Goodwill Center Named for Teenage Terror Victim in Sderot

A new Bnei Akiva youth movement branch and goodwill center was dedicated on Monday in Sderot, in memory of Ayala-Chaya (Ella) Abukasis, 17, who was killed by a Palestinian Authority rocket in 2005.

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Nissan Ratzlav-Katz, | updated: 14:14

Marking the anniversary of Ella's death, according to the Hebrew calendar, about 200 members of the Abukasis family, friends and public figures gathered in the Sderot neighborhood where Ella lived and served as a Bnei Akiva counselor. The ceremonies included a memorial service for the young heroine, who was killed trying to protect her younger brother from the enemy rocket, and a formal dedication of the new center named for her.

Yonatan Abukasis planted trees in memory of his daughter alongside the center and Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger affixed the mezuzah to the doorpost of the new building. The Ella Center is the only public structure in Sderot reinforced to withstand rocket attacks.

Also in attendance were Knesset Members Uri Ariel and Tzvi Hendel (National Union-NRP) and Rabbi and former MK Chanan Porat. Rabbi Porat had been instrumental in moving the project along, and a charitable organization he heads, called Orot Chesed, will operate from the new center.

It was after delays that continued for eight months that the Abukasis family turned to Rabbi Porat for assistance in speeding up the construction process. With Porat's involvement, the building was finished within just three weeks, in time for the ceremonies marking the anniversary of Ella's death.

Effie Rifkin, general manager of the Orot Chesed organization, said, "Without the greatly appreciated assistance of Mayor Eli Moyal, the funding of the National Lottery, the Abukasis family and Rabbi Chanan Porat, we would not have been able to dedicate this building today in memory of Ella, of blessed memory, and to use it for the benefit of Bnei Akiva youth and for the needy families in this city."

On the afternoon of January 15, 2005, the Abukasis family was at Ella's grandmother's home celebrating the birthday of one of the granddaughters. From there, Ella went with her younger brother Tamir to activities with Bnei Akiva. They were returning home when the siren sounded, giving them 20 seconds warning of an incoming Kassam rocket attack by Palestinian Authority terrorists.

Ella shielded Tamir, who escaped with relatively minor wounds when the rocket fell and exploded alongside them; Ella was fatally wounded and died a week later.

Ella's father Yonatan said that she had acted like the guardian of her 10-year-old brother from the outset of the Kassam rocket attacks on Sderot. She accompanied him everywhere, slept alongside him, waited outside the bathroom for him and went with him to the computer on the second floor of the family's home.

Thousands attended Ella's funeral, where her father read a note his daughter had penned shortly before her death: "Sometimes we tend to forget that life will be over one day, and we don't know when that day will come, and praise is always voiced too late, so in order for that not to happen, I've chosen to tell you what a wonderful person you are. Tell people that you love them and care about them."

Ayala-Chaya Abukasis, who was laid to rest in Sderot, is survived by her parents Yonatan and Sima, her brothers Ran and Tamir, and her sister Keren.