The destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Re’im on October 7, 2023, near the Israeli-Gaza border, in southern Israel, November 26, 2023. Photo by Yossi Zamir/Flash90
Recently having had an opportunity to visit the temporary living situation of Kibbutz Reim, which was viciously attacked on October 7th, just three months ago to the day, the first thing to hit me was the care-worn faces of those who had lived through one of the greatest horrors imaginable.
It was almost as if they’d aged many years overnight. In fact, without asking one question, their stories were evident just by their demeanor, which resembled one who had been shellshocked. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but ask my friend what took place from the moment she was awakened by startling alarms early on that Shabbat morning.
It didn’t take long for the entire kibbutz population to realize that they were under a full-scale attack by savage Hamas terrorists, since everyone is connected to WhatsApp. This is exactly how they stayed in touch with each other throughout the ordeal which lasted more than 24 hours before they were able to leave their bomb shelters and finally be told it was safe to come out.
During that time, whole families were huddled inside their safe rooms which, out of necessity, became their kitchen, bathroom and bedroom for all of these hours. Too frightened to emerge, they waited and hoped that IDF soldiers would come at any time, but for reasons, yet unknown, they did not.
One woman tells of how she, her husband and their son along with his girlfriend, who live abroad, were cramped together in this tiny room with nothing to do but wait. Although they had one handgun, none of them knew if that would be sufficient to save them if the worst were to happen, and that’s when they heard the sounds of a terrorist enter their house through a window. Since he left soon after he entered, they can only assume that he was either looking for food or intended to steal items from them, because he failed to search for occupants in the house nor did he set it aflame as had been done to a number of others.
So, they continued to wait and wait, believing that at some point they would be rescued, but that didn’t happen until the next day. The IDF, which had finally arrived at the kibbutz, went from house to house, letting the residents know that it was safe to come out, although warning them not to do so until the soldiers would make a thorough sweep of their homes to assure that they were completely safe with no terrorists hiding inside.
That second, that they were able to emerge, from what must have felt like an eternity of waiting, gave them enough time to pack a few bags and head for safer parts, using the road which had been cleared by the IDF in order to make safe passage out of the area.
The hellish ordeal, although three months removed, is still visible on the faces of these kibbutz members, who are actually lucky to be alive. Having endured most of that time in Eilat hotels, an area which was also frequently hit by Houthi rocket fire, they, nonetheless, managed to use that time to try to take in all that happened to them.
This was done with the help of many social workers, psychologists and other trained people, courtesy of our country, who came daily to speak with them, help them process the trauma and encourage them by letting them know they were not alone.
So many of them couldn’t get over the fact that a home, where they had lived all of their lives, and where I, too, was a member, during the 90s, had always been thought of as the safest and most tranquil of places in the Negev desert, but now suddenly became a killing field for Hamas terrorists who spent upward to two years planning this heinous crime against these families, many of whom had befriended Gazans who worked at their kibbutz.
Amongst all the sad revelations of this tragedy, possibly the most bitter of all was that these familiar workers chose to betray people who were loving, tolerant and accepting of them. To think that those moments of camaraderie and friendship, when they sat together, spoke together and even shared food together, were meant to injure them is shocking. By furnishing the most hardened terrorists with detailed and personal information about their dwellings, the number of members in their families and even their pets, ended up becoming a harsh lesson in what can happen when you believe the best in those who will not hesitate to kill you.
While this particular kibbutz was not hit the hardest, entire rows of homes were burnt to the ground, and one woman was murdered in her bed as terrorists forced their way into her house. A few others were also killed immediately. The magnitude of destruction wreaked on this complex, which houses over 300, will still likely take upwards to a year to rebuild, but till then, they have been blessed to be housed in a brand new Tel Aviv construction which, although originally intended as a rental property for wealthy investors, is now home to these survivors.
In some ways, as you enter the building site, there is a familiar resemblance of the kibbutz with children playing in a small courtyard and members sitting on benches. Others gather together to greet each other and share tips about where the best shopping is, in an area which, up until now, was totally unfamiliar to most of them. After two weeks of moving to their new home, they are just starting to come outside and explore the many shops, restaurants and other interesting places, all within walking distance from their buildings.
Their resilience is nothing more than a remarkable testament of their ability to quickly adapt to a whole new reality which, although not home, has been made to feel welcoming and accommodating in every way. This includes a medical clinic, already set up in one of the apartments, a dining hall, a lounging area where students can gather and large signs which identify that this is the new home of this kibbutz.
All this after just two weeks. It’s literally the resurrection of this large, collective family who, although finding themselves homeless, have chosen to rebuild the scraps of their lives rather than wallow in victimhood, waiting for redemption that may never come, as in the case of Gazans.
If only this had been their resolve too, they may have never capitulated to barbaric terrorists who have now left them not only homeless but hopeless as well. Unlike Israel, these street dwellers will not be housed in fully-furnished, new construction. They will not be provided with appliances, linens, a well-stocked kitchen and even plants on their balconies. They will not live rent-free and be provided with caregivers who are devoted to the restoration of their mental health, and they will not be given the opportunity to, once again, recreate that warm, loving family atmosphere that is already felt in their temporary dwelling.
These are the stark differences between people who cherish life and those who cling to hatred, fueled by terrorists who only know how to destroy but have no expertise in restoration or regard for the value of human life.
As care-worn as those faces, I saw last Thursday, to me, they are the most beautiful of all – because they represent the indomitable and invincible spirit of the Israeli people whose staunch commitment to live life to the fullest is a flame that can never be extinguished, even by the cruelest of terrorists who tried their best to put it out but, yet again, failed.
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