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 CNS Story:

GAZA-UMBERGER Jan-5-2009 (620 words) xxxi

US couple in Israel using tub to protect kids against Hamas missiles

By Judith Sudilovsky
Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Americans Robin and Matthew Umberger, both 32, have been putting their three children to sleep each night in the bathtub of their home in Beersheba, Israel, to protect them against incoming Palestinian missiles.

As the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip expanded, the militant Islamic group Hamas' resolve to hit Israeli targets continued and expanded, and for the first time Beersheba, Israel's fourth-largest city, became a target for incoming rockets, mortars and missiles.

"The worst part is you never know when or where one will fall so we stay inside the house all day," Matthew Umberger, who is originally from Thayer, Kan., told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview. "The kids were afraid of the sirens at first but they have gotten used to it. It has been stressful for the kids. We are all tired."

Robin Umberger said she told her children, ages 1-8, that some "bad people" wanted to hurt others but that God was taking care of their family.

"I emphasized that when they are frightened they should pray for the kids who are in Gaza who are in danger and whose situation is worse than ours. It is very sad," said Robin Umberger, originally from Oklahoma.

The Umbergers have been living in Israel for eight years as Matthew Umberger completes his doctorate in biblical studies at Ben Gurion University. He was an ordained minister of the nondenominational Churches of Christ, but he and his wife became Catholics in Israel. They are members of the 30-family Hebrew-speaking St. Abraham Parish in Beersheba.

Coming from tornado country, they have become adept at running quickly to safety after a siren, Robin Umberger said half-jokingly.

"Beersheba is very compact so anywhere a missile falls is pretty near you," said Matthew Umberger, noting that the first missile fell near their church building but caused no damage.

A missile warning alarm went off during Mass Jan. 1, and although parishioners were nervous they continued praying, he said, adding that Mass attendance has increased since the start of the missile attacks.

Since the Israeli military operation in Gaza began Dec. 27, Hamas has launched some 500 rockets and mortars into Israeli civilian areas, and at least four Israelis have died in the attacks. More than 500 Palestinians, including 100 civilians, have died in the operation.

Matthew Umberger said reading the Psalms has calmed the children. He said his 8-year-old daughter has become adept at finding psalms that are appropriate to the situation and give her solace.

He added that his family back in Kansas has asked them to return home; he told them not to watch the news.

"But I don't think they listened," he added.

While the couple have considered returning to the United States, he would like to complete his doctorate and will probably only leave Beersheba for another place in Israel if a larger number of missiles are launched into the city again.

Having experienced fear for his family for a few days, he said he can now begin to comprehend the experiences of Israelis in border communities like Sderot.

"Your perspective changes a little when the missiles start landing in your backyard," he said.

He added that Hamas began shooting the rockets shortly after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip some three years ago.

"Unfortunately, innocent people are suffering," he said.

"I feel God is protecting us," he said. "The rockets could potentially do a lot more harm. ... It is a blessing of God that we have not experienced more devastation. These are not fireworks. These are weapons. ... They are shooting with the intent to kill if they can."

END


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