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From the Rubble of ‘Be’eri’: A Kibbutz Mourns Its Dead and Vows to Rebuild | Photo Essay

Sharon Israel
Sharon Shani stands amid the ruins of the elementary school in Kibbutz Be’eri, taken over by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7 (Photo by Sharon Waxman)

From the Rubble of ‘Be’eri’: a Kibbutz Mourns Its Dead and Vows to Rebuild | Photo Essay

TheWrap gets a rare glimpse inside a devastated community five months after a murderous rampage by Hamas terrorists, the first in a series

KIBBUTZ BE’ERI, Israel — Ela Shani Kozin turned 15 in January, just three months after she survived the Hamas terrorist attack on her kibbutz, Be’eri, a few kilometers from Israel’s border with Gaza.

On the dark day of Oct. 7, 2023, when 1,200 people were murdered in Israel, Be’eri suffered the worst losses among three kibbutzim attacked. About 100 of its 1,200 residents were killed, and dozens more taken hostage. The violence was unspeakable. Families were burned in their homes. Survivors spoke of hearing hours of torture while cowering in their safe rooms. Two teenage girls were found naked and murdered, with rape presumed. Their father is a hostage.

report-from-israel
report-from-israel

Shani’s father, 72-year-old Itzik Kozin, was killed and his house burned to a cinder. The next street over lifelong peace activist Vivian Silver, 74, was killed. Shani’s teenaged cousin Amit was taken hostage, as was 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz and 9-year-old Irish-Israeli Emily Hand. They all returned to Israel in a hostage exchange in November. But Lifshitz’s husband Oded, 83, is still held by Hamas.

Five months after the deadly attack that triggered yet another Mideast war, I returned to Israel to better understand the impact of this devastating massacre, whose aftermath has rippled throughout the world, including in California’s corridors of popular culture.

Far from the screaming crowds on college campuses and beyond the angry activists ripping up photos of hostages, there is Be’eri, where people have family members who are actually hostages, and are trying to reclaim their lives after the horror.

Last December, Ela spoke about her experiences at TheWrap’s Power Women Summit. She recently returned and invited me to tour the devastated kibbutz with her and her mother Sharon, who has been living at a hotel in the Dead Sea since the attack. On this day she visited her father’s house for only the second time since Oct. 7.

Be’eri was founded in 1946, two years before the establishment of the state of Israel, by members of the left-wing Zionist youth movement called HaNoar HaOved VeHaLomed. It was named for one of the founders of Labor Zionism, which is tied to the worker’s movement. Back then, Be’eri was a tiny community with a population of 150, reclaiming desert land and planting trees. They were joined in subsequent years by young Jews from Iraq.

Over time, the kibbutz prospered and became wealthy, and for decades has been known for its thriving print business in addition to its agriculture. Jews came to settle there decades ago from as far away as Argentina.

The community is exceedingly close knit. Everyone knows every other family. Generations have grown up here, and stayed. Now traumatized and mourning, residents are slowly returning to the kibbutz to occupy those homes that were not destroyed. The homes incinerated by Hamas have not yet been touched, and many remain as testimonials to the residents who were killed there.

The kibbutz does not usually allow journalists to enter so this is a rare glimpse of a community coping with the aftermath of Oct. 7., and the tour of sorrow when their nightmares came to life.

Sharon Israel
Photo by Sharon Waxman

The home of Nir Shani, after Hamas terrorists destroyed it.

Sharon’s brother, Nir, texted her first thing in the morning on Oct. 7: “Arabs outside. Talk later.” He ran to his safe room and a few minutes later terrorists attacked his villa, situated toward the rear security fence of the kibbutz where Hamas militants entered. The house was destroyed, then burned. His teenaged son, Amit, was taken hostage.

Sharon Israel
Photo by Sharon Waxman

Sharon Shani surveys the wreckage of her brother Nir’s home.

Sharon Israel
Photo by Sharon Waxman

The destroyed home of 9-year-old Emily Hand, the Irish-Israeli girl who was kidnapped by Hamas, and released in a hostage exchange on Nov. 26. The other two residents were also taken hostage, and later released.

