morning when we were told we could leave our sealed rooms.

    In the morning, my father called and asked how the night had been. I told him in brief (and bravely) that everything was fine and asked how he was. He said that he had gone to where the missiles had fallen and, boruch Hashem, there were no lives lost and the damage was just to property. That is how the conversation ended.

    THE MIRACLES WERE IN THE MISSILES

    During the nights that followed, missile attacks became a threatening routine. Boruch Hashem, the fear I felt that first night never happened again. The sirens sounded less frightening and people get used to things.

    During the following missile attacks, I and all Israeli citizens and the entire world saw how the Rebbe’s prophecies came true and Eretz Yisrael was indeed the safest place in the world. Missiles weighing thousands of kilograms with murderous explosive warheads fell on buildings and caused tremendous damage but no lives were lost, while similar missile attacks on other countries resulted in dozens of dead with every barrage.

    In hindsight, I think that if there had been no missile attacks, the emuna and bitachon in the Rebbe’s words would have been less than the instances in which missiles fell and still, Eretz Yisrael remained the safest place.

    I WITNESSED THE MIRACLES

    Thirty years after these events, I spoke with my father about the war from his perspective, as someone who went to the scenes of devastation, minutes after they occurred.

    “Two weeks before the outbreak of the Gulf War, I was drafted with a regular reservist call-up for an earlier planned course for command level personnel in identifying corpses. Then, in the middle of the course, when things in the Gulf were heating up, the Israeli government was informed about the possibility of bombing by the Iraqis. I was then drafted with an emergency order and was transferred to a readiness group in the Tzrifin Base in the center of the country where I was on the first night of the sirens.

    “During the days of preparing and training for a chemical missile attack,  the female NCO approached me and said I had to remove my beard because it would not allow the gas mask to fit properly. I told her that to me, my beard was a holy thing, and that I preferred dying with a beard than remaining alive without it. I told her about the threat of a gas attack in the Yom Kippur War at the Suez which did not end up happening. Seeing my determination, she said that when it actually happened, I had to follow her guidelines.

    “Upon hearing the siren, right after locating the area where the missile landed in Ramat Gan, we put on special clothes against chemical and biological warfare. We got on trucks laden with materials to identify the dead, thinking that if a chemical missile fell in a crowded residential area it would cause hundreds of people to die! I remember that heavy, wide truck could not manage on the narrow streets of Ramat Gan and had to go roundabout.

    Before we left, and as we put on the protective gear, the commander addressed me and ordered me to cut my beard, saying it interfered with the hermetic seal of the mask. I told her to bring me scissors and if it turned out to be a chemical warhead, I would use them. She insisted that I do it immediately because there wouldn’t be time later. I put on the mask with the beard folded up. I asked her to check whether the mask was sealed properly. She waved a “bananit” (a small box with a strong smell of banana) across my face and when I told her that I smelled nothing and that seal of the mask was in fact hermetic, she left me alone.

    “When we finally got to the place, we found out that we were not needed. All residents had extricated themselves from the destroyed houses. There had been no chemical weapon, and boruch Hashem, no dead.

    “As time went on, the tension diminished. With each missile attack that contained regular warheads and ended with no loss of life, we began to look and see miracles with our very own eyes. There were so many miracles that I personally witnessed. The ones that stand out which I remember till this day happened on Allenby Street, at the corner of Maza Street in Tel Aviv. It’s an area crowded with old buildings and densely populated. A  missile fell there and entered a three-story building. It sliced through the three stories like a knife in butter but did not explode. If it would have exploded, oy …

    “Another open miracle that I saw, in Rishon L’Tziyon, was when a missile fell very close to a large tank of gas at a big gas station. The missile landed but the head did not explode. Just think what would have happened to the city of Rishon L’Tziyon if the missile had exploded. It gives me the chills …

    “Also, a few missiles landed in the area of the corner of Abba Silver Street and Jabotinsky in Ramat Gan. Half the street was destroyed there, but ‘He expended His anger on wood and stones’ and boruch Hashem there was no loss of life. Even those who were injured were only lightly hurt.

    “My buddies who were in readiness units in the north and south of the country also saw open miracles. For example, they told of a missile that entered a mall that was under construction in Haifa and did not explode. There was another missile that exploded but within the garbage dump of the city of Arad, and stories like that. All these instances showed us how a Hand was personally directing each missile.

    “During the war, we were hardly needed. Here and there we extricated people who had gotten stuck in sealed rooms when a missile fell but we did not have to identify any bodies, thank G-d.

    “The lesson for me from those days was very simple: once again, we saw how G-d watches over the Jews, especially in Eretz Yisrael. These aren’t stories; I saw it myself.”

    SECRETS FROM THE “PIT”

    Nobody disputes the fact that the face of the Gulf War to the Israeli public was IDF spokesman, Brigadier General (Res.) Nachman Shai. He was supposed to be the one who updated people about developments. He was actually the man who calmed the public during the missile attacks and in his quiet, calm voice he gave citizens the feeling that the matter was under control.

