Between them, they have lost parents and friends, hidden for days from terrorists while some of the people they grew up with remain hostages. But last week, for 20 young members of the Kfar Aza Kibbutz there was a brief respite with a three-day trip to London paid for by the community.
The young people, who were aged between 19 and 30, were the first of a group of 100 in total, who will be “completely and utterly spoiled” in the capital, said Emily Cohen, 55, the businesswoman who has organised the initiative.
The Saatchi Synagogue member, who was first introduced to a Kfar Aza resident on October 8 and immediately set to work fundraising for the community with the UJIA, came up with idea of bringing some of them to London after hearing about the trauma they are still going through.
The kibbutz community remains displaced with no idea when — if at all — they will be able to return to their homes. Kfar Aza was one of the worst hit of the kibbutzim, with 63 members murdered and 17 people abducted.
Kibbutz leaders suggested helping this particularly vulnerable part of the community. While older people have families and jobs, and younger children are looked after by their parents, some of these younger adults are struggling to know what to do with their lives; their whole worlds have been turned upside down.
Respite trip in London for October 7 survivors, organised by Emily Cohen (left) (Photo: Emily Cohen)
Among the first group was Lior Zadikevitch, who was with the rest of his unit protecting a settlement in the West Bank on October 7 when he woke up, switched on his phone and saw Kfar Aza had been overrun by terrorists.
He messaged his family. Only his father was there on that fateful day as the rest were away for the weekend.
“By the time I messaged my dad, he was already dead,” said 20-year-old Lior. But it took 33 hours until his father Omer was officially identified; as the person in charge of the computer system of the kibbutz, he had been shot while on his way to the emergency “war room”. “Now we are trying to live day by day,” said Lior.
Among the adventures the group went on was a trip to the Harry Potter Studios, a visit to the House of Lords, watching a Spurs match from the director’s box, bowling, a trip to the pub and seeing the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Everywhere they went, they displayed posters of their missing friends. A highlight was also being hosted for Shabbat dinner by members of the community, said Emily, who raised £250,000 for the initiative.
“On one level, it was hard for all of them to leave Israel — there are still four of their friends who are being held hostage — but I know it was really important for them to not think about Israel or their trauma,” said Emily, a mother of two. “We gave them a fully immersive London experience.”
The next four groups will be arriving over the next few months, and the initiative has inspired a similar one for groups from Kibbutz Be’eri to be hosted in New York.
Feedback from the group indicated that the aims of the trip had been fulfilled.
One wrote: “It is not [easy] to organise such a delegation, with concern for all the small details. We felt that everything was really done from your heart!!
“Thank you for the privilege of meeting so many amazing people, people who support us. There are a lot of sides that the media doesn't show and it was heartwarming.”
Another wrote: “Emily, thank you so much. Everything was perfect and gave us a break from everything.”
Emily said: “They were really lovely young people. They were so very grateful for what we had done for them and they particularly loved the Friday night dinners and being able to connect to different Jewish families — I had four at my house and it was a magical night.
“I think they gained a lot of strength from knowing how much they are loved by the community here. It is a light in the darkness for them.”
For more information go to https://ujia.org/rebuilding-lives/