| Nightmare Come True |

When Home Becomes the Front

A day of rejoicing and unity, when families celebrate their shared heritage, became a day of horrific loss and unfathomable mourning

Photos: Flash90

On Simchas Torah morning, in a precisely orchestrated operation, masses of Hamas terrorists invaded Israel’s south by land, air, and sea.
In a massive intelligence and military failure, the residents of the area’s kibbutzim, moshavim, and towns were left defenseless as Nazi-style executioners marched from home to home, rounding up hostages and shooting entire families in cold blood.
Local police forces, volunteers, and civilians fought with fierce courage and determination – some in their slippers – to save their families and neighbors. So many fell.
A day of rejoicing and unity, when families celebrate their shared heritage, became a day of horrific loss and unfathomable mourning.
Now Israel is engaged in a war – a fateful battle that feels familiar yet different. The cruel capture of over 100 hostages creates new moral dilemmas that will underlie every military decision. The sheer numbers of dead, wounded, and missing have overwhelmed the country’s resources. And the timing – precisely 50 years after the Yom Kippur War – evokes bitter memories of warnings unheeded and lessons unlearned.


“Our World Has Collapsed”

Ishai Baider, Netiv Ha’asarah on the Gaza border
As told to Gedalia Guttentag

ITwas 6:30 a.m. when the “tzeva adom” (red alert) siren went off, and my 16-year-old son saw a hang glider fly over our house, which is within a few hundred meters of the Gaza border. We thought that it was an Israeli who was for some reason flying during a siren — only later we found out that it was the airborne spearhead of the Hamas assault force.

We entered our reinforced room, and almost simultaneously, the electricity went out, which meant darkness for my wife and me and our three children. With no cell phone reception because of the thickness of the walls, we had no idea what was happening outside.

Half an hour after the siren, I opened the door of the shelter and messages warning us to stay inside started to get through. But these were no mere warnings — the sounds of shooting from all directions told us we were in the middle of something unprecedented.

I closed the door again, and when I opened it for an update, the picture began to get horribly clear: We saw videos of the Hamas gunmen in Sderot, a nearby town, and then from friends sending footage of fighting all around them.

But in between the noise and chaos, there was something even more frightening: an utter, deadly calm. I kept telling the kids that soon we’d hear the sound of our own tanks coming to relieve us — but hour after hour, nothing. The only sound we heard was that of birds tweeting.

I can’t describe to you the fear of those hours — the terror of a total inability to protect your family. I served in a special-forces unit, but I had no gun. Two years ago, the IDF announced that they were collecting weapons, and I handed my M-16 back. What made it worse was that our mamad, reinforced room, doesn’t lock from the inside — the handle is on the outside.

So, I decided to stand outside the door to protect my family, armed only with a kitchen knife. Then at one stage, I went to my tool shed to get an Allen key to remove the handle so that we could close it from the inside.

Later, I heard from friends in the yishuv that they had physically held the doors to their shelters shut while the terrorists tried to open them. Many friends saw terrorists in their gardens; my best friend died while fighting to defend his family in Netiv Ha’asarah.

Another friend is emotionally scarred: He was hiding, and armed. When he saw the killers run by his house, he had to make the split-second decision whether to open fire and endanger his family, or remain quiet. He chose the latter, and doesn’t know how to live with it.

It was like Russian roulette, where they would attack and where not.

The “Gaza Envelope” area is full of young families. In the last few years, many young people of all stripes — secular and religious — have returned to make their homes in the area after a generation when they moved to the big cities. So there were many, many young children affected.

Through my work as an architect, I know a lot of the people from the surrounding villages and towns. So many people have lost husbands, sons, or daughters and grandchildren kidnapped into Gaza.

My good friend is missing, either abducted or killed. He went for a bike ride, and his bike was found with a dead terrorist next to it, but there was no trace of him. My colleague’s parents, who lived in Kibbutz Be’eri, were abducted.

My children have lived through years of tzeva adom sirens and Kassam rocket attacks, but nothing prepared them for this horror. In our communities, anger and shock don’t begin to describe what we feel.

Our entire way of life was based on the fact that the army would protect us. But that belief system has been shattered. It feels like the foundations of our world have collapsed. Many of my friends feel very radical about things now. When my son asks why we live in an area where this could happen, I have nothing to tell him.

We only have questions about the lack of preparedness of the army — the contempt for Hamas’s capabilities that was evident — with no answers, and I truly don’t know if we will head back home.


I Thought I Knew

Kobi Borenstein
Home Front Command, stationed in the South

Simchas Torah, 9:00 a.m. I’m in the middle of hakafos at shul, a sefer Torah in my arms, when a family member runs over and tells me: “Your phone has been ringing nonstop.” That’s how I know something had happened, though I didn’t know what.

Just three days after being released from regular IDF service, I was drafted into the reserves in a small, recently formed unit in the Home Front Command, which was established in 1992 in response to the Gulf War.

