Written by Rabbi Jason Nevarez on November 29, 2023
Today, we encountered our hardest day yet - meeting with members and survivors of Kibbutzim Kfar Aza and Nachal Oz. We had the privilege of bearing witness to these stories, to the truths of what happened, and to the people it happened to. These refugees, as some now refer to themselves, mustered up the courage to share their tragic stories of October 7th. We heard numerous testimonies that left our own hearts wounded. In this missive, I’m not going to share the specific details of what they offered. Rather, I offer 4 takeaways for you to share with those who could benefit from being informed.
Takeaway 1: In Kfar Aza, members of the community, since the 1970s, planned to host their annual kite event tonight on 10/7, where people would go to an open field near the border and fly “peace kites” toward Gaza as an enduring sign and hope for peace and coexistence. Instead, some of the material from the kites intended for use on 10/7 was repurposed as twine by some to ensure that their safe rooms remained locked and they weren’t slaughtered. Their symbols of peace became used as life-saving material.
Takeaway 2: a father shared his family’s harrowing story, and noted he used to be a peacemaker, and now, he lost all compassion for those in Gaza. After he saw Gaza civilians (not Hamas terrorists, Gaza civilians) dancing in the streets as bodies were paraded through the streets, he has no idea how to move past such hatred.
Takeaway 3: I asked the survivors what types of short and long-term psychological support they were receiving. A 44-year-old mom, through her tears, shared that the psychosocial needs are extensive, so much so, that this impacts students’ educational options. How so? Families in the areas where Sha’ar HaNegev communities have been displaced, voiced great concern over their own children becoming exposed to secondary trauma through stories shared. Hence, their educational realities are limited as they cannot integrate their students into the already-existing local school districts. This means that each relocated community must reimagine their own educational system without full options of many teachers (as many don’t live close to their new geographic locations).
Takeaway 4: observing a baby (no more than 1 year) being lovingly pushed by a young man (who I thought to be his father). I quickly learned that the man pushing him was his uncle as both of the baby’s parents were murdered. The uncle was preparing to adopt him. Unconscionable.
Two moments of inspiration:
We visited Healing Space, and immediate integrative response center to trauma, serving thousands of people who were impacted by the traumatic events of the NOVA concert and have nowhere to turn. From massage to sound healing and music circles (of which we partook), a community has been birthed to take care of those who have suffered significant trauma.
We had the privilege of visiting an Air Force base, where we provided and served a special dinner for the entire squadron. Several hundred members of the Israeli Air Force who work hard to following ethical war guidelines to protect and defend the Jewish state. It was a beautiful and proud experience.
Heading back to Jerusalem after another incredibly long day as we anticipate an extension of the current ceasefire and more hostages to be released.