Sharon Israel
Photo by Sharon Waxman

Hamas terrorists attacked Noy and Machol Shosh and their three small children in this home on the morning of Oct. 7. Hiding in their safe room, which every house in the kibbutz has, Noy was shot through the door and bleeding heavily, according to resident Meirav Barkan. Machol held his wound to stem the bleeding when terrorists set fire to the house to force them out. She had to choose between opening the window to allow air in or holding his wound. She ultimately opened the window and saved herself and the three children. Noy died. Machol later learned she was pregnant, and will give birth in the coming weeks.

Sharon Israel
Photo by Sharon Waxman

In this home, Sharon Shani told me Ohad Cohen was shot dead at the door of his safe room, trying to block his wife Sandra who was holding their nine-month-old baby, Mila. The baby was killed in her mother’s arms. The mother survived, as did her two young sons, Liam and Dylan, who the attackers tried to kidnap but found their car was full. So they left them.

As it happened, three generations of the Cohen family were murdered this day. Ohad’s mother Yona, 73, was also killed in her home on Kibbutz Be’eri. Her body was found 11 days after the attack. All three generations were laid to rest side by side at the Yarkon cemetery in Petach Tikvah, according to Israeli media.

Sharon Israel
Photo by Sharon Waxman

A pitched battle went on for hours as wounded residents ran and hid in the medical clinic across from the elementary school of the kibbutz. With shots all around, paramedic Amit Man, 22, treated as many as she could. Two of the Israelis had their own weapons, but eventually their ammunition ran out and Hamas attackers overran the clinic. Man and the others were killed. One nurse, Nirit, hid in a cupboard and survived.

Sharon Israel
Photo by Sharon Waxman

The bullet-pocked wall of the medical clinic.

Sharon Israel
Photo by Sharon Waxman

Residents leave messages to those who were killed at the medical clinic.

Photo by Sharon Waxman
Photo by Sharon Waxman

Poster for Amit Man, the medic in charge of the clinic who was killed.

Resident Meirav Barkan, 43, said the day before the attack the kibbutz had celebrated its 77th anniversary. She showed me photos of herself as a child growing up there, still posted for the celebration in the communal building.

About 100 residents have returned to live at the kibbutz, she said, including her father, aged 81. “Eight days after the attack he came back to work” in the kibbutz printing press business, “before all the blood was wiped off the house,” she said.

Meirav’s mother, 81, was murdered in their home on Oct. 7. Barkan’s son, Doron, killed several attackers from the balcony of their home, she said, showing me a photo on her phone with two of the dead.

Sharon Israel
Photo by Sharon Waxman

Maayan Lifshitz, 27, holds a photo of her grandfather Oded, an 83-year-old Be’eri resident who is still held hostage. Her grandmother, Yocheved, 85, was among the first hostages to be released. I met her in Tel Aviv, at the Hostage and Missing Families Forum center, where families regularly meet for support and information.

Sharon Israel
Photo by Sharon Waxman

On Oct. 7, Ela Shani Kozin hid in her family’s safe room with her mother Sharon and her eight-year-old brother and his friend. (Initially the boys slept until 12 p.m. and then watched “SpongeBob Squarepants” until the shooting came close.) The terrorists were roaming the kibbutz, but did not reach every house or every street. Lacking clear information, Sharon texted her parents, brother and Ela’s father all day in their homes on the kibbutz. Ela’s father was shot dead in the early afternoon. Ela’s grandmother, 80, was shot twice, through the door of their safe room, but survived. Her grandfather also survived, and emerged from the safe room to find a dead terrorist face down on his couch.

Photo by Sharon Waxman
Photo by Sharon Waxman

A home burned on Oct. 7

Photo by Sharon Waxman
Photo by Sharon Waxman

The Hamas attackers set up their headquarters at the children’s third and fourth grade administration building, coordinating their plans. Nothing remains of the building.

Sharon Israel
(Photo by Sharon Waxman)

Here is Ela’s speech to the Power Women Summit in December:

The post From the Rubble of ‘Be’eri’: A Kibbutz Mourns Its Dead and Vows to Rebuild | Photo Essay appeared first on TheWrap.