JERUSALEM—Air raid sirens broke through the morning silence on October 7 as 51 Philadelphia Church of God members prepared to attend a morning Church service in urban Jerusalem. Meanwhile, in southern Israel, armed Hamas terrorists took mothers and children hostage and killed others. Rockets from Gaza hit the cities of Ashkelon and Tel Aviv. Within the city of Jerusalem, members making the half a mile trek from their lodgings to where the service was held watched families running to safety as sirens sounded. Puffs of white smoke appeared in the sky as the Iron Dome intercepted rockets. Shrapnel dropped right in front of one family as they walked, and during the morning service, members could hear bombs in the distance exploding.
It was a holy day for both PCG members and religious Jews. Some members initially thought the sirens were a test or drill. Member Ezekiel Malone said he thought such alerts were a frequent occurrence in Jerusalem and didn’t realize the seriousness until the sirens started a second time and the staff of the hotel he was staying at instructed people to shelter in the basement of the building. Preaching Elder Ryan Malone said he understood the gravity of the situation once he heard from his hotel room two explosions in the distance and got confirmation from one of his friends who lives in Jerusalem that there were rocket attacks and from Iron Dome interceptor missiles. Instead of moving to the building’s basement, they went to the Jerusalem office building to attend the holy day service. Ezekiel Malone said the city felt ominous walking outside on almost-empty roads. Part of this was because it was a Jewish holy day, but he said the few cars on the road seemed to moving faster than usual. At the Jerusalem office, the members held a morning service to the sounds of sirens and explosions.
Other than sirens on the holy day and a couple of days later, members said the city of Jerusalem was relatively quiet. On television and internet news, they saw repeats of what was happening less than 40 miles away in southern Israel, of fleeing crowds being gunned down, of terrorists killing entire families, of civilians cowering on the side of the road as Hamas invaded by the beaches of Ashkelon. They could hear the explosion of rockets hitting nearby cities, the rumble of Israeli fighter jets flying toward Gaza and faint air raid sirens. They said they kept their belongings next to their beds in case sirens went off in the middle of the night and stayed mostly indoors during the day. Ezekiel Malone said the city was largely a ghost town, partly because people were indoors to stay safe and partly because people were mourning. Ezekiel’s sister Skye said feeling as though she was in the news and a part of history was strange, and that the experience brought the problems of the world to life.
The Israeli government canceled flights out of Jerusalem Tel Aviv and other cities, including the flights of members. They rebooked several times with different airlines. Some members flew out on Thursday of last week for an over 40-hour journey through Greece, Germany and the United States. Others left early this week, and all members are now safely home.