Orange trees still grow on Kibbutz K’far Azza. They shouldn’t. Anything alive that witnessed October 7th and its aftermath should die. It should rot quickly. But the orange trees are still blooming.
The Talmud teaches that when someone steals seeds and plants them, they will still bloom. That is the world’s way, the rabbis explain.
I was tempted to pick an orange and taste it. I was sure it would be be sour. Spoiled. Toxic. It had to be. Still, I couldn’t pluck it from the tree. In some weird way, it felt like I was removing a witness from the atrocities that happened there. The fruit trees were connected to someone’s property and taking it was stealing, even if the homeowners were no longer living there. Even if they were dead. Even if they were kidnapped and we know they would be fine sharing with an empathetic, fellow Jew. I couldn’t touch the fruit. Those fruit trees haunted me.
For almost 30 years I have been leading groups of teens and adults to Poland to take testimony of the vibrancy of life that lived in Eastern Europe for almost half a millennium. We then pivot to the rise of Nazism and the unspeakable acts of degradation and murder that exterminated more than ⅓ of the Jewish population.
Walking in Birkenau, 78 years post liberation is walking in a museum. It is hallowed grounds and haunting, but the distance between the events of the Holocaust and our visit is two generations, sometimes even three. It is powerful and potent, but most is left to testimony and imagination that accompany the stacks of history books and research.
78 years later and Jews are still being killed for our mere existence.
K’far Azza is a mixed community of religious and secular Jews, Ashkenazim and Mizrahi. It is situated less than 1 kilometer from Gaza. The residents there had a slogan. K’far Azza is 95% heaven and 5% hell. Until October 6th, life was a grand in the Kibbutz of about 1000 people. They farmed. They worked in high tech. They were doctors and lawyers and teachers and accountants and scientists and social workers. K’far Azza is full of moms and dads, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, bubbies and zaydies, kids and adults. They are you and me.
5% of the time the residents of K’far Azza dealt with rockets. Usually as a result of Israeli policies or targeted assassinations or Iran’s puppeteers pulling strings. They were relatively infrequent, and Iron Dome gave K’far Azza a sense of security from above. What happened here on the 7th came from the ground, just across the cabbage fields that was an international border. The residents of K’far Azza came face to face, eye to eye, tooth to tooth with those Hamas terrorists living next door, who came to murder them.
Yesterday, I walked through the once bustling Kibbutz of K’far Azza. There were no generational divides. This was no museum or memorial. It was fresh. The sidewalks were lined with broken glass. The stench of burnt homes was pungent. Bullet holes the size of my knuckles freckled the façade of every building. Couches and beds were overturned and computers broken into itty bitty pieces. Strollers with toys and pacifiers were strewn everywhere. Playgrounds were uprooted. Just a few weeks ago kids played care free in those spaces. Now, spray paint by the IDF marks where bodies were found and bullet casings were retrieved. I came to K’far Azza for the very same reasons I visit Poland; to take testimony. To refute those who deny our painful history and now reality. To bring hope and hugs to the suffering survivors and to bring a proverbial hammer and nail for when it is a time to rebuild. And rebuild we will. But this pain is raw. In the Jewish timeline of mourning, we have just barely finished the Shloshim – 30 day period – post burial. Time has not begun to digest this atrocity. We are from from the process of healing.
A few homes in K’far Azza had a handful of spaces left intact. One office filled with smoke and some water damage had a row of organized folders listing all of the Jewish holidays and books of receipts. I admired this person organization. With no DNA evidence, I was able to trace their family back to Germany. A Yekke Jew.
The Sukkot were still up in the yards. This nightmare happened on the official last hours of the holiday. One Sukkah had the texts for Ushpizzin still dangling on its walls. That is the hallowed ritual of inviting different guests into our Sukkot to break bread and enjoy the holiday. The sick irony was not lost on any of us.
In Kfar Azza, each home has a Kibbutz issued address and name sign. They are uniform. On the house itself, people could hang their own nameplates that matched their spirit and vibe.
One sign was mangled, twisted, riddled with shrapnel and knocked to the ground. The apt family name on the address plate was Hebrew for “Lucky.” Little luck would be found on these grounds on the 7th of October.
Terrorists infiltrated under the distraction of rocket fire at 6:33 AM. The Kibbutz of 950 souls was taken over, while most had not yet had their coffee and all were still in pajamas. About 300 terrorists in all. Factoring who was away or on vacation that is almost 1 terrorist for every 2 people.
A survivor said to us it was like ants, they were everywhere. Arabic was heard all around and men in black ninja suits and green head bands rummaged carefree through people’s belongings and shot women and babies, like they were paper targets. Murder did not move them. It didn’t jar them. Affect them. They were nonchalant about raping a woman and killing her with a single shot to her head when they were done.
One woman was found naked, legs open and bloodied. She also had a pool of blood from a gunshot to her head. The monstrous animals finished raping her, killed her and then put a grenade in her hand so the responders who came to save and retrieve her would get killed.
In total 62 were murdered in K’far Azza. 18 people were kidnapped, including 7 children. We know nothing about their conditions or whereabouts. The Red Cross has still not visited ANY of the abducted.
Below is the most frightening data point.
THERE ARE DOZENS OF K’FAR AZZAS! What happened in K’far Azza also happened in Be’eri. In Ofakim. In Netiv Ha’Asarah. In Nachal Oz. In Alumim. In Nir Am. In Magen. In Kissufim and countless more communities. More than 3,000 terrorists blew through gates and trampled walls and did unspeakable and unthinkable things. Their pulses did not even rise during this savagery. To call them animals is an insult to zoos and pets, worldwide.
The atrocities of K’far Azza were identical in these other places, but different. Each story is unique. Each family has been touched by Mazal, timing of being in the right place at the right time, or the curse of being in the wrong place in the worst time.
You might have witnessed physical destruction and devastation in your travels. I was in New Orleans post Katrina where death was abound and homes were leveled. I have never seen wreckage like this in my life. Most important to distinguish, K’far Azza was not a natural disaster. This was the most unnatural crimes carried out by sub human monsters. This did not need to happen.
1200 were killed on the 7th. 238 are held hostages. 5,000 are physically wounded. 9 million are emotionally traumatized. Each one is a story. A life. A fingerprint that is unlike any other in the world.
Our responsibility for today and tomorrow is to take testimony. We need to plant orange trees. We need to harvest fruits and to share the sweetness of its nectar and the bitterness of its rind for generations to come. That is the reason I came here. That is my motivation to keep coming back.