From Peaceful Haven to Nightmare: Unveiling the Atrocities in Kibbutz Kfar Aza
The moment our group of 40 Yeshiva University students were instructed to immediately put on bullet proof vests and helmets was precisely when the tone of the visit turned into a serious life-risking reality. The heavy shields of armor, however, would fail to protect us from witnessing the horrors and atrocities which the people of Kibbutz Kfar Aza directly faced. The focus of my story centers on the inhumane barbarity that the small kibbutz experienced on Oct. 7, dialing back to the very day our hearts went to flames. I will try my hardest to provide an overview of the visit, but ultimately no words can do it justice.
With the proper fear and nervousness anticipated for the visit, we walked into Kibbutz Kfar Aza. Our tour guide, Ron, was an IDF spokesperson, prepared to deliver the atrocities of what exactly happened to our brothers and sisters on October 7th. Before starting her tour, Ron stressed the fact that this was not a memorial, up for tourist exploitation. Rather, these are people’s homes, their community, their safe place.
The civilians of Kfar Aza, just like anyone else in Israel pre-October 7th, were living fairly normal lives. Their quiet and loving community strongly believed in and advocated for peace between Israelis and Gazans, as their close proximity to their neighbors served as a testimony to their openness in political, economic and social affiliations. They were all peace activists — dreamers hoping for a more collaborative and tranquil relationship with the Gazans, yearning for coexistence. The people of Kfar Aza were not looking for a fight, yet terror hunted them.
Our first stop in Kibbutz Kfar Aza was a poster of Ofir Libstein’s political campaign. Libstein was the head of the Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council from 2018-2023 and was campaigning for his reelection. Libstein had many visions for the south, as he aspired to create the ‘Silicon Valley’ of Israel. A key element in his political career, as reflected in the ideals of the kibbutz, was the promotion of peace across the borders. Libstein called for the integration of Gazans into the Israeli workforce, as he regularly facilitated the transportation of Gazans into Israel for appointments, educational purposes or professional development. When detailing the early minutes of the terrorist infiltration, Ron explained how Libstein had exited his house with the intention of accessing the armory building— he sought to protect his people. To his demise, unfortunately, Libstein was met with a few terrorists, who brutally murdered him in front of his own property.
Ron continued the tour with the Edan household. Roy Edan was a photographer for Ynet, and upon the earlier wave of news regarding the attack, Edan left his corner house to take pictures and return his four year old daughter back to safety. From his street, you could see clearly and directly into Gaza, which rested only five kilometers away. Sadly, a terrorist had just landed by paraglider from Gaza, hitting the ground right in front of Roy and Abigail Edan. Roy tried to flee but was quickly shot. Abigail jumped out of her father’s limp arms and ran to the neighboring house. Within her own house, her mother was in the safe room and her older siblings (ages six and ten) were hiding in the closet, remaining there petrified for 14 straight hours. Both parents of the young Edan children were killed that day. Abigail, however, was taken captive, becoming the youngest female hostage in Gaza. After 50 days of barbaric captivity (including her birthday), Abigail Edan was released. The four year old girl returned home an orphan. She now lives with her grandparents and two siblings, forever traumatized from the inconceivable horrors.
The first loud boom from Gaza shattered our speechless walk. Startled and unnerved, all 44 of us jumped at the alarmingly present sound. No one had expected the bombings to have such a rattling impact, despite our dangerously close proximity to Gaza. It rang loudly in my ears. I could feel the heaviness in my chest as it reverberated along my body. I specifically remember becoming keenly aware of my firm stance on the earth beneath me. That first bombing was jarring, although as the day carried on, our adaptation and desensitization to the blasts deepened, to the point that it became mere background noise.
The final stop in Kfar Aza was a smaller community within the kibbutz known as the “young generation,” which were designated houses specifically for the young professionals and newly weds. Horrified, we all walked through the barren and lifeless homes that were ransacked, streaked with blood, and burned. It smelled of ash. Each house in its entirety was riddled with bullet holes, as the bullets even perforated the ceilings like stars in the sky.
Out of the “young generation,” only five residents walked out that day alive. The rest— their family, friends, and spouses— were either murdered or taken hostage. These gut-wrenching statistics are not mere numbers, however. These are people. Humans. Loved ones. Souls.
We were permitted to walk into the last house in the community. It belonged to Sivan Elkabets and Naor Hasidim, a young couple not much older than I. The living room was relatively cleared in comparison to the havoc it contained just weeks before. There were displays hung around the room picturing the absolute wreck that demolished the once-peaceful living space: photographs of the blood-soaked floor, their couch ripped into shreds and the shattered glass that covered the furniture remains. Elkabets and Hasidim’s home was completely ravaged into mournful ruins.
As I peered into people’s houses, I couldn’t help but notice the normalcy in their lives, buried beneath the thick layer of rubble. One house, in particular, had a ruined poster hanging above a desk in the living room. It was one of those overlooked yet simplistically happy signs that listed various optimistic quotes, such as “life is short,” and “just smile.” I found it painstaking to realize how abruptly that was actualized.
Millions of questions race through my mind when reflecting on this powerful visit. Am I making the best use of my time? Have I represented enough of what it means to be a Zionist Jew? Have I sacrificed myself in any means for the State of Israel?
One of the main messages on our trip was to bear witness. We were sent on a mission not simply to observe, but to testify. To record and recount the nightmares of Oct. 7. But this was not a nightmare; there was no ‘waking up’ after a horrifying thought or hoping that everything would be okay. The terror and undescribable pain that this Kibbutz faced was no mere tragedy; it was an agonizing descent into unimaginable suffering, a stark reminder of the necessity of carrying the memory with us.
We are not dreaming. And we are not okay.
Photo Caption: The walls of a home in Kfar Aza covered in bullet holes
Photo Credit: Zehava Shatzkes