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‘I have been mourning the loss of innocence’: Young Israelis share how they cope with their new reality

With the norms of teenage life on pause, Israeli high school students are volunteering in farms, kitchens, and centers for displaced families

Editor’s note: For 36 years, the Bronfman Fellowship has brought together Jewish high school students from North America and their peers in Israel. Today, we begin a series of pieces showcasing the experience of some of Bronfman’s Israeli fellows and alumni since the Oct. 7 terror attack.

‘You can hear the soldiers reciting kiddush’

MOSHAV AVIGDOR, Israel — When the war started, I was with my extended family at my grandmother’s house in Eilat. Relatively isolated from the other cities in Israel, Eilat is thought to be pretty safe. The early days were very challenging; we lived together in a small house with many young children, so most of the conversations were held in whispers. There was a strong need to discuss the situation but also a concern about exposing the young children to the horrors of the war.

After a few days, my sister and I felt the house’s atmosphere weighing down on us and decided to find a place to volunteer nearby. We discovered that the residents who were evacuated from the kibbutzim near Gaza had arrived at hotels in Eilat, and we decided to volunteer there in order to avoid getting stuck in our thoughts.

After almost a week, we returned home, about 25 miles from Gaza. There, we have 40 seconds from when we hear the siren to get to a safe room. My school hasn’t yet resumed operations and our instructions are that it’s forbidden to leave the area of your house.

Life in the moshav is very communal and we busy ourselves with volunteer activity — making meals, doing laundry, and hosting soldiers serving in the entire area. I live in a rural, agricultural area, and following the mass induction of farmers into combat positions, many dairy barns, chicken coops, and fields needed urgent manpower. To solve this problem, youth on the moshav have organized themselves to volunteer on farms and to help with the ongoing operations. I’m currently assigned to the cow shed — responsible for feeding the calves, milking, and any other need that suddenly arises in the barn.

We got a video from a group of soldiers who were sent a Shabbat meal prepared by the residents of my moshav. In the clip, you can hear the soldiers reciting kiddush, even while in the background you can hear the loud sounds of shooting. The clip is very powerful and it succeeds in bolstering my hope and faith, the opposite of the horrific video clips that were scattered on social media recently.

I am thankful that I can share my personal experiences from recent weeks with you. I hope all of the hostages and soldiers will return in peace and that the war will end soon.

— Alma Tsach, 17

 

Wherever you look, you see death’

“Each person who was murdered was so good, so full of life,” writes 17-year-old Zano. Courtesy of Gaia Zano

HAIFA, Israel — Since the start of the war, I have primarily tried to keep myself busy. I volunteer. Today in Israel, everywhere you look there’s a place to help out and a line of people who want to lend a hand. I continue to study, because in the area where I live there aren’t any missiles at the moment. I work out because that helps my anxiety and I bury myself in Twitter.

In recent weeks, I am constantly accompanied by the thoughts of my friend who is on the frontlines. On the morning of Oct. 7, she was at her base near Gaza. The terrorists didn’t gain control of her base but she lost friends, people with whom she worked.

My friend, perhaps the best person I know, is awesome, friendly, full of sensitivity and compassion. She is being forced to see horrors; she is being forced to fight in order to protect herself and others. For her, it doesn’t matter what happens now — at the end of the war, she won’t return as the same person.

Since the start of the war, I have been mourning the loss of innocence that she and the entire state are experiencing.

Israel is currently in mourning. It feels like wherever you look, you see death. My school has lost seven alumni since the start of the war. Each person who was murdered was so good, so full of life.

— Gaia Zano, 17

 

‘I can see Gaza City from the roof of my house’

On Oct. 7, Regev was on a safari in Kenya when the news broke. After making it back home, he’s been volunteering and trying to stay close with friends. Courtesy of Michael Regev

KARMEI YOSEF, Israel — When the war began, I was in the middle of a safari trip in Kenya. Because of the bad cell service, I wasn’t truly aware of the situation in Israel. I knew something bad was happening, because my family and friends at home had texted me, but I didn’t understand the magnitude of the tragedy; I was pretty cut off from the reality. Due to the situation, my flight back to Israel was canceled and I was stuck in Ethiopia until a flight was organized for Israelis.

Since I returned home, I have been volunteering for Brothers in Arms, an organization of armed reservists that was initially established in order to protest the judicial reforms, but has changed direction since the war broke out. The organization coordinates the majority of voluntary and civilian aid assignments in the south.

This includes evacuating people and animals from dangerous areas, sending food and equipment to soldiers at the front, and even conducting agricultural labor because so many of the farmers in the Gaza envelope were asked to evacuate. Some of these farmers were foreign workers who have since returned to their countries of origin.

I don’t live far from Gaza. During the day, with good visibility, I can see Gaza City from the roof of my house. Last week, a siren went off while I was showering. Missile shrapnel hit my community and caused a small fire.

Last Friday night, I drove alone through the heart of Tel Aviv to hang out with friends. My car windows were closed and I was listening to music. To my surprise, I didn’t see anyone on the street. It was odd, because I was driving in an area that’s normally crowded with people, so I opened the car window and I heard a siren.

I quickly parked and leapt out of my car; I laid down on the sidewalk and covered my head with my hands. I heard crazy explosions overhead and then I saw a group of people running toward the entrance of a nearby building. I joined them and we waited until the sirens stopped. It was a stressful experience and I finished the rest of the drive without music and with quivering hands.

Despite the complicated situation, I think it’s important and healthy to stick to a simple routine. There’s no school right now where I live, and even though I volunteer every day, I also make sure to meet up with friends often.

— Michael Regev, 17

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