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SA olim narrowly miss rocket hitting building



South African oleh Gidon Boolkin is grateful to be alive after a Hamas rocket hit his building on the corner of Ben Yehuda and Mendele streets in Tel Aviv on the night of 7 October 2023, destroying the apartment above his.

Just two hours before the rocket hit, he was in his apartment, finishing an indoor bicycle training session. He then decided to head out to make dinner with his girlfriend. That decision probably saved his life.

“Before we left to make dinner, a friend of mine suggested I pack a bag with some extra clothes in case we had to flee the country or something similar,” says Boolkin from Tel Aviv. He did so, and left.

“I made dinner with my girlfriend, and then we heard a few sirens going off and headed to a bomb shelter. I started getting phone calls from friends crying and asking if I was alive as they saw the video of my building in flames.

“I knew my roommate [fellow South African oleh Adam Jankelow] was staying with his girlfriend, so I wasn’t too concerned, but called him to let him know. He couldn’t believe what happened until I shared the video with him, after which he finally conceded that it was our apartment building.”

The two South Africans lived on the fourth floor of a five-storey building. The apartment on the fifth floor was totally destroyed.

“I didn’t really care too much as everything was replaceable,” says Boolkin. “My girlfriend and I headed to the apartment to have a look, after which we heard two further sirens. During the first siren, we ran into the Mashya Hotel and after the second one, we ran to a nearby building where there were two policemen. The policemen couldn’t bash the door down, so we landed up taking shelter behind the building.

“We tried to access my building, but it was blocked off for structural reasons. We decided to leave it and go back the next day. That night, we were thinking what stuff I could take if I was allowed five minutes, what was important to me, and if anything had survived.”

Boolkin got “an overwhelming amount of calls that day from my company and friends offering me shelter and food. But the sad part is that this is just a drop in the ocean compared to what’s happening in the south”.

“We’re lucky and grateful not to have been in the building,” says Boolkin. “Life would have been a lot more traumatic, even if we weren’t injured.” The day after the event, he went to shul, borrowed tefillin, as his were locked in the apartment, and donated tzedakah in gratitude for this miracle.

“I don’t think anyone was seriously injured or killed in the building,” Jankelow says, “but it was a crazy experience. We were camping in the north for a friend’s birthday when we started to hear about the attacks. When we heard about the situation, we started to make our way back to Tel Aviv. I was at my girlfriend’s place, and we were debating whether we should stay at her place or mine. We decided to stay at hers.

“And then the rocket siren went off. It was super loud and scary just to be there. Gidon phoned me to say that he had seen videos that our apartment block had been hit. It had made a massive hole on the top of the fifth floor. We’re on the fourth floor. We got to go there yesterday [8 October]. We were allowed only 10 minutes to get as many of my belongings as possible. I managed to store it all at a friend’s place. I’ll stay at my girlfriend for now.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty whether I can move back into the building or ever go back to that apartment,” he says. “At the moment, I don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re just trying to stay positive and send our support to friends and family. We all know someone affected by the atrocities in the south.”

Friends of his friends were killed in the Nova Festival massacre. “A friend of mine was shot in the stomach when going to protect one of the kibbutzim in the south,” he says. “It’s a tense time, and we just need to stay strong, remain together, and focus on the positive. Luckily we weren’t in the apartment. It’s just stuff that can be replaced.”

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