PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – Paul Beiersdorf went to Israel to see his grandchildren and had a nice meal with his son’s family and his in-laws on Friday.

The next morning, everything changed; and the vacation and family time he sought with his son, his two grandchildren and his wife’s family were gone. Reports of kidnappings, families killed and the constant shrill of rockets overhead broke any sense of calm.

“It’s been very tense,” he said. “There’s no good war. Innocent people are being killed. To say that Israeli citizens are angry is a huge understatement.”

Beiersdorf and his wife, Connie, are in Ashdod, a city of 225,000 people on the Mediterranean Sea and a city that’s less than 12 miles north of the Gaza Strip where Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel.

The Peoria resident, who works part-time at Richwoods High School, spoke on Monday, three days after the Gaza-based organization, Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by many in the world, launched a multi-pronged attack on Israel, killing hundreds of civilians in their homes, on the streets and at a music festival.

Beiersdorf said it’s been relatively safe where he is staying. Some Hamas militants did get into the city but were quickly “contained,” he said, on Saturday. And rockets have fallen in and around the city, causing him and his family to duck into their safe room — a hardened shelter similar to ones used here in the Midwest for tornados.

Just Monday morning, four rockets struck the city and one of them landed about three blocks from where the Peoria man and his wife were staying. And during a Zoom interview, his head snapped quickly as he heard a boom — it was thunder.

“The biggest thing is that the air defense is doing a good job but rockets can get through. If the sirens go off,” he said, “we’ll end this pretty quickly.”

Rockets have continued to rain down on the Jewish State as the Israeli Defense Force continue to try to regain control of settlements and areas near Gaza. The IDF has also launched several air strikes into the Palestinian enclave that target military instillations and offices of Hamas which has ruled over the Gaza Strip since Israel left more than 15 years ago.

Sue Katz, the head of the Jewish Federation of Peoria, said the events of the past weekend mirror the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. She also noted Saturday, which saw hundreds of Israelis killed, was the biggest number of Jews killed since the Holocaust.

Jews, she said, the world over have a “deep connection” with the state of Israel, noting that in the religious services, there are frequent calls to return to Jerusalem. After the Holocaust, it was the main place for Jews who survived to go to.

“It’s in our DNA. It’s part of who we are,” she said.

She blasted notions that this was a “conflict” and said comparisons to the 1973 Yom Kippur War stop at Israel being unprepared for the assault. Rather, she said, this was a direct attack on a sovereign nation that targeted civilians, not military targets.

“I wouldn’t even use the word conflict in what happened. Saturday morning, Hamas terrorists broke into Israel, by land, by air, by sea. They murdered between 700 and 1000 Israelis in their homes, at music festivals, in the streets. wherever they could find them. They basically went on a murderous rampage,” she said, adding that some 5,000 rockets have been fired at Israel and more than 2,200 people injured. 

She teared up when she spoke of an Israeli man who came to Peoria years ago and worked with the federation and mostly with children here. That man has been called up from the reserves and is now on the front lines.

“He has friends and friends of friends that were either murdered or taken into Gaza as hostages,” she said. “He’s in intelligence and he’s fluent in Arabic and I’m very worried about where they are going to send him.”

Beiersdorf said the peaceful dinner he had with his family on Friday feels like so long ago. The nervousness and the apprehension of what might happen are tiring. He said they are “homebodies” right now, joking that it’s like when the tornado siren goes off, you don’t go far from home.

He likened it to watching horrific events here such as school shooting or natural disasters.

“When you see the number of people of people killed and injured, keep going up, it’s devastating. It’s that same type of feeling when the numbers keep rising. And you know the majority of those people aren’t soldiers, they are civilians, innocent people who were at a rock concert or spending time on a kibbutz or in their own neighborhood.”