Our unit’s role is to be right there on the ground, running from siren to siren and from impact site to impact site. The first time our unit saw action was during the Guardian of the Walls operation in May 2021. I remember how on the first day of the war, just after we had rescued a badly injured woman and also recovered a body from the site of a direct hit in Ashkelon, I was redirected to the site of an impact in Ashdod, normally a 25-minute drive. In war time, it took almost two hours. I had to stop no fewer than 16 times due to sirens. In some cases the rockets landed quite close to us. Missiles were coming in from every direction. This was real war, I remember thinking at the time.

But that “real war” looked like child’s play compared to the war of Simchas Torah.

MY tallis on my shoulders, I left shul to report for duty. I went home, made contact with my commanders, and was told that there were missile barrages toward the center and south of the country and that I needed to report to the base ASAP. No one knew anything yet about the kidnappings, the massacres, the music-festival-turned-killing-field, and about the massive ground incursion and occupation of large swaths of Israeli territory.

When I got into my car, it was just in time to see crowds of people running out of their shuls, and traffic, practically nonexistent until a few minutes ago, was soon unusually busy. Thousands of reservists and soldiers were leaving in complete uncertainty.

On the road, the picture started becoming clearer. Most public transportation doesn’t operate on Shabbos in Israel, and thousands of reserve soldiers clustered at intersections to hitch rides. I personally took several soldiers, two from Egoz and one from Maglan, both of which are elite IDF commando units. The Maglan warrior was trying to contact his friends for the entire ride, in vain. “Please let nothing have happened, please let nothing have happened,” he kept whispering distractedly.

As we drove, more details came in. Entire kibbutzim captured by Hamas, soldiers and civilians killed, and possible abductions. We began to realize that what was happening was a cataclysmic scenario that none of us had ever imagined in our wildest dreams, and we were still unaware of the full extent of the disaster.

After I arrived at the base and got my equipment and bearings, I spoke with a resident of Kibbutz Be’eri to get a picture of the situation on the ground. He spoke of dozens of terrorists roaming the streets amid incessant gunfire, of residents murdered in cold blood, others missing, presumably abducted, and others hiding in their bomb shelters as terrorists set their homes on fire to burn them alive.

As the minutes passed and reports streamed in from the various hotspots, we began to comprehend the magnitude of the disaster. When I tried to call that resident back two hours later, he didn’t answer. I later learned that he had been killed while trying to defend other residents.

We headed south at about two in the afternoon. Gun battles were taking place at dozens of sites. Quietly, authorities were beginning to acknowledge dozens of abductions and hundreds of fatalities.

“We have at least 150 murdered,” one officer told me. One hundred fifty fatalities, a number that seemed impossible at the time, but later proved a mere fraction of the true death toll.

Roads to the south were flooded with worried parents who had lost contact with their children, thousands of reserve soldiers with determined faces, convoys of military vehicles and tanks, and yes, bodies too. A lot of them. And with the wounded, the missing, the shellshocked, children whose parents had been murdered. Rivers of anguish and pain.

Family members pleaded with security forces: “Just get our kids out of there,” they begged. “Give us guns, we’ll go in ourselves.” Every young man or woman who managed to escape ignited hope in the eyes of the rescue workers. The survivors straggled in, each with stories of a massacre, of anonymous heroes gunned down as they saved others, survivors bleeding physically and emotionally.

And in the background — incessant sirens. Thousands of missiles were fired as we ran from site to site. Another impact, another fatality, another casualty, and the death toll continued climbing steeply. Three hundred fatalities, 400 fatalities, 700 fatalities, 800 fatalities… Unimaginable numbers. And 130 abductees, ranging in age from 85 to six months.

IDFunits continued streaming south, more and more troops arriving on the scene. Schools were converted into impromptu staging areas for soldiers, classrooms were converted into supply rooms. Thousands of civilians pitched in, bringing food and toiletries.

One fighter pilot recounted to me, “We were surprised too. The first aircraft took off on a moment’s notice and was in the area within 45 minutes. We came straight from our homes, jumped into helicopters and took off, without knowing what to expect. We came and it was out of control! The fence had been breached, there was no one to communicate with, dozens of moving targets — it was like a zombie attack from the movies. We identified and eliminated dozens to hundreds of terrorists in the first few hours.

“There were tractors at the fence (including the one from a widely circulated clip), motorcycles with armed combatants, pickup trucks packed with terrorists, ISIS-style, and dozens on foot. Combat helicopters were the only thing stopping them in the first few hours. We released our payload, fired all our missiles and shells, returned to base to rearm and came back, again, again, and again. I was personally in the air for 12 out of the first 24 hours.

“I’ve been a fighter pilot for 25 years,” he says, “and I’ve never seen anything like this. Not in Lebanon, not in Protective Edge [in 2014]. Those terrorists were ready for us — they ambushed fighter planes with missiles and anti-aircraft weapons. Later when our ground forces showed up and fought like lions we supported them from the air: We fired at terrorists in kibbutzim, providing cover for our ground fighters and attacking nonstop. I never thought we would ever have to use live fire inside Israeli territory. You can all be very proud of my fellow pilots and our brothers fighting on the ground.”

