On the morning of Oct. 11, heavy rains pelted the cars overflowing from the parking lot outside of Temple Oheb Shalom. Inside the synagogue, more than 400 people gathered for the Jewish National Fund’s annual Maryland Breakfast for Israel.
“I remember being a table captain [in past years] and having trouble filling a table. But you can see we’re at capacity,” said Sara Fishman, who attended the event to accept an award on behalf of her late husband, Nelson Fishman, an avid supporter of philanthropic programs in Israel. “It’s a good thing. It’s good for JNF.”
The capacity crowd was gathered to see the event’s main speaker, Dr. Ari Sacher, an actual rocket scientist with more than 20 years of experience developing missiles. He is the primary engineer behind Israel’s Iron Dome Missile Defense System, which is credited with saving thousands of lives during times of rocket fire from Gaza.
The showery onslaught came as a welcome surprise to those at JNF. The rain, by now a nuisance to Marylanders, would be most welcome in Israel. The Jewish state is experiencing unprecedented droughts.
Prior to Sacher’s speech, a video highlighted that Israel’s deserts are expanding while the Sea of Galilee is at its lowest level in a century. The need for more — 90 more, to be exact — costly desalination plants to provide water for Israeli citizens is imminent.
If the poetic weather wasn’t enough to get members of the Baltimore community to rip out their checkbooks, Sacher’s address certainly proved to be.
Sacher entertained the attendees by telling animated stories about the system’s history and impact.
Given that Iron Dome was built out of necessity after the Hezbollah missile attacks in 2006 during the second Lebanon War, Sacher’s address was not without its dark moments. But more often than not, he had the audience roaring with laughter, even during an anecdote about the 2006 war.
“2006 was a horrific summer, in and out of bomb shelters nine times a day. After two weeks, I sent my wife and my seven kids down to the center of the country to live with my sister-in-law. My sister-in-law for God’s sake!” he quipped.
Sacher could not contain his passion for the topics of rockets, missiles and damage prevention, making flailing hand motions and mouthing sound effects throughout his speech. He described Vulcan Phalanx, a missile defense system that Israel decided not to use before developing Iron Dome, in the following way:
“You fire off Vulcan Phalanx, [shrill whistle sound] and there’s a [flatulent rocket ascending sound] and it flies up into the air and there’s a huge cloud of [explosion sound] everything explodes and uranium knives are flying in the air and the incoming comes into the cloud and [anti-climactic flatulent sound], torn to shreds.”
In addition to Vulcan Phalanx, which Sacher said only worked about 25 percent of the time, Israel briefly considered using lasers to shoot down incoming rockets. This method, however, could only be used in ideal weather, as rain obstructs the laser’s aim. Israel decided to put its funding towards Iron Dome, a system that had not been tested at the time.
“We in Israel have the luxury of knowing where the next rocket is going to come from. Chances are it’s going to come from Gaza, not Tel Aviv,” he said. “We aim our radars at Gaza and we wait. Someone fires off a shot [shrill ascending sound] and we have to pick it up on our radar. They are firing stuff that could be huge, but they are also firing things that are the length of three footballs. We have to pick up this three-football thing from a range of 20, 30 miles.”
Sacher wowed the audience by describing Iron Dome’s capability of determining within moments where a rocket fired from Gaza will land. It turns out that frequently, it hits an area of little concern.
“In the last war in 2014, 75 percent of what they fired at us fell in areas we didn’t even need to defend. Some of these rockets fell in the ocean, some of them fell in the deserts or my mother-in-law’s house,” he said to uproarious laughter. “Now, has my mother-in-law ever heard this talk? Yes. But I gave it in Hebrew, and she doesn’t speak Hebrew.”
Linda Boteach of Reisterstown found Sacher very informative and was happy to learn about the projects JNF donations will support.
“I have a daughter that lives in Israel. She lives in Tel Aviv,” she said. “The security is very important. I found it to be a very worthwhile program and it inspired me to participate in supporting those things.”
For Baltimore resident Claire Tesh, the large crowd of like-minded people left her with a sense of optimism.
“It was just wonderful being in a room of people who support Israel and who are, here in Baltimore, just doing great things,” she said. “I think the whole morning was impactful. Just knowing what their efforts are doing is very fulfilling.”
After listening to Sacher, it was hard for anyone in the room to not share a sense of optimism. The Iron Dome Missile Defense System, he explained, is so effective, most in Israel pay it no mind.
“The fact that we do this and no one thinks about it anymore is astounding. What we take for granted today, 15 years ago, was science fiction,” he said.
For Pikesville resident Isak Danon, Sacher’s speech was so engaging he couldn’t wait until the end of the program to write a check.
“The speaker was out of this world. He was just fantastic. In fact, while he was speaking I wrote a check,” he said, unable to control his laughter. “And I can add that the breakfast was great.”