A damaged building at Kibbutz Kfar Aza (Photo/Courtesy Laura Lauder)
A damaged building at Kibbutz Kfar Aza (Photo/Courtesy Laura Lauder)

We cannot let the world forget, minimize or rationalize the Oct. 7 massacre

We went to bear witness. We went to offer comfort. We went so we could tell their stories.

On Oct. 7, Hamas broke a cease-fire that had largely held for two years and launched a series of grisly attacks on innocent civilians in two dozen communities in southern Israel. In a targeted, carefully planned assault, communities were systematically destroyed, entire families were wiped out, women were raped, bodies were maimed and infants were butchered in front of their parents, who were then executed. Hundreds of Israeli citizens and citizens of 30 other countries were taken hostage. The victims were mostly Jewish but also Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist.

Our obligation is to make certain that the world does not forget, minimize or rationalize away the worst mass execution of Jews since the Holocaust. That is why we agreed to represent the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund as part of a Jewish Federations of North America solidarity mission to Israel.

Between the two of us, we have been to Israel more than 200 times over the last 50 years, yet this was a trip unlike any other. There are prolonged moments of normalcy, but periodically we had to take cover from incoming missiles — once during a meeting on the 44th floor of an office tower, and another time while driving down the highway, where the safest thing you can do is lie flat on the ground.

We met Ronit, a woman who is a dispatcher for Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross. A phone call awoke her at 6:30 a.m. on Oct. 7. Her boss asked her to rush to work to answer the surge of calls. She needed to bring her two kids, ages 8 and 10, because at that hour she could not arrange child care. She set up her kids in the breakroom.

Her first caller was screaming, “I have been hit by shrapnel and so has my friend! Send help! Where are you?” Ronit dispatched someone, but the first ambulance driver on the scene was shot by Hamas terrorists. Magen David Adom was scrambling to deploy ambulances safely. All Ronit could say to the person on the other end of the line was, “We can’t get there” and “I understand.”

There is an indomitable spirit we felt from everyone: ‘We can handle this. We are Israeli. We will come out stronger.’

We met with Osnat from Kibbutz Nir Oz. She was born on the kibbutz. Her parents, who are now in the late 70s, founded it. Hamas took her parents, her sister and her 9-year-old nephew as hostages. Of the 400 residents on Nir Oz, about 40 were murdered and 80 were taken hostage.

Osnat broke down as she recalled that her nephew, Ohad Munder, cannot see without his glasses. She was a model of strength even as the pain and anxiety overwhelmed her. All we could do was express our heartfelt sympathy and our commitment to remember and rescue the hostages. (Osnat’s mother, sister and nephew — Ruth, Keren and Ohad Munder — were released Nov. 24 as part of the cease-fire deal. Her father, Abraham Munder, remains a hostage.)

We met with Michal from Kibbutz Be’eri, which was devastated by the attack. The survivors are living in a hotel at the Dead Sea. There they are trying to cope with the massive loss of life while attempting to create some sense of normalcy for their kids and themselves. They converted the hotel dining room into a school and a courtyard into a preschool. Whole families live in one room, where each day they contemplate how they will reassemble their lives.

The trauma created by Hamas — a genocidal, antisemitic group — affects everyone in Israel. Yet the resilience of the Israeli people is astounding. We met volunteers running a pop-up compassion center in Jerusalem offering food, clothing and mental and physical support. They serve refugees, more than 200,000 of whom fled Israeli border towns with nothing. They are sheltering in houses or hotels scattered across the country. And there is an indomitable spirit we felt from everyone with whom we met: “We can handle this. We are Israeli. We will come out stronger.”

One truly remarkable sentiment was how many people asked us how we were. They feared for our well-being as they hear about rising antisemitism coursing through the proverbial veins of American society.

It was a moving, ubiquitous demonstration of compassion, which typifies the Israeli people even in their moment of deep national trauma. In either case of hatred directed against Jews, across the globe or in the Bay Area, silence is not an option. We must speak up and speak out.

 The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.

Barry Cohn

Barry Cohn is a board member of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.

Guy Miasnik

Guy Miasnik is a board member of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.