Reflections from Day 3 - Heidi Gantwerk

Written by Heidi Gantwerk on November 29, 2023

Today was very, very hard. Bearing witness was a fundamental reason for our Jewish Federation of San Diego Solidarity Mission, and today we did that. We sat and listened to stories of survivors of the massacres at Kfar Aza and Nachal Oz. Their stories of terror are all the same, and their stories of survival  are all totally unique. They shared the most intimate details of their experiences (how you use the bathroom when in a safe room for 30 hours, their guilt over choices they made or didn’t make) along with profound wisdom and resilience. More to share about this when I have had time to sit with these stories, and more at

I have held myself together for the most part, working nonstop, not sleeping much. Powering through. Compartmentalizing. But at a certain point today, as it has for all of us at some point on this trip, that became impossible. We have begun hearing references to (brutal? horrific? incomprehensible? none of those words seem to mean much anymore) sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas. We started to get a sense of this when we met yesterday with Zaka volunteers, Haredi Jews who care for the bodies of victims of terror. These men have seen the worst of humanity for years. And they were clearly and distressingly traumatized beyond measure by what they saw Hamas had done to women, to women whose bodies they had come to care for. They could barely speak. It had changed them.  

And I thought I understood. Then today I read about some of the evidence the IDF is beginning to share describing in detail the sexual violence on October 7, or as they call it here, the Black Sabbath. And I broke. Acts so evil I cannot really comprehend. Acts of desecration. Of mutilation. Of girls, of women, of “vatikim”-elderly women. 

And on this, the world is shockingly silent. Or maybe I cannot be shocked anymore. Organizations that purport to care about women’s rights call for a “proportionate response” and a “lasting cease-fire”-which by the way, was in place before Hamas attacked. Where else in the world would mass rape and mutilation get barely a nod? Where is the outrage? Where is the disgust, the condemnation, the revulsion? This cannot, must not stand. I don’t have the answer for what comes next, and perhaps with time we will find a path to make sure the world knows and acknowledges the depravity of what really happened. For tonight, I will try once again to sleep for a few hours, and then be there to listen tomorrow.

I share some of the faces of survivors here to honor their bravery in sharing the worst day of their lives with a group of strangers, because they know it was important. They have done their part; now we must do ours.


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