We are a community in mourning, and there is much to mourn.
We mourn the savage mass murders in our community and so many others. We mourn the loss of family, friends, colleagues, neighbors. We mourn the barbaric kidnappings of the innocents of all ages of our region. We mourn the destruction of so many homes and communities and dreams. We are in mourning for the loss of our sense of security. We mourn the carnage of our beautiful region — our “95% Heaven” where I felt safe enough to roam the fields on my own, at all hours, with the border clearly in sight, armed only with my camera.
We mourn the loss of our ability to rely upon all that which we trusted was keeping us safe.
Each of us arrived at the conclusion at a different time on October 7th, when the penny dropped for each one of us, as we sat in our saferooms, bullets shreiking outside, hearing the sounds of voices in Arabic and waiting for the door to be forced open. Or maybe it happened as we were being evacuated under fire, after waiting for 11 hours for our rescuers to come. Or while we were in our kibbutz community center, with the stories of what really happened being whispered among the adults, with rockets still exploding just outside. Whenever it happened for each of us, individually, at some point the cruel realization hit like a Mack truck: that everyone and everything in the supposedly protective layers of security which we believed were embracing us, sheilding us and defending our families in protective, all powerful parental arms, had failed.
The impenetrable underground barrier, did not keep the terrorists out.
The high-tech fences along the border and surrounding each of our communities failed. At the moment of the call to action, the terrorists slid through them like kids on the slide at the waterpark.
Our world-renowned intelligence cadre failed to recognize the warnings that should have been as visible as if they had been written on the walls in blood-red paint, 10 feet high.
Our government failed to believe the real and present warnings of imminent danger that they were sent.
The army failed to protect us.
We each have a personal Iron Dome, in the guise of our saferooms, which were designed and built according to the highest regulatory standards. They must be built with reinforced concrete, iron sleeves to protect the window, in addition to the specially tempered glass and the thick security doors. My saferoom is the place to where I always flee in times of rocket fire. Like all the saferooms in our communities, which were built for protection against rocket fire, they are unlockable, so that if someone is incapacitated inside the safe room, the emergency team will be able to get in. These saferooms are very safe and effective against rockets, and have saved many lives.
Not so much for infiltration.
On October 7th, they failed to keep us safe. The only way the saferoom is actually locked, with metal bars protruding into the floor and ceiling, is if the person inside physically pulls down on the handle — and is strong enough to hold it pulled down, against the force of anyone who is outside trying to pull it up. My saferoom sanctuary, where I had the illusion that I was in the safest place in the world where nothing could harm me, failed to keep me safe. The place where the writing on my wall reminds me that “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain” lulled me into a false sense of security. These very same structures were traitorously breached in so many of my friends’ homes, despite holding down the handle, allowing them to be kidnapped or slaughtered.
It turns out that these doors can be shot through, as can the iron window sleeves, if you have weapons that are powerful enough. As the terrorists had. It also turns out that the walls of the saferoom can be drilled through enough to stick the barrel of a gun through it, to slaughter the inhabitants. The safe rooms, for many, were the definitive fail.
We trusted all these. With. Our. Lives. And they all failed.
Our community, on the other hand, did not fail, and that is what I am celebrating in this new-born, personal, community photographic endeavor that I have begun.
Our community has been strong, and steadfast in catching us all — as much as humanly possible — in the wake of all the other failures. It’s not perfect. There have been mistakes. However this community has been my pillar of strength. A community is only as good as the people who make it. Our people are among the best.
Conceived while working on the current photo challenge in the 52 Frames Photography Group, which this week required me to be inspired by a famous photographer who does black and white portraiture, I have started this project in order to celebrate our people.
In this state of homelessness, during which my community resides in a hotel in Eilat, we try to build a routine of sorts. Home is where your people are. Nirim people are here. Our strong community leaders have organized a temporary “normal” for us, and everyone is pitching in and lending a hand where they can. We have activities for our people of all ages, educational frameworks for the children, kibbutz meetings, and day-treks, a communal laundry room and rosters for helping with different war efforts.
Two days ago, I grabbed my flag and started walking around the hotel, inviting people from Nirim to wrap themselves in the flag so I can take their pictures. The pictures are in black and white for now. For now, we are still in mourning for all the people and beliefs and things we have lost. Hence they are in black and white. But when we finally return home, I will republish them (maybe retake them) in color. We are in mourning, but we are proud and resolute and resilient. Together, we survived. Together, we will work hard to build community and personal resilience. Together, we will find our way home again.
Tragically, we are not ALL here. Doron Meir z”l, his daughter Mor Meir z”l and Roei Popelwell z”l and two other people who were visitors on Nirim, were slaughtered on October 7th.
Hana Peri, Nadav Popelwell, Rimon Kirsht-Buchshtav, Yagev Buchshtav and another person who was visiting Nirim on October 7th, were kidnapped — neither their whereabouts nor their physical conditions, are known. Their families haven’t even heard of a visit by the Red Cross.
Finally, I cannot post this without apologizing for my blogpost being less polished than usual. My good friend and forever-editor, Judih Weinstein-Haggai, is also missing — officially categorized as being among those presumed kidnapped in Gaza, together with her beloved husband, Gaddi Haggai.
We must work together to #bringthemhomenow safely.