By Leah Garber
On Saturday, October 7, at 9:27 a.m. Roni Eshel wrote to her mother, Sharon: “Hey mom, I’m fine, I’m on duty, don’t worry, I love you.” Sharon replied: “I love you too, let me know what’s happening.” This was the last communication anyone had with Roni. Three weeks have passed since that last text, and the family has had no news. Was she kidnapped? Killed? Injured? Roni and five other soldiers from her unit are listed as missing, leaving six families in the dark.
Twenty-three-year-old Shani Lok was kidnapped from the Nova festival on October 7. In video footage released by the terrorists themselves, Lok is seen being brutally dragged into the terrorists’ van and abused while unconscious. Yesterday, came the knock at the door every Israeli fears. It brought news of Shani’s death, based on identification of a bone from the base of the skull—the DNA of which matches Shani’s. Experts determined that a person cannot not live without this bone, and therefore concluded that she is dead. Shani’s parents sent a lovely girl to a music festival, where she was killed in the most brutal way, and now they can’t even bring her body home for burial. Instead, they have only a single piece of bone. That’s it.
Nine-year-old Tamar from Ashdod was in a completely different situation. A little girl, surrounded by her loving family, rushed with them to their home shelter when the sirens sounded. Sadly, this was one siren too many for the nine-year-old’s gentle, innocent heart. Unable to stand the anxiety, she suffered a severe heart attack. Although she and her doctors fought for her life for a week, Tamar died yesterday.
Three souls lost: a soldier who knew she was serving in a dangerous position and, nevertheless, wore the army uniform with pride; a little girl who dreamed of being a soldier when she grew up; and a young woman brutally murdered while enjoying a music festival. This is the Israeli reality—anxiety, pain, grief, and loss inexorably intertwined. We are all bound up in this tragedy together.
It has been 24 days, and the Sisyphean task to identify victims continues. The number of abductees is updated daily and now stands at 239, including 30 children and 10 elderly people. The uncertainty is ongoing, too. Like Roni Eshel’s parents, many others have been waiting through 24 long days and nights—with a glimmer of hope—for information about the fate of their loved ones. There are so many families in pain. In this video, Yoni Goodman, Israel’s leading animator, tells the story of Renana Gome’s two sons, Or, 16, and Yagil, 12, who were kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz and taken to Gaza. And yet, as I write this, hope remains—Private Ori Megedish was reunited safely with her family, the result of heroic actions by the IDF.
This alarming threat, perhaps the most significant one Jewish communities in North America have known in recent years, is based on classic antisemitism under the twisted guise of human rights. What about the rights of the Jewish people and Israel? Does Shani Lok, whose only evidence of death is a bone fragment from her skull, have no rights? Has the world gone mad?
The monster that raised its head on October 7 has several heads. One is now carrying out its plot overseas, through the media, in the shadow of academia, and in the name of free speech. The fire-breathing dragon consumed more than 1,400 people, injured thousands, and kidnapped 239. The fire is now spreading to Jewish communities worldwide. The war has come to you.
What will reverse the blindness that has overtaken the hypocritical, seekers of “equal rights?” What will open their eyes to see that their passionate protests should be against murderers, terrorists, and evil—and not the other way around? Can we begin to understand how these stormy antisemitic waves shatter the standards of morality or from the depths of which black ocean they arose?
Maybe this testimony from Mosab Hassan Yousef, a Palestinian who worked undercover for Israel’s internal security service, Shin Bet, and is the son of a Hamas leader, will reverse this blindness. Mosab’s doubts about Islam and Hamas began forming when he realized Hamas’s brutality and the cynical manner in which they use their own people as human shields.
Perhaps this incredibly moving and important video recorded by Mayim Bialik, the Jewish American actress who played Amy Farrah Fowler on “The Big Bang Theory,” will shine a light on those perpetrating abyssal waves of hatred?
We have one homeland that is tiny compared to other countries. We made concessions and gave land, water, natural resources, and everything necessary to live in peace with our neighbors. In return, we are on the receiving end of violence, death, destruction, and unmitigated evil.
John Lennon described a world without wars. Imagine how Gaza could flourish without Hamas and without terrorism. Imagine our lives in Israel if the border between us and our neighbors was one of peace. Imagine your own communities without the threat of hatred and antisemitism. Imagine a perfect world.
Together, united, we will overcome.
Leah Garber is a senior vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.