I knew what war looked like. At least that’s what I thought until now. But I had never experienced so cruel a war. During training they always talked about a multifront war as some kind of far-off nightmare scenario. No one imagined that it would be Hamas — the band of terrorists with no real military capacity — who would make the nightmare a reality.

But at the end of the day, I take heart from seeing that our people haven’t lost their resolve.  I see the tens of thousands of reserve troops, policemen, medics, firefighters, and civilians fighting at the heart of the inferno. I see the hundreds of thousands of civilians who have jumped in to donate to the cause. I see the millions embracing, supporting, helping those in need. We’ve been terribly, deeply wounded, but our spirit is stronger than the blows we’ve absorbed.

Waiting for Answers

Shmuel Bugdari, Netivot
As told to Yaakov Lipszyc

I grew up in Sderot and then learned for several years in a certain Jerusalem yeshivah. Every year, the yeshivah organizes a Simchat Torah event in a different location, and this year, it happened to be in Netivot, so I was busy with the bochurim who’d come to the south to spread the joy of the Yom Tov. Although I’d grown up with air raid sirens since I was a kid, when the sirens went off early Yom Tov morning, we were all terrified — but because it was Yom Tov and Shabbos, we didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of what was happening. Later, we found out that many terrorists had been circling the area.

We heard sirens incessantly from around six in the morning, and eventually I decided to go to the nearest shul. By eight, though, I came back, because the missiles were raining down on my family, and these were not the occasional alarms we in Israel are unfortunately used to. We would enter the shelter, wait for a bit, and when we emerged, the alarm would sound again. We managed to daven Mussaf quickly, and there was no minyan for Minchah. Everyone was talking about armed terrorists roaming around in jeeps with sophisticated weapons.

This morning, a friend who works for the chevra kaddisha called me and said, “I need your help. Bring some yeshivah bochurim because we need help digging graves.” We were digging graves from two until five in the afternoon, when suddenly, I saw the name of a friend, his son, and his father-in-law. People I knew very well…. Unfortunately, many deaths haven’t been published yet, names will only start appearing in the next few days, and official numbers fall short. Until this afternoon, there were still bodies lying on the streets in some towns where the shooting was still going on.

Despite all the military explanations for the security failure, it really defies logic. They claim that the terrorists scrambled the surveillance system, “killed the guards,” but how can it be that terrorists continued to rampage for hours and no one stopped them until two or three in the afternoon? I was in a building that was on fire, and I was alone for 45 minutes with just a hose. The most I could do was spray water to prevent the gas tanks from exploding. But how is it possible that I was alone for 45 minutes trying to extinguish a fire with just a hose?

There is a lot of anger among the residents of Netivot. A religious person understands that everything comes from Hashem. We have emunah, but I was with other neighbors who are not religious, and they were saying, “What are we doing here? The country is falling apart!” There is a feeling that the country forgot about us. That they’ve been paying too much attention to all the disturbances in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, but didn’t think that right next to us, there are thousands of terrorists who could come out and wreak havoc like this. But the strangest thing is that, as everyone in Israel knows, if a terrorist dares to approach the border, he gets shot. They’ll release incendiary balloons with kerosene to start fires, but that’s as close as they’ll get. So what happened now? Everyone here feels entitled to a real explanation.


We Had to Celebrate

David Vaknin, Yeshiva Torat Chayim, Ofakim
As told to Yaakov Lipszyc

WE were at least 70 yeshivah students, plus a dozen or so other guests, and the evening celebration was beautiful. At six in the morning, we heard sirens and were instructed to go to a safe room, where we began to daven, oblivious to what was happening outside.

In the middle of the tefillah, soldiers arrived at the yeshivah and informed us that we couldn’t leave the building. That’s when we started hearing that there were already casualties on the streets. Rumors started circulating, but we weren’t entirely sure of the situation.

Less than 100 meters from where we were, gunshots could be heard. We knew we had to celebrate Simchat Torah, but we were also hearing sirens and shooting outside. It was a surreal experience, but we tried to create a joyful atmosphere for Yom Tov, to express gratitude to Hashem for what we could. Barricaded within the yeshivah walls, we had no idea that around the city, several dozen people had already been killed, many of them in firefights protecting their homes and families.

Days later, I relive the miracle, wondering how it’s possible that the terrorists didn’t reach us where we were — close to a hundred unarmed bochurim and avreichim. We only realized the extent of the miracle once Shabbat ended.

All I can do is continue to express gratitude to Hashem for the personal miracle I experienced and pray for a refuah for the injured and for the souls of the dead.


Minutes from a Slaughter

Rabbi Ze’ev Pizem, Sderot
As told to Yaakov Lipszyc


imchas Torah night was filled with joy — over 200 people dancing and rejoicing together — and no one could have anticipated what was about to unfold. By 6:30 the next morning, however, that joy was shattered by alarms, gunfire, and explosions, although, living in Sderot, we initially thought it might be within the realm of the usual incidents that can occur in this region. Even with such events, people still go to shul.

Soon though, information reached us advising us not to leave our homes as terrorists were roaming the city, shooting anyone they encountered. We were instructed to lock ourselves indoors, but now that we knew what had transpired, we were talking about numerous casualties, dozens if not hundreds in the city — men killed protecting their families and friends, fathers and sons murdered together in shootouts fending off the terrorists.

