Sima Abukasis looked on quietly as Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger and several Knesset members joined dozens of her Sderot neighbors and friends yesterday at a modest commemoration of the second anniversary of the death of her daughter, Ella, 17. Ella died of wounds suffered from a Kassam rocket attack on Sderot in 2005.

Sima, a slight woman with olive skin and short auburn hair, managed a wan smile as she greeted her daughter’s friends and family members who came to take part in the ceremony in the center of Sderot. The pain of the loss of her middle child is firmly etched on the face of this bereaved mother. Ella died shielding her younger brother, Tamir, as the siren sounded on a Shabbat afternoon on a cool January afternoon two years ago.

That day, 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 their B’nei Akiva youth movement activity. They were on their way home when the siren sounded, giving them 20 seconds warning of an incoming Kassam rocket.

With no time to take cover, Ella lay on top of Tamir, who escaped with relatively minor wounds when the rocket fell and exploded alongside them. Ella was fatally wounded and died a week later without ever regaining consciousness.

Ella’s older brother, Ran, did most of the organizing of yesterday’s memorial ceremony. Held just a few days before Tu B’Shvat, the memorial was also a dedication of a new B’nei Akiva building named for Ella. Outside the bright new facility, which includes several meeting rooms, a kitchen and main hall, six saplings were planted in honor of Tu B’Shvat and to signify new beginnings.

The fresh earth was dug by a few of Ella’s male friends who are students at Sderot’s Hesder yeshiva. The young men, who combine Torah learning with army service, include representatives of every ethnic group in Israeli society – Ethiopians, Russian speakers, Sephardim and Ashkenazim. Their camaraderie and cooperation was evident as they greeted each other with warm hugs and slaps on the back before they got down to the digging.

Many teachers from the the yeshiva and from Ella’s AMIT high school showed up, too. The respect and warmth they elicited from the students would be the envy of teachers anywhere. Maybe it’s the simple solidarity born from the terrifying experiences they’ve shared over the past six years, ever since Sderot has been under Arab bombardment. Several schools in Sderot have taken direct hits from Kassam rockets and now they’re commemorating the death of one of their friends.

Chief Rabbi Metzger affixed a large mezuzah on the external door of the new building. He noted that, at the request of the family, it’s a mezuzah that was blessed by Rabbi Yitzchak Kadouri, the centenarian Kabbalist who passed away a few years ago.

Inside the main hall, a huge banner with a picture of a smiling, relaxed Ella adorned the wall. At the head table, a single memorial candle burned in front of the seated dignitaries. In addition to Rabbi Metzger, there’s Rabbi Benny Lau, Knesset Members Tzvi Hendel and Uri Ariel, former MK Hanan Porat, former Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, who is a family friend, the principal of the AMIT High School, Ella’s father Yonatan, and the head of B’nei Akiva for the southern region.

Each of them speaks lovingly of Ella, her brief life and her heroic death. For a change, it’s a quiet day in Sderot, with no Kassam rocket attacks. But for Yonatan and Sima Abukasis and their remaining children, Ran, Tamir and Keren, as well as for the families of the other seven Kassam fatalities in Sderot, there’ll never be a quiet day.