While holidaying in Israel in early October, Tom and I met Elad. We were looking for somewhere to sit outside a local coffee shop in Dizengoff Square, Tel Aviv, when Elad invited us to join him at his table. The conversation started like most during our stay, “Where are you from?”. However, the usual follow up, “Are you enjoying your visit to Israel?”, wasn’t appropriate because that was October 9, 2023, two days after the Hamas massacre.
Like most of the people we encountered, Elad was incredibly welcoming. But behind his smile and charming manner, here was a man who was grieving. We met Elad several times during the remainder of our stay; two weeks after the massacre he shared some of his reflections. We made a promise to share it without divulging his full name — this is Elad’s Story:
“Life is often challenging, no matter who you are. We don’t choose who, where and into what situation we are born. All we can do is play our cards the best we can.
The hand I was dealt was being born a Jew in Israel. Jews all over the world understand from an early age the proverbial ‘they’ want to kill us. It is infused in us from birth, from the Bible, from the news, from our culture. Theories which should have ended with the Enlightenment movement continue to spread like a virus through social media. There’s a fine line between teaching your kids about the Holocaust and projecting an ancestral trauma into young minds. As a Jew and an Israeli, you look at pictures and listen to testimonies and try and make yourself believe that this was ‘another time’, a black spot in history that can’t be repeated. Sadly, this isn’t the reality. Our optimism is always undercut by a low-level yet persistent anxiety that will never leave those who have experienced trauma.
Growing up in Israel you start experiencing terrorist attacks and wars at a young age. My earliest memory of conflict was the Gulf War. I was only 11 years old and had to carry a gas mask at all times, as there was a risk of chemical weapons being fired from Iraq.
For most people, the risk of being murdered by terrorists feels extremely remote. But for Israelis, it is part of our everyday consciousness. As a country, we have endured decades of attacks targeting civilians, so much so that it has become perversely normal. We have guards checking our bags at the entrance of every shopping mall. Every time you visit a bar or ride on a bus, there’s always a risk that you will have the bad luck of becoming the next victim of a terrorist attack.
The morning of Saturday 7th October 2023 was like waking up to doomsday. We felt powerless, sitting at home watching the news, listening as people called in, literally begging for their lives, pleading for rescue. A nation holding its breath, collectively worrying – will my friends or family or I be next? Unlike all the attacks I’ve experienced before, this one was different. It is one thing to be blown up or shot – death is itself is tragic but final. It is another thing to be captured, raped, tortured, brutalised – treated so inhumanely that death is seen as a welcome escape. The horrors of what happened that morning are hard to process, the gross depravity that took place feels like the stuff you see in films, not something that you have to accept has entered your reality.
With love and thanks to Elad
Tom Waterton-Smith and Julie Russell