Today, they’ve begun to gather the bodies found on the streets, and it’s expected that the numbers will rise. The terrorists roamed throughout the city, making their initial stop at the newly constructed police headquarters where they went on a murder spree. In the end, the security forces had to destroy the building in order to neutralize the terrorists, and even now, as we speak, we’re being told to stay indoors because there are suspicions that there may still be terrorists hidden in the city.

On Simchas Torah, it was forbidden to venture outside, but around noon, I saw a group of soldiers patrolling, and I asked if I could approach the nearby Beis Chabad. They agreed, and when I entered, I encountered nine Jews who had sought refuge there. By Hashgachah pratis, I arrived and we completed a minyan, conducted a proper Yom Tov davening, and even made hakafos.

Practically everyone who has family elsewhere has left Sderot. The city is now semi-deserted. I personally assisted families wanting to leave in finding temporary shelter elsewhere in the country. Sderot has seen its share of trouble, but never has there been a situation where armed terrorists are roaming the city, shooting indiscriminately and entering private homes in order to kill.

There’s a family I know who assessed their situation and deemed it so dangerous that they left the city in their car in the middle of Shabbos. Later, they saw through security cameras that just minutes after they left, armed terrorists entered their home. If they’d still been home, it would have been a slaughter.

Rescue Under Fire

Yonatan Sim Shalom, Yeshivat Magen Israel, Netivot
As told to Yaakov Lipszyc

WEcelebrated Simchat Torah in the yeshivah building, and as early as 6 a.m., we began hearing missiles, alarms, explosions, and gunfire. While it’s common to hear alarms occasionally in this area, we quickly realized that armed terrorists were roaming the streets. Looking back, I must say there was a lot of nervous tension among the yeshivah students. We were locked inside the building, and everyone gathered in the shelter. Around noon, we heard a very loud explosion; a missile had landed nearby. We went out to see what was happening and found three seriously injured individuals with no one coming to their aid. Some of the students, who are part of Hatzolah, went out to provide assistance and got them off to the hospital. Others started checking for more casualties in the vicinity because we understood that there were no available ambulances. Those fellows were especially brave, as we knew it meant rescue under fire.


Miracles Amid the Chaos

Bat-El Cybilia,  Ofakim
As told to Yaakov Lipszyc

When the sirens started blaring around 6 a.m., we hurried into the shelter. It’s not so uncommon in this region, so my husband initially went to the beit knesset, but by around eight, he returned, and we all stayed together in the shelter. We didn’t fully grasp the extent of what was happening, but our neighborhood is a mix of religious and nonreligious residents, so there was a certain relief knowing we were close to people who might have firearms. By the end of the day, we learned more about what had happened, and two miracles hit close to home. The first was with my aunt, who hid inside a closet in the shelter, and when she emerged around 8 p.m., she found her house destroyed, riddled with gunfire, and a grenade had exploded against the gas tanks. The second involved family friends who were taken hostage and held captive in their home until the evening when security forces rescued them, although a soldier died in that operation. They shared that one of the terrorists had a map of Ofakim on him — they knew exactly where the shuls were because they were marked on the map.


Pervasive Panic

Mendy Kurant,  Kiryat Gat
As told to Yaakov Lipszyc

IN the morning, we heard the sirens, but we still went to shul. That didn’t last long, though, because the soldiers soon evacuated us, informing us that terrorists were roaming the streets. We didn’t realize the extent of the travesty then, and our priority was to organize a minyan. A relative managed to obtain a sefer Torah, so we felt fortunate. As time passed though, the situation worsened. At one point, I looked out the window and saw that my neighbor had changed into his army uniform and hopped into one of the cars circulating to pick up reservists. And then missiles started falling — one of them landing in an apartment that, baruch Hashem, was vacant. We’re more than 30 kilometers from Gaza, but still, just a few meters away, they caught two terrorists attempting to hide here, and there were several casualties and injuries. Now, like never before, there’s a pervasive sense of panic among all of us living here. I can only implore the government to do everything in its power to eradicate Hamas and Islamic Jihad.


Unexpected Kiddush

Peri Deitsch Mabuim

MY husband and I are shluchim in Mabuim, one of 16 moshavim in the circle between Netivot and Ofakim. Although our moshav isn’t religious per se, many of the families here are traditional and appreciate the Yom Tov culture. We’d planned morning hakafos, a huge Simchas Torah kiddush, plus a seudah for several dozen people, but early in the morning, when we were on lockdown, we realized none of that would materialize. And before we knew it, the army had turned the huge regional sports field just across the street from us into a makeshift field hospital for the hundreds — thousands — of wounded who couldn’t get initial treatment in the hospitals due to the overflow. All day long, helicopters were flying overhead and landing virtually in our backyard, dropping off casualties.

