Avi Ganz

The War Chronicles #7 – it’s been awhile. Meet Micha Shmilevich

Writing was getting to onerous. I was sharing what I experienced as I experienced it and that was a lot…..too much, even. So I stopped. The war didn’t stop and life didn’t stop and there, but for The Grace of God, go I, so I didn’t stop. But the writing stopped. And I thought about it often and shared the blogs with people as a way of updating them about my experiences during this war, but the truth is that those old updates from October were and are getting stale and they really don’t in any way represent the current state of (my) affairs, but I just wasn’t up to writing.

Perhaps one of my biggest challenges with all of this is that life goes on.  When something truly monumental is happening, we naturally do our best to pause and put “Life™” on hold that we may be more present for said event.  Well, I thought that war would be the same.  You know…..that while the war happened, everything would just stand still in the face of this larger-than-life issue we all need to deal with.  I was wrong.  Bills need to be paid, children need parenting, friends need to stay in touch, laundry needs to get done, and streets still need to be carefully crossed only *after* checking both ways for oncoming traffic.  And then there is ALSO the war.  And it’s a lot: funerals, families struggling with loved ones in/at war, displaced people, political posturing, and so much pain everywhere.  The regular check-ins from the other side of the world have all but ceased entirely and yet we are feeling this thing (the war, that is) every minute of every hour of every day.  But I digress.

Who is Micha Shmilevich?  Glad you asked.

I had the opportunity to spend some time in what Shabtai, a police spokesman from Sderot called “Otef Yisrael” today.  A busload of educators in Gap Year programs traveled to Moshav Netiv HaAsara, Sderot, The site of the Reim Musical Festival Massacre and Kibbutz Erez in a trip arranged and sponsored by World Mizrachi.  Our first stop was Netiv HaAsara.  Home to nearly 900 residents, right now there are very few people in the Moshav.  They were all evacuated during(!) and after the attacks on October 7th.  Micha is a father, a brother, and a son of the Moshav.  The first male child born to the Moshav he is very proud of his deep roots there and repeated over and over how close he is with every single member of their town.  His parents, siblings and children live there.  He told us that meeting with groups is very difficult for him but “Whatever sacrifice I make is smaller than the greater good in your hearing their stories and sharing their names”.  He repeated this sentiment several times.  Netiv HaAsara is beautiful.  It has large homes and yards, beautiful flora, and it seems the people there really appreciate their hobbies: from backyard sculptures to painting to pets and remote controlled airplanes, the place was very colorful and exudes a friendly and vibrant atmosphere.  Micha started by bringing us to his home  Like most of the homes in the community, it was spared any damage, but the story of that day is very much alive within it.  He invited us in to the clean and spacious and very empty home.  He ushered us in to the reinforced room where he, his wife and two of their children spent close to 11 hours in the dark.  He explained his tactical thinking as he showed us where he stood, armed with his handgun, and considering every scenario so as to maximize efficiency and do his very best to protect his family and his friends.  He told us how he started his wife’s car and opened all the doors and only then rushed them into it and said goodbye as he stayed behind to rescue his nephew and then turned back again when his friend asked him to save the family dog.

Micha walked with us through other parts of the neighborhood stopping to show us houses that were attacked, remnants of cars, the hallowed spot where Chavik, a 78 year-old woman, was killed in cold blood at point blank range.  A bloodthirsty coward used 9 bullets as he stood inches from a defenseless old woman seeking shelter across the street from her home.  It is mindboggling, to say the least.  Micha described how the families of 15 of the 20 residents who were massacred that day had requested that their loved ones be buried in Netiv HaAsara.  As a closed military zone, it was he and 4 others who were the only ones allowed to dig the graves and only that same group of 5 plus the immediate families were permitted to attend the funerals.  Micha and his small group were also involved in identifying some of those bodies.

Micha described how the community’s emergency response team (Kitat Konenut) decided that after things had settled, they were going to do their very best to make sure that the residents all return to their homes as if nothing had happened.  That means that he and 15 other contacted each and every family to ask what they needed from their homes (they are all still evacuated).  They emptied refrigerators and cleaned garbage cans and ran the dishwasher if that was still necessary.  hey changed petfood bowls and watered plants and after each house was checked, they went to the next one.  And the next one and the next one.  Because we are all here for each other and this is what we do.

To meet Micha is to see a stereotypical Israeli.  A Sabra.  Like the fruit for which they are named, he is tough on the outside and sweet on the inside.  This man exuded so much strength and so much realness.

On several occasions he had to stop to catch his breath or to gather his emotions but he pushed on with a determination and a sense of purpose.  He gave everyone his number and insisted that he is looking forward to hosting everyone in his home and in his community.  He displayed an incredible knowledge and familiarity with every family and every story and every kid.


And it got me thinking. Since October 7th, there has been a movement of sorts to share positivity.  I felt (until today, anyway) that this positivity was incongruous.  We are at war.  We are in danger.  Our people are hurting.  Why not save positivity for another time?  And this morning as I followed Micha through the streets of his town and I watched him cry but also had to push myself to keep up with his pace, I thought that maybe the positivity isn’t ignoring the pain but it is answering the call of the pain and the suffering.  We’ll never have Chavik back but we won’t let evil take our energy too.  The houses and cars that were burned so entirely are just houses and cars.  Our joie de virve is not something that they can take.  Micha insists that we will build and we will live in what is rightfully ours.  We will share the pictures and stories of October 2023 with our children and grandchildren as memories because the reality will be so different that all we will have are those memories.  We will continue to share that positivity because in the face of evil, positivity is not ignoring the pain and suffering but responding to it.  I think Micha taught me that today. As he knelt just meters from the border fence to draw a map in the dirt, he didn’t comment on the wall behind him which displays his friend’s dreams for peace.  He didn’t complain about politicians or anything else.  He explained what is important for him and how he is doing his part to achieve that.  What a guy.

I don’t know if I’m back to blogging but something hit me this morning and I wanted to share.

Thanks, as always, for listening.

About the Author
Avi Ganz is the program Director of Ohr Torah Stone's Yeshivat Darkaynu. He lives with his wife and five children in Gush Etzion where he plays the blues on his Hohner, and reminisces fondly of his days playing tackle football with the IFL.