Reflecting on October 7 – A Trip to Southern Israel

Stand for Israel  |  January 22, 2024

Netiv HaAsara, southern Israel, Hamas, terror
(Photo: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv)

Davida Kutscher, a Fellowship staff member in our Israel office, recently traveled to southern Israel to survey the damage of the horrific October 7 attacks. This is what she saw.

What shoes do you wear to the site of a massacre?

You want to be respectful but practical. For my trip to Be’eri and Netiv Ha’asarah – sites of two of the worst attacks on October 7 – I chose work boots, but just deliberating over this question was a welcome escape from the anxiety that had taken hold of me from the moment I learned that I would be making this trip.

Until our car pulled up at the gate of Be’eri, I had been certain that I couldn’t face the destruction. I had seen others – reporters, influencers, celebrities – film testimonials from the sites of the carnage and I always thought, “I could never do that.” But when I was asked to go, I felt it was my sacred duty to bear witness and to share my experiences with as many people as possible.

Driving into the kibbutz was disorienting- it was a sunny day, the homes looked beautiful and neat, flowers bloomed everywhere. But soon we pulled up to the first of many destroyed houses, and I knew I couldn’t avoid the truth any longer. We approached a pile of rubble flanked by the empty shells of houses. Ilan Isaacson, the Head of Security for the Eshkol Region of the Gaza envelope, served as our guide.

Worse than a Mere Nightmare

Ilan shared his story from October 7 and the ensuing months. He recounted the horrors as the community began to realize the magnitude of what was unfolding. This was not their worst nightmare, because even the most skilled screenwriter could not have conceived of the depravity of the barbarians who crossed the border that day. No, October 7 so far surpassed the scope of a mere nightmare that we are left without the words to express ourselves. What language could possibly provide the lexicon for our conversations since then? English and Hebrew have both failed us, but maybe an ancient language could lend itself to the occasion – a language where words like “atrocities,” “unimaginable,” “unprecedented,” “hate,” “despair,” and “fear” haven’t lost their impact due to overuse. Or perhaps a new language, new words with new connotations will have to be invented, like the introduction of the word “genocide” after the Holocaust.

For now, there are no words, only images. Standing on a pile of concrete, twisted metal, shards of glass, and charred pottery, I could only think about the parents on that day. Those of us with kids know that even our children’s wail from a skinned knee cuts to the quick. Their pain is our pain, and we would do anything to shelter them from fear, hunger, and harm. So, during the months since October 7, so much of what has kept me awake at night has been the stories of children tortured and murdered and the unimaginable anguish of their parents. All that horror flooded my mind as I stood among the remnants of lives – pages from children’s books, the wheel of a toy truck, a stuffed animal. In some places, our guide shared the stories of the residents of that house. In some places, he didn’t, and I was too afraid to ask.

Contemplating the Destruction

In one home, kitchen chairs lay strewn among the rubble – the very same kitchen chairs that sit around my table. A book of songs stood propped up against a wall – the same book my son loves reading before bed. Outside the home of Yehudit Weiss sat a carton of seedlings beside a trowel. She must have been getting ready to plant them on that Sabbath morning. Now she never will. She’s been murdered in captivity. Leaning against a tree at the start of the path to her home was a chalk board where the Hebrew words bruchim habaim (welcome) were still visible. The bitter irony of those words among this destruction was beyond cruel.

In total, 85 men, women, and children were murdered that day in Be’eri, 26 were confirmed kidnapped, and 4 are missing. 85. Eighty-five. EIGHTY-FIVE. We can repeat it a hundred times, but we still can’t grasp it. If I look around me now and count 85 people, who would that include? My children. Grandparents. Cousins. Neighbors. Colleagues. Friends. Teachers. Count the 85 people you love most and imagine losing them in a day. Imagine hearing their screams of agony, begging for mercy.

Imagine that all that is left of your parents is a miniscule bone shard and the smell of a dead body. That was all that was left of one elderly couple – artists – in Netiv Ha’Asarah. Search and rescue teams spent 4 days sifting through the ashes of their home seeking proof of their fate. In the end, all they could find was one small piece of bone that DNA tests linked to Yakovi Inon, but the home had been so completely incinerated that no shred of evidence remained of his wife Bilha, except a faint stench of death in a corner of what was once the safe room. Leaving the charred ruins of their home, I felt the soot coat my tongue, making it hard to breathe.

A Time for Prayer, Bearing Witness, and Kindness

Returning home to my family in Jerusalem, I tried to think about what I could say about my experience, but words fail me. I thought about what I could do to bring back the hostages, but the world remains unmoved by their plight. I thought about what I could do to bring a shred of comfort to the survivors of that day, who sit in their hotel rooms, day after day, their families, homes, communities, and hope obliterated. But every action seems too paltry.

All that remains is to pray, bear witness, and try to fill this world with good deeds and kindness so that the Israel the hostages return to will be better than it was. 

-Davida Kutscher