And then they came — dozens of escapees from the all-night “nature” rave not too far from us where the massacre began, young people who’d witnessed hundreds being shot and slaughtered by brutal terrorists. They’d heard there were some available homes in Mabuim where they could hide out, and these traumatized young people, not knowing if the terrorists were still pursuing their cars, dashed into the safe houses and barricaded themselves inside. For us, at least, now we knew what we could do with all the food we’d prepared. So we gently knocked on the door and offered them a Yom Tov seudah.

How Bad Could It Be?

Ariel Gold, Ofakim
As told to Yaakov Lipszyc

MY in-laws are part of the chareidi community founded by Rav Shimshon Pincus ztz”l, and we often travel there from Jerusalem to celebrate Yom Tov with them.

Coming off the high of the special night hakafos, when the alarms went off at 6:30 the next morning, honestly, we didn’t think it would be so terrible. Those living in the area unfortunately are accustomed to hearing sirens from time to time, so we still went to shul. Davening started out like regular, but soon we began hearing rumors. In time we would learn of the horror taking place, but in the moment, we understood that the only thing we could do was combat fear with more emunah.

I remember that when the chassan Bereishis ascended, an alarm went off, and we just started singing louder… and just a few minutes later, they locked the shul. Just then, a missile landed a few meters from the building, followed by sirens, gunfire, and more missiles. When we returned home, we heard that some families were being held hostage. It became clear very fast — and even once we secured a spot in a return vehicle — that all we have left is to trust in Hashem.


Dancing under Fire

Rabbi David Fendel, Sderot
As told to Gedalia Guttentag


aving davened vasikin with hundreds of bochurim in Yeshivat Hesder of Sderot, we were just beginning Hallel when the first rocket landed on Sderot, which is a very short distance from Gaza.

One of the bochurim who’s a trained medic ran to see what aid he could give, but then he came back in with a shocking report. There was a jeep with Arab license plates in the streets, he reported, and the men inside fired at him.

I thought it was impossible that Hamas had gotten into the town, but we sent out some of our bochurim to check. We were fortunate that we had a group who’d come back from their Hesder unit and so were armed. They engaged the terrorists and killed one of them, and then they spread out around the yeshivah’s large campus to defend it.

Then we got a call for medics, and 15 guys ran out to help. Not all were soldiers: one was an 18-year-old from high school. He came back traumatized, having seen 14 bodies.

The terrorists’ target was Sderot’s police station, not far from the yeshivah, and one of our rabbis who’s a medic then went out to the area where the terrorists were. By the time he got there, there was a Hamas sniper positioned on one of the rooftops who’d already killed lots of people in the street. The rabbi was shot in the foot. It took an hour and a half before he was able to drag himself away.

By that time, we began to realize how severe this was. What we didn’t know was that Sderot wasn’t the only place Hamas had infiltrated.

Realizing we were under attack, we directed the armed Hesder soldiers to take different positions on the perimeter of the yeshivah campus, but given the campus’s size, we were still vulnerable, and I had to beg the army to leave some soldiers with us.

Inside the beis medrash, we held what turned out to be the only hakafos in the whole town. It felt like we represented the whole of Sderot, so this was no ordinary dancing. We sang songs such as “Hoshia es Amecha,” and finished most of Sefer Tehillim. It was unbelievable that almost every line by David Hamelech from thousands of years ago felt so appropriate to our situation.

My father learned in Torah Vodaath back in its early days, and during those fraught hours, I told the bochurim a story that he often retells. It was Simchas Torah 1940, and the bochurim were dancing when someone rapped on the table and shouted, “How can you sing when Jews are being murdered?”

There was a 30-second silence and no one moved until the rosh yeshivah responded, “Af al pi kein! Torah must go on.”

All of that time, with Sderot under attack, my wife and five grandchildren were in our apartment, out of contact with the yeshivah. I received many calls from parents desperately trying to find out what had happened to their sons.

Our Tehillim continued until 3:45 p.m., when we had Minchah, a shiur and Seudah Shlishis, and only as the chag went out did we begin to receive news reports of the full horror of what had gone on beyond our yeshivah.

After Yom Tov, I made sure that every single one of the bochurim made it out safely, although there were still gun battles in the area. Now the yeshivah, which normally holds hundreds, sits empty.

However bad things were in Sderot, it was far worse in the surrounding kibbutzim, where Hamas terrorists had gone house to house, slaughtering men and capturing women and children. People were crying out, “Where is the army, the air force, what happened to our intelligence?”

The way I see it, the events of this Simchas Torah were the result of the dreadful crime of the expulsion from Gush Katif 16 years ago. A proper response is to make sure that these terrorists don’t win, and to bring back learning and Jewish life to the town, to rebuild the destroyed yishuvim of Gush Katif.

The internal political strife that we saw before Simchas Torah was about things that are so meaningless and petty. Now it’s time to reunite Israeli society from its terrible divisions.


On the Other Side of the Door

Esther, Central Israel
As told to Rochel Samet


an experience you can’t put into words.

As a social worker, I hear about challenges and traumas on a regular basis. But those are tempered by the triumphs, the achievements, the healing, the hope.

When it comes to a tragedy, though, there’s nothing left but to sit with the person and the pain.

Breaking the worst news of all to a family is the job nobody ever wants to do. Who wants to stand outside a door, hear the sounds of a regular happy family living a regular life, and shatter their worlds forever?

