Inset: Nitza Agam in 1973 (Photo/Courtesy Agam). Background: Israeli tanks cruise through the desert during the Yom Kippur War. (Photo/IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Inset: Nitza Agam in 1973 (Photo/Courtesy Agam). Background: Israeli tanks cruise through the desert during the Yom Kippur War. (Photo/IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

It took 50 years to process the last loss. I don’t have another 50.

We have been barraged by so many images and so many stories coming out of Israel since Oct. 7. But the one that stands out for me is the image of young people running at the Nova music festival.

It takes a few seconds to realize that they are running for their lives, pursued by bullets and terrorists. They are wearing ponchos, sandals and summer clothes, all of them young. I thought to myself: Here we are again, Jews fleeing in horror and running for their lives.

During the Holocaust, they ran through forests and neighborhoods. They hid in cellars and attics. And now these young Israelis were trying to find a bush, a tree, a car — anything that could provide shelter. They faced yet another relentless enemy determined to kill them. They were shot in the legs to stop them from running and then riddled with bullets. One begged from the protection of just a car tire to no avail — to be shot over and over again.

Recently, I visited Germany and took a walk in a forest. I thought nothing of it at first. But once I was inside the silent forest, I felt uneasy. I felt the spirits of my German Jewish ancestors hiding in the trees. This was not a friendly forest, and I couldn’t appreciate its beauty. It felt ominous with the inherited memory I have from my father who escaped Berlin in 1933.

Germany is full of memorials to Jews. Walking through a neighborhood, one comes across the  Stolpersteine, or memorial stones, that mark the homes of Holocaust victims and survivors. Memory and ghosts were part of my visit.

We may vary on our political stances and views of Israel and Palestine. As Jews, we have different stories about our families or time spent in the Jewish state.

Fifty years ago, I sat in a bunker during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and pleaded with God for my fiance to live through the war. That prayer was not answered. He, along with many other Israelis, were killed during that first week of the war. He was 25 and I was 22.

The man who later became my husband was wounded during the Yom Kippur War, and his scar still needs treatment every so often because it could easily rupture. The physical scar is a metaphor for the emotional one that never really goes away.

Later, my sons sat in bunkers in Beersheva when they studied at Ben-Gurion University as missiles zoomed overhead on an often-nightly basis.

I think of my father’s parents, who left Austria and Poland for Germany to seek a better life. I think of my father who left Berlin to escape the Nazis and arrived in Palestine in 1933. I think of my parents who then immigrated to New Jersey in the 1950s. I think of myself who left New Jersey to immigrate to Israel and then to San Francisco in the 1970s. My story is not different from those of many other American or Israeli Jews.

We are immigrants seeking a better life, seeking a place to live. And here we are again, at a new horrific juncture in our Jewish history.

It will take generations of healing for Israelis to recover from this slaughter, the immense loss of lives, their children, parents, siblings and friends, sometimes killed in front of them or as they watched hiding behind a bush. We imagine that if anything like this happened to us as American Jews — as it did in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018 — our lives would seem over.

How could we live with the reality of our children, friends or parents as hostages in Gaza? Could we withstand the loss of a parent and a child or all our children as Israelis have since Oct. 7? I know I could not. It took 50 years to process the last loss. I don’t have another 50.

Nitza Agam (Photo/Courtesy Agam)
Nitza Agam

Nitza Agam is a writer and Jewish educator. Her most recent publication is titled "The Lemon Tree: Artists’ and Writers' Personal Journeys of Creativity" (Boss Lady Press, 2022). She lives in Daly City.