As a UK-focused reporter, I am no stranger to covering terrorist atrocities, conflicts or incidents that lead to the loss of too many innocent lives. From the London Bridge stabbings to the Manchester Arena bombing, from the Westminster car ramming to Grenfell Tower going up in flames to Covid-19 deaths or those affected by the conflict in Ukraine, I have covered them all.
I have compiled lists of names, verified pictures and videos taken by witnesses and interviewed the families of people affected. Like so many journalists, I go into auto-pilot, knowing that the best way to tell a story is through the people.
Yet Hamas’ attack has hit me very differently.
I was on maternity leave when the news broke, planning on spending another few months switching off from the demands that come with feeding a 24-hour news platform. But how could I switch off from this?
As I watched videos emerge on social media and spoke to loved ones shielding in Israeli bomb shelters, I knew that the story would inevitably change the lives of so many British Jews. There was a story to tell about Israel and UK Jewry, and I knew how to help tell it. So I have gone back to work.
Professionally, I am doing what I have always done. But as a Jewish journalist with so much love for Israel, this story really stings.
I am across lists of people who have been killed, kidnapped or are missing. Their names are too familiar. They are too young, they are too old. There are too many videos and pictures showing the scale of brutality, scenes I will never be able to unsee, no matter how many times I make sure that they are no longer on my device. To me, as to all Jews, the victims are not strangers.
By making a few calls around the community, I have been inundated with names and numbers of people wanting to talk about their loved ones who have died in the most horrific circumstances or whose fate is not yet known. With a calmness I cannot understand, they have recalled hearing Hamas terrorists storm homes or fire bullets over the phone before sending taunting pictures of their families under armed guard.
They have offered to speak on camera, in between security briefings and therapy sessions, just so their stories are not lost — and not even two weeks have passed since the atrocities started.
They speak with humanity for the loss of all lives in the conflict, with so much respect, something they have not always received. Sometimes, a new detail or atrocity emerges while I am on the phone and I fail to disguise the shake in my voice. In this insane world we live in, they console me and thank anyone willing to listen to their story. They know that there are many stories to tell and an urgency to tell them before the news cycle moves on, as it always does.
So I have been shameless in asking for the community’s help to tell these stories. I have posted on social media forums once reserved for discussing kosher caterers. I have sent messages to Jewish mum groups, where conversations used to be about soft-play classes. Those messages have been sent on and on and on, from the UK to Israel and beyond, where people are willing to give testimony on air, or speak about the countless ways they have stopped what they are doing, to help in any way they can.
In a way, I am relieved to be back at work. Through this, we have filmed charity initiatives and spoken to business owners shutting their shops, turning their spaces into donation spots for Israelis going back to serve in the IDF. We have filmed people coming to volunteer and pack suitcases with anything from thermals to British cereals, requested by soldiers on base.
I have seen children join in after school, tucking colourful drawings with messages of support into these suitcases. Doctors are giving out free prescriptions to Israelis here, while teachers are opening schools with a Hebrew curriculum for children in the same position. And there is so much more going on.
Never have I seen the community so united, so determined to help in any way they can.
There have been times when I have approached people for an interview and they are nervous until they find out I went to JFS. Even then, sometimes they shout with anger and upset, questioning why there is a media bias, why Israel must defend itself on so many fronts in the face of such grief and atrocity?
There are times when I have behaved in a way that feels profoundly unnatural, especially when speaking to people so close to home. I have seen the eyes of those who want to talk well up and tears fall down their faces during interviews. The most human thing to do is to stop, turn off the camera and give them a hug. But I don’t, because it is the tears that will tell this story.