By Leah Garber
I love books, stories, tales. We all know that every story has a beginning, middle, and end. The plot is gradually interwoven, built from chapter to chapter, with each chapter playing an important and meaningful role, like puzzle pieces that, together, create a complete picture.
The story that begins on October 7 has a naïve, rather usual beginning, with a dramatic, surprising second chapter that throws the reader straight into the depths of its horrifying plot.
This is a story that began on the evening of October 6 when families in the south of Israel gathered to celebrate the last day of the holiday of Sukkot and rejoice in the holiday of Simchat Torah. The weather was wonderful—the end of summer, the scent of vacation and certainly of freedom was in the air along with migratory birds that colored the sky, carrying on their wings dreams of distant lands.
For many others, thousands of them, the evening of October 6 was the beginning of a music nature festival in one of the beautiful forests near Kibbutz Re’im. People gathered from all over Israel—young, beautiful, happy, and kind-hearted—excited to sing and dance all night and celebrate the end of the holiday season and the return to routine.
This story was supposed to end on October 7, when the participants of the Nova festival would make their way back home, tired, but happy, full of wonderful experiences. The families who gathered to celebrate the holiday in the kibbutzim and cities of the south were supposed to pack leftover food in boxes, collect toys scattered by children, say goodbye to their many guests, and plan the next family gathering.
But then came a twist in the plot: Hamas had a different script, a script of terror.
And so, the promising, innocent story of the holiday weekend turned into a tale of horror, whose heroes are slaughtered children, murdered babies, young people with severed limbs, lost lives. It is an illusory, unimaginable reality that cannot be contained. It is a reality in which children are abducted from their beds, uprooted from their parents, loaded onto motorcycles that are driven madly toward the mouth of the predator, into the dark, into the guts of a monster. A monster was not supposed to appear in any chapter of the story that started so beautifully, but another author took over and wrote different chapters with a pen dipped in blood.
In the newly added pages, 13-year-old Yagil Yaakov begs for his life, pleading for the heartless terrorists to spare him, as he is still so young. But they had no mercy for Yagil, nor for his brother, Or. Both were kidnapped along with their father and his wife. The brothers’ mother heard Yagil’s plea on the open phone that recorded the moments of horror.
The terrorists didn’t show any mercy when the family made an urgent request to the Red Cross, informing them that Yagil suffers from a severe peanut allergy and is at high risk of fatal anaphylactic reactions. Their hearts remained sealed, and of course, the Red Cross did not fulfill its obligation to visit Yagil and ensure he was well.
Remember the beginning of the story? Let me remind you. In one chapter, an extended family looks forward to a holiday together at Grandma’s house. Dad, mom, and sweet twins, along with other family members. What a wonderful day ahead.
So much for the original script. In this new script, Yuli and Emma Kunio, sweet 3-year-old twins, were kidnapped together with their parents, their Aunt Danielle, and their cousin, 6-year-old Amelia. This video records the moment of horror. They were held by Hamas murderers. A few days ago their aunt and little Amelia returned to Israel, and last night the twins and their mom returned as well. Dad was left behind.
All the dads were left behind. Yagil and Or’s dad. Yuli and Emma’s dad. Sahar and Erez’s dad. And 12-year-old Eitan Yahalomi’s dad. The terrorists kidnapped Eitan on one motorcycle and took his mother and two sisters on another one. When their motorcycle fell, Eitan’s mom and sisters managed to escape—in their pajamas and barefoot, they headed back toward the kibbutz fields and thus were saved. Eitan wasn’t so lucky. Today he began sharing with his family about the 52 days he was held in captivity. As if it wasn’t enough to be separated from his family and a captive child, he was beaten by his captors and forced to watch videos that documented the horrors of the massacre.
So many other fathers also are apart from their children—not knowing what the continuation of their terrible story will be, what the storyline holds for them, or whether daylight, their families, or life itself will appear in the last chapter.
The original story was written in an Israeli style—light and easygoing. As the plot develops, the blood-stained clothes from the day of the kidnappings, for the purposes of staged scenery in the moment of release, were replaced with Gaza-style pajamas the hostages were forced to wear, together with their hollow smiles that express only fear and terror.
Make no mistake. Even though the main characters in the story are babies, children, entire families, this is not a children’s story. And although in recent evenings the story includes short chapters that allow a few small rays of light to penetrate the thick darkness, with happy scenes of family reunions—hugging, cuddling, arrival on safe shores—it is precisely these images that emphasize the horror, reminding us all how what started as a sweet story turned into an evil nightmare as innocent babies and children are being released from captivity in exchange for convicted Hamas terrorist who carried out attacks against Jews.
In this story children were kidnapped from their burned homes, leaving behind charred toys. In this story, the smiles at the moment of release hide great pain, a wounded soul. In this story, hearts crashed, broken into thousands of pieces, shattered into 1,400 pieces belonging to all the massacre victims.
And the pages of the story written in blood continue to pile up. Page follows page of chilling evidence, of inhuman evil, sick monstrosities that as the story progresses, reveal more and more horror.
Tonight, again we will take a moment to breathe, allowing ourselves to rejoice with enormous relief as we welcome today’s 10 returning citizens, and anticipate those who will return tomorrow and, hopefully, the day after tomorrow as well.
However, this sad tale will not end until the last of our hostages return home safely. Our story will not conclude until the evil of Hamas is eradicated. Only then, and not before, will the last chapter of this horror story be told. Full of tears, we hold the pain of an entire people who will embrace those who return home and those who mourn. We are capable of both happy tears in the face of family reunions and of heartbreaking tears over tremendous loss.
The original author of this story will take back the pen and decide how it will end. Together we will write it, adding extensive chapters about Jewish peoplehood, unity, solidarity, volunteering, and giving—all demonstrating the strengths of our people’s resilience. What was a simple story that started in the beautiful scenery of southern Israel will now involve Jewish communities around the world, where the last sentence will be: L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim | Next year in Jerusalem. Am Yisrael Chai.
Together, united, we will overcome.