I woke up the morning of October 7th to a text from my sister asking if I had heard from our relatives in Israel. This was unusual and concerning because my sister does not use her phone on Shabbat. I immediately opened Facebook. Most of my family lives in Israel, and I’m Facebook friends with many past participants of the Peace of Mind Canada program, so I thought, surely, someone would have posted if there was something happening in Israel. The first post that came up was from someone that I didn’t recognize, but I saw that she had posted photos of my cousin, Motti, with the caption, “We are looking for Motti Zoherman. He was at a nature party, but they don’t know which one. Thank you to those who are helping.” I was confused—what was this person talking about? What did she mean, Motti is missing? I called my sister, keeping my voice calm, and asked how she knew that Motti was missing. She gasped and told me that she had no idea that Motti was missing; she texted me because she heard that there was a war in Israel. That was the moment when everything changed. Shaking, I called another family member in Israel, who confirmed my worst fear. Israel was at war, and my cousin, Motti, one of hundreds who attended a music festival in the south, was missing.
I remember when Motti came to visit us in Canada when I was a little girl. My three sisters and I fell in love with this gorgeous, charming, and uber-cool Israeli. Our mother told us that he was a paratrooper, which only added to his air of mystery and adventure. Many years later, when he was in his 50s, Motti survived stomach cancer, and that changed the trajectory of his life. He became quite spiritual and spent half of his time in India and the other half in Israel, dancing and living life in the moment.
As the days and sleepless nights passed, we learned more about the unspeakable horrors perpetrated by Hamas on those attending the party and those living on Kibbutzim in southern Israel. One of our past POM participants, Alon Gat, along with his beautiful wife Yarden and 3-year-old daughter, Geffen, were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists from their Kibbutz Be’eri.
On that fateful morning, my wife Yarden, our 3-year-old daughter Geffen, my mother Kinneret, my sister Carmel, and I, along with our neighbours and friends from Kibbutz Be’eri, were taken from our home to Gaza. During the journey, we seized a momentary lapse in the terrorists’ attention to escape. Yarden handed our daughter to me so I could save her life. I managed to slip away with Geffen and hide for 24 hours before making our way back to the kibbutz the next morning. Yarden stayed behind and was captured and taken to Gaza. Since then, we have had no further information regarding Yarden or Carmel. My mother was tragically murdered.
I was told by another past participant of the program that Shachar Zemech, who came to Canada in 2019 with his team to receive the POM intervention, died heroically defending his Kibbutz, Be’eri, until his last breath. I remember Schachar’s smile and his willingness to help. He was such a kind and thoughtful man. He leaves behind his wife and two young children, ages 4 and 2.
And yet another story about a past participant, Assaf Bavli, who, along with his security response team at Kibbutz Magen, saved their entire community in a fierce fight against numerous armed terrorists for 7 long hours. A true hero.
These are just a few of the heartbreaking stories to which I have a personal connection, but there are hundreds more. The collective trauma that Israel is facing cannot be quantified. Survivors of the Shoah—soldiers, reservists, every man, woman, and child—will remember the moment that Israel suffered an attack so barbaric that it shocked even the most seasoned first responders and army commanders. As someone who runs a program in Canada that works exclusively with IDF veterans, providing them with intensive therapy through Metiv: The Israel Psychotrauma Center, I know that Israel will be recovering from this trauma for many decades. Unfortunately, Israel’s veterans will need the Peace of Mind intervention now more than ever. Yet, I also know how strong and resilient my Israeli brothers and sisters are. I, like every Jew around the world, have tearfully watched the families of those who were kidnapped and murdered talk about their loved ones with Herculean strength and remarkable composure, ensuring that their stories are heard and that their loved ones are remembered. Israel will not allow Hamas to win this war or strip her of her optimism, love of life, and resolve.
We buried my cousin, Motti, on October 11th in Haifa. I can only hope that in the hours that preceded those terrible moments, Motti was dancing joyfully as the sun rose over the desert and that he felt at peace.
If you would like to contribute to Alon Gat’s fund, click the following link: https://my.israelgives.org/en/fundme/ALONGAT
If you would like to contribute to the rebuilding and help the victims of Kibbutz Be’eri, click the following link: https://www.beeri-riseup-again.com/en