Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership Supports Israeli City After Rocket Strikes


Ashkelon, Baltimore’s partner city in Israel, has been a recent target of rocket strikes from Gaza.

Members of the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership’s Kesher program met up in Baltimore in early May. (Courtesy of The Associated)

The attacks on the city have been a response to the Israel Defense Force’s Operation Shield and Arrow, an initiative with the goal of eliminating members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza strip. According to a Jerusalem Post article on the subject, rockets struck two buildings in the town on May 10, though no one in Ashkelon reported any injuries.

Charitable organizations such as Chabad and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews have provided bomb shelters to the city for residents to stay in. reported that warning sirens for rocket launches have been frequent, so many have chosen to stay in the shelters.

Ashkelon has had a close relationship with Baltimore for the past 20 years through the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership, with Baltimore residents helping Jewish people in the area and forming connections with citizens of their partner city.

Participants in the partnership’s Kesher program, for adults aged 45 and up, had the chance to meet up in Baltimore in early May. Over the course of a week, Ashkelon residents stayed in Baltimore host homes and were able to see the city’s Jewish sites.

Sigal Ariely, the director of the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership, was in Baltimore with the Kesher participants at the time. But her husband and children were back in Ashkelon, making the situation personal for her.

“We were celebrating Lag B’Omer at Beth El Congregation when we started getting text messages from family and friends in Ashkelon that the rockets had started falling,” she recalled. “I was in constant touch with my husband and children before I returned to Ashkelon. When I returned to Ashkelon, there were still rockets falling for a few days.”

Ariely has been working with the partnership since 2005, originally having started as a coordinator for the program. She noted that these attacks are nothing new for Ashkelon residents, who live close to the Gaza border and are used to threats. Though life has returned to normal for its residents since May 10, there are still worries that these attacks will continue.

“This can start again in seconds and has happened in the past,” Ariely said. “For the past two decades, we’ve had to deal with the fact that our lives can change in seconds. People are resilient because this is part of their daily lives.”

She added that the upcoming Kesher trip, when a group of Baltimore residents will travel to Ashkelon in July, will still happen, with several groups having visited the town in the spring without any conflict. Still, they are continuing to monitor the situation and will adjust travel plans as necessary.

Providing aid has always been part of the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership’s mission, and they plan to continue helping out where they can. Partnership members have sent letters, video calls and messages to people in Ashkelon in the past, as well as financial aid such as donations of toys and games for children in shelters.

For people who want to get involved with helping Ashkelon, Ariely noted that The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore has many ways to help contribute. She suggests following the partnership on social media and sending messages of support. Above all, though, she said that people should not avoid Ashkelon because of these attacks — if anything, they should be traveling there themselves.

“Ashkelon is a beautiful city to visit, right on the water, and people love living here,” Ariely said. “We encourage people to visit Ashkelon next time they are in Israel, and we are happy to put together opportunities to engage in meaningful, hands-on volunteer projects while you are here.”

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