By Leah Garber
I have never experienced the pain, frustration, fear, or sorrow that I feel today—and will continue to feel in the coming days. I am constantly on the brink of tears, which spill over every now and then—when our little grandchildren are not around.
After a short, disturbed night’s sleep, we woke to the intensity of the disaster, which is slowly becoming clearer. The concept of “at least” before the number of dead is unbearable. As I write these lines, we are mourning the murder of more than 600 Israelis and praying for the recovery of more than 2,000 wounded, including several hundred who are seriously wounded.
The abduction of 100 civilians and soldiers into Gaza is shocking, and the fear of what will happen to them is unrelenting. Among the captives are dozens of American tourists and Thais who work in greenhouses near the border, as well as citizens of Great Britain, Germany, and Russia. Many had gathered to participate in a special outdoor party with thousands of others—a party that turned into a bleeding battlefield.
Adi Koplon was taken from her home with her four-year-old child and her one-and-a-half-year-old toddler. The children were abandoned at the border, and she was dragged into Gaza. Soldier Liri Elbag had completed an observation course, and just last week, was stationed in Nahal Oz. Twenty-three soldiers from her unit were killed; she was dragged into Gaza. Eighty-five-year-old Ypa Adar was photographed next to armed terrorists on the way to Gaza. Yoni Asher saw footage of his wife and their two daughters, three and five years old, along with the girls’ grandmother on one of the videos Hamas released on social media.
Now that some of the names of the murdered have been published, we see their faces—their smiles, their kind, innocent gazes, reflecting their dreams, the lives they sought, their love. Now, we see only shattered hopes in their faces—victims of hate and destruction. What an unbelievable slaughter of innocents. Theirs are the 600 faces of war. Noa Argamani was among those kidnapped from the outdoor party along with her boyfriend’s brother. The horror on her face will forever be engraved in our collective memory. And what about all those whose fate is still unknown? Are they alive? Injured? Kidnapped?
The stories of the terrorists’ brutality and the atrocities they themselves photographed percolate. Ofir Libstein, the mayor of a community near the border, was among the victims. Not long ago, Ofir hosted a JCC Association leadership delegation. Together with him, we stood overlooking Gaza as he told us of his lifelong project—to build a large industrial area so that Palestinians who cross daily from Gaza into Israel could make a decent living. Ofir dreamed of coexistence, of living in peace and brotherhood. He was killed yesterday in his home in a kibbutz near the border.
Thirty police officers were slaughtered in Sderot’s police station. Or, Tal, and Ruthi, a family of three were killed in their home. Elhanan, whose parents I know well, fought fiercely and was killed—just as his uncle and cousin were killed by terrorists a few years ago.
These are just a few of the names of Israelis whose lives have been stolen from them. Even if our eyes cannot believe what we see, and our ears refuse to believe what we hear, the weight of the pain, the grief, pulls us down into the blackness of our new reality.
Four of our daughters and our grandchildren are staying with us while their husbands and fathers—our sons-in-law—are in the army. Earlier today, the children all said a prayer together. Not really understanding what’s happening but sensing the atmosphere, seven-year-old Shaked asked if she should save her dad some pasta from lunch—the naivete of childhood in the face of war.
As if staying back with the little ones while worrying for their husbands is not enough, our daughters, feeling they must do something, sent out WhatsApp messages to the residents of our community, telling them we are collecting toys to share with the kids in the south who escaped home with only their clothes. A few hours later, our empty boxes overflowed with toys. When we can, we will head south to distribute them to the children whose childhood has been stolen from them. Maybe, just maybe, a teddy bear will put a smile on their faces…
Leah Garber is a senior vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.