Israelis living in the UK share pain and hurt after Hamas terror attacks

'Everyone knows someone who is affected, and we are all upset', one told the JC


The scene where a rocket fired from Gaza into Southern Israel, hit and caused damaged in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon. October 7, 2023. Photo by Erik Marmor/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** אשקלון רקטה נפילה חרבות ברזל

Orit Eyal-Fibeesh is part of a group that was set up in order to defend Israeli democracy in the wake of proposed judicial reform but “there is no more space for that now”, she says.

The terror attacks on October 7 changed the lives of Israelis and Jews for ever, and for Israelis living in Britian, the pain, hurt and detachment they were feeling thousands of miles from home have increased tenfold.

“It has been utterly numbing for me,” explains Orit, whose close friend, Noam Sagi, last heard from his mother, Ada, 75, at 9.20am on October 7.

Noam, a psychotherapist living in London with his family since 2002, fears his mum is being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza.

Orit says: “I have not stopped since the news broke. We are not sleeping. We are not eating properly. We are just trying to do as much as we can to support Israelis here in the UK, as well as those back home.”

She is part of an Israeli grassroots network in Britain, IBC, which is coordinating help though WhatsApp groups and events.

Orit tells the JC: “We are helping to find accommodation for people who are leaving Israel to come here or helping Israeli citizens who are here to access the medication they need from doctors or sending books and care packages to Israeli children.

“We are on autopilot, just doing whatever we can.”

But she would much rather be in Israel. Having served in the army, Orit is normally “used to dealing with things as they happen there. It is hard to be so far away, and I am trying to compensate for that.”

While she and others like her have been organising events to raise awareness of the plight of hostages, such as the vigil held on Sunday or the poster campaign for hostages in UK cities, she feels that there has been a lack of support from embassy officials.

“We have not been formally contacted by the Israeli Embassy here. We are doing everything ourselves, and there is a frustration there.”

On the other hand, she feels the British Jewish and Israeli communities have come together in a way like “never before”.

She says: “Before, there might have been a bit of a struggle between us, but we feel so supported.”

In terms of how she feels she is viewed by others in British society, Orit says “it is hard to gauge. There are self-righteous people out there who have never welcomed us but others who have.”

Her daughter arrived in the UK from Israel last week and her parents, who live there, have not returned from the UK due to concerns over their safety.

“I am not afraid as a person, but I am afraid about what will happen to our nation,” she says.

Orit, who is a consultant for a green energy company, is worrying round the clock about her brother and his children, who are in Israel.

“The fear and sorrow for them is overwhelming. My mum has been crying non-stop,” she says.

As for the people living in Israel, she is “amazed at how resilient and fearless they are. We are fighting for our existence. Everything else will be discussed later, but now, this is where we are.”

It is a feeling that is shared by Rivka Magzimof. She is working through the challenges of the war with her husband on the front line, while, at the same time, trying to support Israeli citizens in the UK.

As the director of special projects for Shelanu, an organisation supporting Israelis living in the UK, she has helped set up a hotline with a psychotherapist for support as well as weekly therapy groups.

Shelanu’s main focus has always been to strengthen Jewish and Israeli identity, which, she says, has never been more important for the estimated 80 to 100,000 Israelis living in the UK.

Rivka says the group has established a virtual “war room” to support community members in the UK.

“Everyone is connected to someone who has been killed or kidnapped, and people are experiencing trauma.” With her own husband so far away, she says: “My heart and my head are there. It is not easy to be here.”

Part of the work she and others are doing is to educate the wider population on what has happened and who Hamas are.

“I am sorry, but people here are being fed lies,” she tells the JC.

She says she was devastated to see British people taking down posters of kidnapped children.

“We are in pain and our hearts are broken.

“This needs to stop. We have never seen behaviour like this before.

“I have children. I am a mum. The attacks on Jews here and the protests supporting what happened have been traumatic,” she says.

Rivka, who lives in Hendon, says she and others have been trying to help Israelis who can’t get a flight home. “It can be scary and stressful being in a foreign country.

“My message to my community is that we are a strong country and army. We will heal our scars.”

Neta Gracewell is a theatre director, who has been in the UK for the last four years.
“I have always been aware that as an Israeli, people in the UK are not always going to respond positively towards me, but this week has been even more isolating,” she tells the JC.

The 32-year-old from east London says multiple people from her industry have been posting things on social media that “spread hatred and disinformation.

“It has made me question whether I can be part of this industry at all.”

She believes that, in the past, her identity has prevented her from getting jobs.

Her dad’s cousin was murdered in the attacks, and his daughter is believed to have been kidnapped.

She says: “My mother and sister are in bomb shelters.

“I phone my friends each day to ask then how they are, knowing I might not speak to them again.

“Being here is hard. I would rather be with my family. Being here leaves me asking myself if I will ever be allowed to be who I am. I am a human being, just asking for basic empathy.”

She says for Israelis living in Britian, the sense of grief they are all feeling is overwhelming.
“People don’t have the mental capacity to work. We are on an emotional rollercoaster. I am glad to be in a place where there are no rockets, but there is only one home.”

Nir Yedid, who lives in Totteridge in north London, says that before last week, he was not part of a big Israeli community in the UK. But following the attacks, a WhatsApp group he started to support people like him has grown to more than 1,000 members.

On Monday night, he spoke at the protest outside the BBC.

“I have never done anything like that before, but here I am. We were always used to the hostility as Israelis here in the UK, but in the wake of what has happened, it has been a lot worse.

“Everyone knows someone who is affected, and we are all upset. When people ask me if my family is OK, I tell them: ‘No’ because everyone in Israel is my family. We are one family.”

Nir, whose age means he has not been called up as a reserve, is spending “every waking hour” updating the group or trying to help people in the group who are in need. “It is exhausting, but I need to do something and it makes me feel like I am there. We are all trying to do something.”

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