IT is Motzaei Shabbos, Motzaei Simchas Torah. Israel is in turmoil. Rockets, sirens, horrifying news, and even more horrifying images are bombarding our ears and eyes. A nonstop volley of missiles straight to the heart.

I am manning the emergency response line for my social work team; it’s a routine job on a night that is nothing but routine. A call comes in from the south: a son was murdered in his home, and the parents who live in our town must be informed.

In Israel, breaking such news has an official protocol, a step-by-step plan — as if there’s a way to cushion the worst news imaginable. As if anything can make death sound more palatable.

According to protocol, I visit the family along with representatives of the police. The police are the ones to break the news, to say the words. It’s important that they state it outright: “Hu nirtzach — he was killed.” There should be no room for doubt or questions or uncertainty.

The police representative then offers to share details. The family wants to hear more and at the same time they want to hear nothing at all. I stand to one side, there to support in a space where no support can ever be enough.

This family turns to each other. They are a large family, warm and connected, and they are all in this together. They are traumatized and shaken and they ask again for details: How was the body found, does anyone know what exactly happened? Then the mother stops us; she doesn’t want to know, doesn’t want to hear. How much can a mother bear?

We speak to the family for a few more minutes. Do they have plans for a burial? Do they need any specific support or resources? Usually I, or another social worker, will stay with the family longer. We’ll accompany them to the levayah, and stay to provide whatever solace we can simply by being there, holding the pain.

But right now, there are hundreds of families who need our services. There are nowhere near enough social workers for the wave of heartbreak, for the depths of the trauma and agony. The next family is waiting.

IT is nearing midnight and the phone is ringing again. A child has been found dead, his parent is in critical condition, the relatives need to hear. We gather our strength, make the drive, and face yet another door — yet another home about to be shattered.

So many broken hearts.

Broken families.

And we, the newsbearers, with our scripts and our stoicism and our support and our strength — we are broken, too.


Hungry Babies

Shoshana Friedman, Jerusalem

IT’Salmost 2 a.m. and I’m still up at the computer. Ostensibly working, but if I’m honest with myself, I can go to sleep now and get the work done tomorrow.

Really I’m searching. Like many of us 21st-century purveyors of news, I’m looking for that image or quote or story that will make all this nightmare – this surreal news – feel more real. I know that in homes across the world, other people engaged in this same maddening but addictive pursuit. Reading, clicking, scrolling, opening. Taking in numbers, names, faces, facts. Gulping hard but continuing. Waiting for the barrier inside to come down.

It’s not that we don’t feel, or that we don’t connect. It’s not that we don’t have a slideshow of beautiful faces running through our minds at all times. We do, of course we do. When it’s time to daven we do so fervently. We keep our lists of soldiers in our siddurim and pull them out during Shemoneh Esreh. We say our assigned Tehillim. We pick a kabbalah and try to make it stick. And again we check the numbers of dead and wounded– they keep rising, Hashem! – and swallow again and get back to what has become life.

Life is busy – there’s laundry and dishes and bedtimes to deal with amid the flood of horrifying news. There are lists to check off and work to deal with and people to worry about. At some point it’s just so consuming that we drop the routine of look-listen-scroll-click. Too much has to happen.

And then it comes, an innocent email in the downpour of emails that keeps flooding my inbox – Tehillim initiatives and blood drives and tefillah gatherings and food collections for soldiers – beautiful, blessed emails that show the loving spirit of our people.

Only now I’m not looking for it anymore. I’m doing my best to move from editing task to editing task, to finish processing the material for this magazine that can never and will never come close to encapsulating the events of the last two days.

The email says:

Magen David Adom is looking for donations of mother’s milk (babies whose mothers aren’t available to give milk, for the whole slew of reasons we’re unfortunately dealing with). 

Info below…

Can you please forward to any young mothers you know who may be able to contribute?

I have work to do and files to finalize and changes to input and material to process and here I am crying at the thought of babies whose mothers have been snatched away to hospital ERs or Gazan tunnels or makeshift morgues. Babies with empty tummies and lusty cries. Babies who are waiting, waiting, waiting to be nurtured, to be embraced, by that parent who can fill their stomachs and their hearts and their worlds with the security and love and peace that we’re all craving.



Avi Blum, Esq. Rechovot

AT 6:30 on Simchas Torah morning, sirens jolted us out of our sleep and instantly shattered the holiday atmosphere. None of us could have imagined that this was only a preview of one of the blackest days in the country’s history.

Waking up the children and running downstairs to the bomb shelter is never fun, but it’s just a fact of life in the southern half of the country. After a few minutes, you can emerge and try to sooth terrified little ones.

But this time, it was clear that something much bigger was unfolding. For two and half uninterrupted hours, sirens wailed and the sound of impacts reverberated through my city, which is not far from the south. The walls shook and the windows rattled in a mock Simchas Torah dance.

During a temporary lull, we went up to the roof and saw the flames from impact sites. Clouds of smoke rose from the southern horizon.

