Kfar Aza survivors seek solace in London

October 7 survivors were in London for few days of respite, supported by the British Jewish community


The group of Kfar Aza residents aged 24 - 38 in London with photos of their community still held hostage in Gaza

It takes David Sharaby and Israel Oved a few moments to count how many of their neighbours were killed on October 7. Three kilometres from Gaza, their Kibbutz Kfar Aza community lost over a quarter of its population during the deadly massacre.

Four of their friends — Doron Steinbrecher, Emily Damari, and twins Ziv and Gali Berman — are still being held in Gaza by Hamas.

“It doesn’t matter where we are, they’re always on our mind,” says David, 28.

David and Israel are in London with a group of Kfar Aza residents for a holiday; a moment of respite amidst the turbulence of life as refugees learning to live with trauma.

They are on the third trip of five organised by British businesswoman Emily Cohen.

Emily, 55, felt an imperative to help Kfar Aza after connecting with the kibbutz on 8 October. The Saatchi Synagogue member was helped by UJIA in her efforts to raise £250,000 which funded one hundred trips to London for the younger members of the kibbutz.

The younger Kfar Aza residents were some of the worst affected on October 7 as they lived in part of the kibbutz that was closest to Gaza.

“We want them to be able to relax, breathe new air and feel the love and support from the Jewish community in the UK,” says Emily.

Whenever he’s not thinking about the hostages, Israel, 38, says he feels bad. David agrees: “I feel guilty all the time.”

The men have been living out of suitcases, trying to navigate their next steps. David says he feels like he never stops — both physically and mentally. “I’m in a race every day,” says David. Both men’s homes were destroyed during the attack.

Living in a hotel room with his new baby, wife and two dogs is a struggle for Israel and he’s had to rehome the dogs. For many of the October 7 survivors, the initial help that was offered after the trauma has dried up and they are awaiting a government package of support.

David explains how the country is trying to return to “normal society”. It’s a new normal, marked by hostage posters.

Twin hostages Ziv and Gali Berman worked with Israel at a lighting company, Sincopa, based on the kibbutz and famed for lighting up The Rolling Stones, Guns N’ Roses, Rihanna and Justin Timberlake.

Israel says: “The twins are always in my heart.” They haven’t heard anything about Gali and Ziv since day 26 of the war.

Both Israel and David have been following any news about a hostage deal with bated breath, but, Israel says, it is devastating that nobody is talking about the male hostages.

“Don’t forget that nobody talks about the boys in the deal, it’s only elderly and women — of course we want them back — but what about the twins? They have family too. They have a mother, who needs them back. They’re young; they’re like brothers to us and they’re just kids. I’m very worried about them.”

As for Doron, the men last saw her in a Hamas propaganda clip; Israel now wears a hoodie with her name on it.

David moved to Kfar Aza six years ago to be near his uncle, and Israel moved to the kibbutz for his wife. Both men want to return. “My heart is at Kfar Aza,” Israel says, “but we don’t know what reality will look like when we get back.”

David didn’t know everyone in the kibbutz, but now he has become a community organiser and is more connected to the community than ever. “Now I know everyone.”

Before October 7, Kfar Aza was close-knit. “It felt like home”, says David. “We really felt safe there, and this is how big the trauma is. It is our home, and we would see parents walk with children in the street every day and say: ‘Hello’ and ‘Good morning’, and now that family you see are not there any more.”

“It’s crazy that we will never see them again,” says Israel.

One little girl, whose grandfather was killed during the massacre, keeps hugging Israel, “I had nothing to do with the girl before, but now, every time she sees me, she wants a hug. I want to cry.”

Israel survived October 7 after being holed up for 20 hours with his four-month-old daughter, wife and two dogs. He recalls the ordeal. “There were 40 terrorists on the other side of the wall from where I was sitting with my baby. My wife wanted me to cover the baby’s mouth so she didn’t cry, but I didn’t. Everything I did was to protect my baby. I was worried she would choke if I covered her mouth.”

Somehow, the baby and the two dogs were silent. “It was some kind of miracle,” and the family made it out.

“Everybody thought we were dead,” Israel says. “They couldn’t believe we survived.”

For David, coming to London has helped him work through his trauma, “We know that we’ve been through awful things, but we can’t understand it. It helps us to see it through the eyes of others.”

Both Israel and David were alert to tensions on the streets of London, “We're told that the outside world is crazy, but I wanted to see it for myself,” says Israel.

“The hate and the lies, the propaganda everywhere. It’s crazy, it’s like we’re living in an imaginary world. We get slaughtered and now everybody hates us.”

Yet, meeting British Jews has been healing, “Jews in the UK are so connected to Israel; it is very beautiful,” says David.

Emily arranged for the Israelis in London to go to different houses for Friday Night dinner. Israel went to a family in Holland Park, and David headed to Hamstead Garden Suburb.

“We wanted to show them a nice, quiet, normal Shabbat dinner,” says Emily. Many of them have forged close friendships with the families Emily connected them with.

For the rest of the trip, the group toured Tottenham Hotspurs football stadium, visited Buckingham Palace, lunched in Chinatown, and watched Mamma Mia!, the Musical.

For David, a recent computer science graduate, this is the first time he has stopped since the massacre, and the first time he has travelled to the UK, “It’s confusing and emotional. I keep thinking I need to do something, but she [Emily] tells me that I need to relax.”

For many in the Kfar Aza community, travelling to London was a difficult decision. Emily says. “Their best friends are in Gaza, so there is guilt and confusion, but this is a break from reality to give them a bit of hope.”

The scars of October 7 run deep, but Israel and David are thankful for the opportunity to break out of the routine of war and form ties with the UK community, while Emily is grateful for the community she has connected with. “It feels like we’ve known each other forever,” she says.

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