Aryeh Eisenberg

My Visit to Otef Aza – Lessons Learned

A flag waiving at Kibbutz Zikim.

Since October 7th, I have been debating as to whether I should go to visit the sites of the day’s horrible events. Some of my friends and colleagues have gone, with varying feedback. As an educator, I felt it was important to see what happened firsthand, but as a person living in this great country, I was not sure if I wanted to go through the emotional turmoil that I knew would be part of any visit. About a week ago, Barkai, an amazing organization that trains Israeli rabbis announced that they were organizing a trip to the South, with an English-speaking guide and with people I knew, that would be there to provide support. My wife and I decided to attend this important yet difficult journey. Along the way, we met some truly inspiring people, and we saw destruction that cannot be described in words. Below are some of the lessons I learned from this experience…

  1. It could have happened to any of us – Our first stop of the day was the site of the Nova Music Festival, in the Be’eri Forest. Looking out at the field, which is now marked with memorials for the victims, I felt a chill when I saw how vast and open this area appeared. While a space of this kind may have been a great concert venue, it also meant that the attendees were as we say “sitting ducks.” There was truly no place for them to run or to hide. We saw some of the places they attempted to go, and as we kept hearing the stories, we felt our own sense of defeat.
    Memorials at the site of the Nova Festival.

  2. There aren’t a lot of “innocent” Gazans – I know this one may get me into trouble with some, but after hearing the stories from those who were there, I am truly sad to say that this is the reality. The terrorists entered Israel from air, land, and sea. In addition to those who actually entered Israel, they had to have had considerable help on the other side. Lier, our guide at Kibbutz Kfar Azza, who miraculously survived, told us about children who crossed into the Kibbutz from Gaza with grenades. She said that they could not have been more than 6 or 7 years old. This is a society that teaches its children to hate from birth. So, no, despite what you see on CNN or read in the New York Times, there are no innocent civilians on the other side.
    Houses with these signs can be seen throughout Kibbutz Kfar Azza.

  3. There are many “unsung heroes” – While much of the day was spent hearing about death and destruction, there were some bright moments about people who risked their own lives to help others. Lier guided us through her Kibbutz and recounted the horrors that took place. She told us about her heroic siblings and father who would not leave until the Kibbutz was secure. She told us about Tomer Greenberg, a Golani soldier who was later killed while fighting in Gaza, but who saved two 10-month-old twins, whose parents had been murdered. We also met the amazing Shuva Brothers who, since October 7th have been feeding and supplying soldiers with literally anything they need. It would be so easy for these people to turn their backs and walk away after what they had been through. Instead, though, they are doing amazing work and are making sure everyone in the South is supported.

    “If I don’t have it, I will make sure I get it within 24 hours.” – The Shuva Brothers who provide soldiers in the South with food and whatever else they may need.
  4. Our dear IDF soldiers – Towards the end of the day, our group enjoyed an amazing BBQ sponsored by Grilling for the IDF, an organization that comes to army bases to provide meals for soldiers. We ate our meal under the constant sounds of shelling, but throughout the entire time there, we had the opportunity to speak to some of the soldiers. They are all someone’s husbands, sons, wives, and daughters. Some would be in university right now, and others were taken from their families and careers to defend Israel. I could not believe that even with the stress they were under, they were smiling and ready to continue until their jobs were complete. These soldiers gave us all inspiration and hope that we will be victorious.
  5. Am Yisroel Chai – As we toured the devastation of Kibbutz Kfar Azza and saw the sites where our brothers and sisters were murdered, there was still a glimmer of hope among those who were still there. Our tour guide Lier told us that she planned on returning to the kibbutz. Many others with whom we spoke told us that this was their home and that it was part of Israel. It is easy for us to say these words, but to hear them coming from people who went through it made us all appreciate how strong and resilient our people are. Lier told us, ““I’ll never stop believing in good. This is what it means to be Jewish. It’s on our DNA.” I could not believe that this was coming from her mouth. To hear her saying these words gave us all hope. Sorry Hamas, but we are not going anywhere. Am Yisroel Chai!

These are just some of the observations from a difficult but important day. When I came home that night, back to our house in Hashmonaim, I felt grateful that we are able to sleep in our own beds, and that our communities are safe. We hope and pray that the residents of Kibbutz Kfar Azza, Zikim, and the rest of the South will soon be able to feel the same way.

About the Author
Aryeh Eisenberg is the CEO and General Manager of Edu-Together, an online education technology provider for schools and individuals. Based in Israel, Edu-Together works with students all over the world.
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