Am Yisrael walked into the Simchas Torah War one step at a time, and the scale of the tragedy became clearer by the minute. At 9:30, civilians were instructed to shelter in their homes, but the complete breakdown of the security system prevented the police from informing Shabbos observers via loudspeaker to take shelter in their homes. Neighbors called from windows to the handful of mispallelim in the empty streets, urging them to take shelter from the threat of infiltrations and kidnappings.

At 10 a.m., we began seeing soldiers in uniform leaving their houses and getting into their cars — a young neighbor whose parents live abroad, the shul’s baal korei, all received the urgent order to report for duty. It was unbearable, spending the rest of Yom Tov in a fog of uncertainty with increasingly panicked children and eating a listless seudah in the bomb shelter. But over the course of the day, as reports from emergency responders came in, we began to realize that residents of the Gaza Envelope were experiencing an entirely different magnitude of horror.

Only on Motzaei Shabbos did we learn of the hellish Simchas Torah that Gaza Envelope residents were enduring. What I heard by phone from relatives in Ofakim and friends in Sderot — who had been besieged in their homes since morning — was unimaginable. They recounted watching Hamas terrorists storm through their streets in scenes that brought back memories of ISIS, and explained that even then, over a dozen hours later, they were still locked up in their homes.

“This isn’t a ‘terror attack’” my friend explained to me with a mix of terror and despair. “Since morning, we’ve been under the occupation of Hamas.”

I write these lines after 48 sleepless hours, and not just because of the endless sirens. Our eyes refuse to believe the sights of Jewish children, women, and the elderly being paraded through Gaza streets, like the Jewish prisoners of the Romans described by Chazal. The Simchas Torah War, which started 50 years and 12 days after the Yom Kippur War, is reminiscent of that historic onslaught in so many ways. The IDF’s doctrine of reliance on overwhelming superiority to deter Arab foes and an impenetrable defensive barrier — then the Bar Lev Line, now the Gaza security fence — was identical to what happened almost exactly 50 years later.

The voices of women and children, moments before being massacred or kidnapped, brought back the despairing voices of beleaguered IDF soldiers during the Yom Kippur War. But the scale of today’s intelligence failure is even more shocking. Then, Israel’s leaders ignored repeated warnings from its intelligence services. In the current catastrophe, thousands of Gazans from Hamas and other terrorist organizations planned the attack for months, and no one in the intelligence apparatus knew a thing.

The contrast between the tough words from our political and military leaders and the situation on the ground was even starker this time. Because this time, the IDF collapsed not in the face of an organized offensive by Egypt and Syria, but against Hamas in Gaza, the puniest of our foes and the feeblest tentacle of the Iranian octopus.

But in one respect — the way this fight has touched the Israeli public — the horrific events of Simchas Torah 5784 can’t be compared to any of the wars Israel has known in its 75 years.

The images of children being humiliated in Gaza, of girls led like lambs to the slaughter, of refrigerated trucks taking away the bodies, calls to mind images from Europe’s blood lands in the last century. This time, the documentation comes not from black-and-white photos made public only after the war, but in the middle of the action, in the form of social media clips released by Hamas as part of a psychological offensive that has only begun.

AS of this writing — with blood still flowing in the streets, the death toll incomplete — it’s too early to predict the future. During the cabinet meeting on Motzaei Shabbos, the possibility was discussed that a large-scale offensive in Gaza would lead to Hezbollah joining the fray, resulting in a two-front war.

No counteroffensive will erase the memories of this day. Only the final toppling of Hamas — like last decade’s annihilation of ISIS — could redeem some of Israel’s trampled honor.

But what we do know already is that the defensive doctrine so soundly discredited by the disaster had an author. True, the security establishment led the way, but the one who implemented the doctrine over the past two decades is Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

The strategic doctrine of containing the murderous Hamas foe and keeping the conflict on a low burner from round to round is his responsibility alone, and is what enabled Hamas to become so powerful.

This isn’t the time for accountability, though. This is the time to unite in our pain. It’s hard to believe what we were fighting over so bitterly even as our enemies were meticulously planning the Simchas Torah massacre.

Whoever and wherever you are, pick up a sefer of Tehillim and say a kapitel for the south and the kidnapped in Gaza. Because at this stage there can be only one conclusion: We have no one to rely on but our Father in Heaven.


Far From Home

By Gedalia Guttentag


ar in Israel… tanks from Gaza… captives… hundreds dead.” The hallucinatory announcement at the front of a Golders Green shul late on Shemini Atzeres afternoon is hardly intelligible by the time it passes further down the line, but the gist is dreadfully clear: Hours after we’d sat discussing the colossal intelligence failures that led to the Yom Kippur War, it’s apparent that lightning has struck for a second time.

Running to a bomb shelter in Israel is bad — but as I discovered, so is spending an agonizing Yom Tov Sheini in London, while you know that your home is under attack.

Like many of the locals, I understood the outlines of what a variety of non-Jewish security guards posted outside the area’s shuls were telling us. This time was no mere duel of Iron Dome versus Kassam, but something far worse. Armed killers were stalking Israel’s streets and highways, and the army was MIA.