    In an interview he gave Beis Moshiach, 30 years after the war, he revealed a bit about what was going on behind the scenes. He showed that “if G-d does not guard a city, the watchman guards in vain.”

    There were surely many tense moments during the war. Can you describe a really tense moment one of the times you were in the “pit” or at the scene?

    “The situation was like this. The Americans began to attack Iraq on January 17. Since I spent all that day into the night in my office, I went home at midnight. The morning of January 18, the Iraqis sent a Scud missile toward the center of the country. The news producers called me to hear my reaction but the truth is that I myself was surprised.

    “I had a special media line at home which I used to call the offices of the IDF spokesman and the bureau of the Chief of Staff. The phones were answered by people who were already wearing masks. I realized that something really happened and I had to explain events to the public. I called my driver and said, ‘Come quickly, we need to go to work.’ We set out at two in the morning.

    “Until that point, I didn’t even know what was in the protective kits. I am ashamed to say it but I gave out kits without seeing what was inside. On the way to Tel Aviv I put on a mask. We got stuck on the way due to a large fire and thought it was a result of the attack.”

    Already during that mad ride, without actually knowing what happened, Nachman Shai held his first radio broadcast that reached millions of listeners (all the radio stations were joined together then into one) and said, “When we have further, reliable information we will let you know. At this point, the most important thing for every one of us is that we have the equipment we were given and we know what to do. We will continue to update you in the coming hours and minutes, when we can. We will keep you in the loop. Whatever we can say – we will. At the moment, everyone is asked to practice the routine that we reviewed so many times.”

    You said that without really knowing what was happening?

    “I knew nothing. I tried getting information from the phone calls I made to the bureau of the Chief of Staff and the IDF spokesman, but they didn’t know much either. It was the initial stage and nobody had really anticipated this. When I listened to a radio report as I traveled, I realized that something was developing that would only grow in the coming hours, and it did grow in proportions that I’ll admit, nobody anticipated.

    “That night, we sat in the ‘pit’ in the ‘Kirya’ (IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv). In one of the rooms sat a consultation group with Defense Minister Moshe Arens and Chief of Staff Dan Shomron. I entered the room and they were busy, impatient. The issue of what to tell the public was not a priority for them. I told them, ‘There are millions of citizens out there who don’t know what to do. They heard a siren, noise, rumors are rampant, what should I say to them?’

    “Dan Shomron said, ‘Nachman, deal with it, it’s on you.’ I began to speak and the broadcast was all me. Reporters did not get on the air and mix in. The idea was to lead the public through the long hours with nonstop guidance and to share with them any information we could publicize. To the best of my understanding, hiding information would lead to a wave of rumors and a lot more panic.”

    SADDAM DID SEND A CHEMICAL MISSILE TO ISRAEL

    Aside from the Scud missiles that fell, there was talk about biological or chemical weapons coming. How realistic was that and if it was, how much damage could it cause, according to the intelligence assessments that we had then?

    “Generally speaking, intelligence assessments don’t come in a vacuum. They are based on the past with lessons for the future. Since Saddam Hussein proved himself during the Iran-Iraq War when he did not hesitate to use chemical weapons, this fear was realistic. This is why the Defense establishment in Israel stocked up in order to anticipate such worst case scenarios and even the instructions to citizens were changed. Instead of going down into bomb shelters and being more exposed to possible gas (which settles), they were told to enter sealed rooms.

    “Saddam had the ability to send chemical warheads and one missile landing in Israel had a warhead like that but was not actually loaded with that terrifying payload.

    “What seems to have happened is that Saddam realized that if he attacked Israel with unconventional weapons, the Israeli reaction would be too painful and final for him.”

    This was the first war in which the State of Israel was attacked and did not react. How did you, as IDF spokesman, handle these arguments?

    “The truth is it was not a good feeling. The questions of what we should do, how to react, kept on coming up. It was always the case that the defense position of the Israeli government was if we are attacked, we react. Yet now, everyone saw this position had changed; not collapsed but changed. Today, it can be said that the IDF wanted to react and the Americans made us promise not to do anything because the international Coalition would fall apart. The Coalition that they formed was more important to them than the security of Israeli citizens.

    “Defense Minister Arens went to Washington at that time. As he met with the National Security Advisor, Arens’ wife called and said, ‘A missile fell near the house.’ Arens reported this to the American and said that not a muscle moved in the fellow’s face, as if to say, ‘We will not allow anything to divert us from the mission.’

    “Behind the scenes there were many discussions about the effectiveness of intervention on the part of the IDF. There were rational and emotional debates. On the emotional level, every Israel asked, ‘They’re attacking us and we’re not reacting?!’ but from the perspective of cool calculation, the decision not to react was apparently the right one.”

    WORDS OF REASSURANCE AND FAITH ON THE FRIDAY NIGHT BROADCAST

    What insights and lessons have you taken from the war when you served as the “national calmer” of the Jewish people?

