Israelis spend 'saddest day' hiding

The worshippers sit on the floor of the synagogue, in the style of someone in mourning for a loved one, reading from the biblical book of Lamentations.

The haunting wail of a siren rises, warning of an incoming Katyusha rocket.

The congregants look up from their prayer books, catch each other in the eye, and go back to chanting the liturgy read every year on Tisha B'Av, the most sorrowful day in the Jewish calendar.

Anita Ohanna gazes around again to see if anyone is planning to run to a nearby bomb shelter. She glances at a visitor, offers a shrug of resignation, and returns to the text, full of grief for the past and hope for the future.

"I believe that for each Katyusha, there's an address," she explains afterwards, as the service breaks up and she helps her husband lock up the azure gates of the Abuhab Synagogue. "I love God, and I believe in him. And if my time is up, so it will be up no matter where I am."

The fighting continued Thursday, as Hizbullah sent 160 rockets into Israel killing seven civilians. A rocket hit an Israeli tank in Lebanon, killing three soldiers. Three people were also killed in a Lebanese border village by an Israeli missile.

In many corners of Israel, particularly at religious addresses such as this one, history is a key part of the prism through which the war is viewed. Tisha B'Av, or the ninth day in the month of Av, marks the day that both of the ancient Jewish temples in Jerusalem were destroyed, first in 586 BC and then in 70 AD, followed by long periods of exile. More recent calamities are said to have fallen on the same date, from the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 to particular massacres during World War II.

As such, most people here say it is no coincidence that the war has come now, during the traditional three-week period of mourning that ends on Thursday night. The three weeks are bookended by days of fasting. During that period, people avoid joyous activities like getting married. Observant Jews will also avoid activities from getting a haircut to listening to music or making important decisions.

This period is called "HaMetzarim" – etymologically related to both "straits" and "troubles."The Israeli army has named this operation Melchamet HaMetzarim, which might be translated as the war of the troubles – with a clear allusion to Tisha B'Av.

Either way, Mrs. Ohanna has had enough of the troubles, in particular, the deadly showering of Katyushas on Safed, where two people have died and many more have suffered light injuries. Since the war began, some 360 missiles or rockets have fallen on or around the city. At first, she ran with her daughter and four of her grandchildren to the local shelter. The hysteria there, she said, made the kids more upset.

Now, she prefers to simply go into a room designed to survive an air strike, or, if the kids aren't around, she tries to continue with her day. Otherwise, she says, Hizbullah wins.

Mrs. Ohanna, a retired kindergarten teacher, takes her belief in the meaning of the war's overlap with the mourning period a step further. She thinks that Israel's exit from Gaza last year was a mistake. "I believe this is a punishment for the disengagement," she says.

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