But unlike many others, I had a far more vivid sense of what the words meant. Having spent time reporting from Sderot under fire and from the kibbutzim of the Gaza border region, I could envision the roads, communities, and faces of those suffering Gehinnom on earth.

Before my eyes danced a vision of the last row of houses in Netiv Ha’Asara, with the Hamas lookout post looming threateningly over the border wall. I wondered what had happened to the sophisticated defenses and automatic cannons that the attackers had somehow overcome. In my mind echoed the thump-thump of mortar rounds being fired into the sea from Gaza as Hamas practiced for the stunning breakout they’d now pulled off. I remembered the tough families — some secular, some religious — who refused to leave the area, filled with a mix of faith and stubbornness.

Experiencing it all from thousands of miles away, I was left with a sense of utter powerlessness, only relieved by recourse to a Sefer Tehillim.

Sometime during Simchas Torah morning, I had one of those moments of clarity that only an outsider can trigger, that brought into focus the unique compartmentalization that a Torah life demands.

Walking out of a local shul, I saw a non-Jew gazing at the building where the hakafos — more muted than normal, but still joyous — were underway.

I asked if he needed help, and he replied with a question of his own. “What’s going on in there?” he asked. “Do you know what’s happening in Israel?”

David, as the white-haired man in his 70s was called, was pro-Israel — having visited the Holy Land the year before — and concerned about Jews. There was no antagonism in his voice, only puzzlement. How could we celebrate on such a black day?

It’s a dilemma that rabbanim the world over must have thought about during the day, and arrived at different combinations of Tehillim and celebrations.

But how to explain what to an outsider is the unexplainable — that we were praying for their welfare, and that it wasn’t heartless to continue celebrating a festival while our co-religionists were murdered?

David and I parted ways after a few minutes, with his “God bless” ringing in my ears, and a sense of something more profound. True, there was no real way to explain the Jewish capacity to celebrate the Torah in all circumstances. But the fact that he so instinctively assumed that British Jews would be affected by the fate of their counterparts elsewhere was testament to the fact that even far from home, speaking different languages and living different lives, we remain one.


We’re Right Behind You

By Rachel Ginsberg


halom Klein, head of personnel for the 120 volunteers in Ichud Hatzolah’s northern Jerusalem region, can’t give too many details of what he and his fellow medics experienced when they took a convoy of Hatzolah ambulances down to the southern front – both for security reasons and to protect the dignity of the injured and the dead – but he did share some of what transpired over the 18 straight sleepless hours after Motzaei Yom Tov once he and his Hatzolah buddies headed for the front.

Klein, who was in the thick of battle right behind the Yamam special forces fighters during the most intense shootouts in order to rescue the wounded, says the IDF was so busy fending off the terrorists that they didn’t have the manpower or the number of ambulances necessary for the hundreds – eventually up to thousands – of civilians injured in the massacre.

The team had parked a convoy of ambulances outside the worst-hit communities, including Kibbutz Be’eri where terrorists were holding a dining room full of hostages.

“The fighting there was very difficult, because the army didn’t even know how many terrorists were inside,” Klein says. “There were so many critically injured, who were piled into army jeeps and driven to our stations – some of them would have never survived a ride in a jeep to the hospital. So they brought them to the gate, and one after another, our paramedics and the IDF’s paramedics worked together to put each injured person on the ground and make the triage very quickly. We had to decide who would get an ambulance, who could survive a ride in a private car, and who needed a helicopter.”

Klein says most of the injuries were gunshot wounds, and while there were some very bloody scenes with knife-wielding terrorists, those victims generally didn’t survive. Klein, as a longtime member of ZAKA, actually wears two hats, but this time he decided to put on the Hatzolah hat. “We had to make fast, lifesaving decisions, so we decided at this point not to deal with the kavod of the bodies, but with saving people who were still alive.”

His team, however, did spend several hours covering dozens of bodies that they found strewn outside some of the yishuvim – victims who were gunned down trying to escape the terror onslaught in their communities, or those who’d been forces out of their hiding places when the terrorists set their homes on fire.

It wasn’t an easy decision for Klein to go into the battlefield, performing rescue operations under live fire. “My wife wasn’t very happy about it,” he says. “She told me to ask my rebbe. So I went to my rebbe, the Sassover Rebbe, for advice. He told me, ‘If there is something you can do that no one else can do, you’re obligated to do it – and I bless you that you will go and come back in peace.’”

Klein is no stranger to gruesome terror attacks, but the sheer numbers during the first 24 hours of this war was something he’d never experienced. “I daven for my own chevreh, that they should not buckle to the personal trauma, but it’s not a simple thing. I don’t want to go into the details, in order to protect the dignity of the injured and deceased, but I will say that those terrorists yemach shemam came armed and prepared for a good time. They didn’t just come in for a quick shoot. They took extreme perverse pleasure in every minute of a Jew’s suffering, in inflicting maximum pain – they took their time to torture and kill.

“How have I dealt with all those sights? With a strong conviction: how much each of us has to never stop thanking Hashem for what we have, and never stop doing good things for others. That gives Hashem the greatest nachas.”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 981)

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