    “There were many lessons; I will tell you a few. First, to simplify the messages to the public as much as possible. I’ll give you an example. After spending hours in sealed rooms the first night, they asked me to ‘release all those in sealed rooms north of Highway 40.’ Now, it’s pretty clear that not every Israeli knows whether he is north of that highway.

    “I knew the Brigadier General, Meir Dagan (who was later head of the Mossad). He was a smart, grounded person with whom we made the famous maps that divided the country into six sections, given the letters alef-vav, in the event of an attack.

    “Another thing, to listen to the feelings of the public. I’ll give an example of that too. After two days of missile attacks, we got information from those in charge of public welfare that people can’t sleep at night because they are afraid there will be missiles and they won’t hear the sirens. That was how the idea was proposed for the ‘quiet station.’ People would leave the radio on channel 100 and go to sleep knowing that if there is a siren at three in the morning, they would hear it over the radio and that we would immediately go live on this channel and begin to broadcast.

    “As a religious person you certainly remember how important this was, mainly to the religious public on Shabbos. Of course, they don’t use a radio all Shabbos so we got a certified ruling that since it’s pikuach nefesh it was permitted to leave on the ‘quiet station,’ and only in the instance of a siren would it be permitted to listen to the broadcasts without turning anything on.

    “I’ll end with a nice story connected with that quiet station and the religious public. One Thursday in the middle of the war, I met a Knesset member, Rabbi Menachem Poruch a’h (the father of current Knesset member Meir Porush). I liked him because my grandparents lived near him and I knew him from my childhood. He said to me that the next evening, Friday night, there would missile attacks.

    “I told him, with all due respect, he wasn’t in intelligence and he wasn’t a prophet and how did he know? With a smile he said that since the war began, there were missile attacks every Friday night and that’s how he knew. Therefore, he had a request. Since hundreds of thousands of shomrei Shabbos and traditional Jews, who ordinarily would not be listening to the radio, would be listening to me, I should say some pasuk or Jewish chizzuk for them to warm their hearts as their Shabbos peace was interrupted.

    “His request was so touching that I happily agreed. His prediction came true and as tens of thousands of families were at their Shabbos meals, there was the rising and falling sound of sirens. Obviously, I immediately entered into ‘alarm readiness’ state. I set myself up in front of all the television cameras and microphones, and followed the normal course of reporting on the situation, about the areas already freed from their sealed rooms etc. Toward the end, I remembered what R’ Porush had asked and I spontaneously said to the broadcaster Sholom Kittel who was sitting in the studio, ‘You should know Sholom, ‘Hinei lo yanum v’lo yishan Shomer Yisrael.’ ‘Netzach Yisrael lo yeshaker.’’

    “The broadcaster asked me what I meant but I said nothing more. At the time and over the years I got a lot of feedback from people who were thrilled to hear pesukim Friday night during the radio broadcast in the middle of a missile attack.”

    PURIM MIRACLE

    The Coalition forces pounded the Iraqi army that refused to capitulate. The soldiers feared the dictator more than the American bombs.

    Rabbi Yaakov Goldstein, chaplain in the US army, went to the Rebbe for dollars. He asked the Rebbe for a bracha before his trip to the area of the Gulf and said he was taking along a Megillas Esther for Purim. To his surprise, the Rebbe said he wouldn’t need it.

    The news quickly spread that the Rebbe said the war would end before Purim. It sounded unrealistic since the military commanders expected it would take months. Thus, for example, this is what Roni Daniel said on the afternoon report on Kol Yisrael:

    “It is interesting to note that the Rebbe also expects a cessation to the war. One of his Chassidim, Yaakov Goldstein, an officer in the America army, went to him for a bracha before he went to the Gulf and said he is taking along a Megillas Esther for Purim. The Rebbe laughed and said that by Purim he would be back home. Purim, let me remind you, is in less than a month and a half.”

    Indeed, miraculously and inexplicably, all the forecasts and military appraisals proved false. On Shabbos, 9 Adar 5751, American forces invaded Kuwait with their goal Kuwait City, the capital which had been captured by the Iraqis. The Americans invaded the city and within a few hours had pushed past the canals and obstructions set up by the Iraqis, which were well planned but without sufficient defensive forces.

    After the first American invasion of Kuwait, large Kuwaiti forces attacked Kuwait city and liberated it after overcoming relatively light Iraqi resistance, at the cost of one dead and one hit on a plane.

    On 12 Adar, Iraqi forces began to withdraw from Kuwait while burning oil wells in the area. During their retreat, the caravan of retreating Iraqi forces was heavily bombed from the air along the Kuwait-Iraq highway, during the course of which hundreds of Iraqi soldiers were killed. Coalition forces continued to push Iraqi forces deep into Iraq.

    About 100 hours after the start of the ground war, on Purim 14 Adar, President Bush announced a ceasefire and the end of hostilities. The Rebbe’s prophecy came true. After tension-filled months, the Jews experienced light and joy.

    *

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