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134 is more than just a number; Spread their stories 

Updated: Apr 9



Uriah Shloim recounts his life changing trip to Israel. He recently volunteered and heard numerous impactful stories from victims of the events of October 7th with the Kedma campaign.


The Kedma campaign 2024 felt really special. This trip to Israel had been my first since the 7th of October and I didn’t know what to expect. I wanted to understand the real stories of victims of the terror brought by Hamas, but the impact that these stories would have on me was unknown. I had so many questions beforehand and was very confused and angry at the world for letting these events happen. While I may have not fully answered these questions after leaving Israel, but I am now comforted in the fact that so many others feel similarly to me.


Upon landing in Israel on the 28th of March, viewing the signs in Ben Gurion airport with sadly familiar faces, such as Kfir and Ariel Bibas, titled with ‘bring them home now’ set the tone for the whole trip. Every individual face on these posters had a story to tell and the question shifted from ‘What happened on the 7th of October’ to ‘Who do you know affected by the 7th of October. After travelling to Tel Aviv, we listened to talks by Hadar and Elad, both survivors of the Nova festival and it was impactful to hear how different and harrowing their stories were. I think the severity of trauma that people experienced on October 7th is often undermined. Hadar spoke about her and her boyfriend helping injured survivors in the hospital tents and four me this highlighted the lack of help from authority figures. Elad touched upon the losing contact with the big group he came with and spoke about his 2 best friends being murdered by Hamas Terrorists. What felt so real about these stories is that they were so close to us in age. No person should experience this but when hearing about it from people in their early 20’s the situation felt even harder to process. I believe that hearing the stories of those who survived such events must be spread, as it undermines their experiences if these stories aren’t or shared. It is up to us to listen.


The next day we volunteered at a strawberry picking farm, where the farmers were also hit hard by the effect of October 7th. The effect on everyday civilians after October 7th is often missed out in the news. One of the employees explained to us that the majority of workers on farms in Israel are international immigrants from countries like Thailand and Nigeria, and after October 7th, many of these workers went back home after the war broke out. The farm used to have 88 employees and now is left with 14, leaving the farmers with a much greater need for aid. The farm had multiple different groups of volunteers from Panama to the USA. Volunteering here felt so special as it wasn’t just in the words of Lucy Ross,’ taking a picture for the Instagram of us eating strawberries’, it was working and helping people who need us to survive.


After meeting the year coursers on Friday night, I realised I felt so much safer in Israel at that moment than in the UK. The idea that we could show our Jewish identity by singing Shabbat songs and wearing our Magen David’s was so special to me. This same idea followed during Havdalah the following day where we could scream our songs without judgement.

Sunday 30th of March was the hardest for me. We arrived at Hostage Square, which was once a happy square, just outside the Tel Aviv Museum where people would go and hang with their friends: now transformed into an emotional landmark in Israel. Some of the posters of hostages had words in Hebrew saying נרצחmeaning murdered. I think seeing these young faces of regular people who had their whole life ahead of them, people like you and me, made everything feel so real, especially those plastered with messages from their loved ones. This experience helped me establish further the idea that 134 isn’t just the number of hostages. Each hostage is just like me and you with a valuable story to tell.

After hearing a talk by an English teacher of Avinatan, one of the hostages, I felt almost as if I knew him. Avinatan was charming, funny, meant to move into an apartment in November with his girlfriend Noa, also held hostage in Gaza. It saddens me to see the lack of support shown by the Israeli government of which not one active politician has visited the hostage square in Tel Aviv. 134 is not just a number, Avinatan and Noa were just a young couple moving in together and it is so difficult for me to process the reality of the situation.

 

We then visited the Shiba hospital in Tel Hashomer. Upon arrival, we listened Elisha’s inspiring story. Elisha is 44 years old, married with six children and on the 7th of October, after terrorists infiltrated kibbutzim around Gaza, he put on his old army uniform and took his weapon and went to protect the nearby kibbutzim. What stuck out most was that he highlighted the lack of help given by the army, the police, and the general security in Israel on October 7th. After doing so, Elisha received a call up to the army and was sent as part of the first units into Gaza. After just over a month in Gaza, Elisha’s life completely changed. When exploring a house with weapons in with his team, a picture was taken of Elisha and his team upstairs, and when going downstairs another photo was taken by a hidden camera signalling a terrorist to activate explosions and explode the house. Elisha stated he saw 12 separate legs fly into the air. 4 of his team got injured and 4 were murdered, including his best friend. Elisha was miraculously saved by one of his team, however he was left without his legs. After being in a coma, he woke up experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, scared the building would explode. Elisha said that sharing his story was hard but after arriving to the Shiba hospital in January, he had the courage to start spreading his story. The final message we were given was to carry on smiling and be happy. It’s so important at such a tough time he said to smile and be with your loved ones. In a second it could all disappear.


We then travelled to 2 different hotels and ran activities for children coming from families that have been evacuated from their homes in Kiryat Shmona. This was something that was little effort for us, taking an hour of our time, however it was so meaningful to the evacuated families. After speaking to Tamar, the mother of 2 children taking part in the arts and crafts, she explained to me that the accommodation she has now had to live in for over 6 months isn’t comforting or homey, lacking a simple kitchen. It must be so tough to lose your home, to lose your routine and have to completely change your way of life without a secure place to go to. I don’t think we can fully understand the difficulty of this, as people who are fortunate enough to have a home, not in a war zone. The fact that there are thousands of families like Tamar’s with their rights infringed having to relocate is difficult to comprehend.


We then travelled back to our hotel in Netanya where we listened to a talk by Dara, the partner of Yaron Chitiz who was killed in Gaza in December. Darah was incredibly brave to share his story so soon after his death and is one of the strongest people I received a talk from. Darah gave us the story of how her and Yaron met, in a Passover Seder last year. What stuck out to me the most was that Darah described Yaron’s smile as radiating positive energy and even if he had a tough day, his smile would bring light to everyone. Yaron managed to meet his newborn niece the weekend before he was killed. I now carry Yaron’s sticker with me in my phone case with the message to keep on smiling. It is often undermined the effect that death has on family members and people tend to dwell on the legacy, not the positive memories. The positive memories of Yaron and many others like him are so important to spread.


To give back to Israel, on the final day we volunteered in Leket Israel. Leket Israel is a charity which changed its aims after October 7th. It now aims to give fresh food to dispersed families, soldiers, and families that don’t have the capability to buy fresh food. We collectively packaged lemons and oranges to give to the organisation. The idea that us as civilian volunteers could have an impact at a time like this reassured me that I was making a small difference in some way.


The Kedma campaign travelling to Israel after October 7th changed me massively. When you volunteer, hear people's stories, and see the change in atmosphere in Israel it all begins to feel so real. It goes without saying that the attacks of October 7th changed all of our lives, but visiting the place it all happens gives a completely different perspective. I think now that I have experienced this trip I can finally spread the stories of people like Avinatan and Elisha and it is now my role to do so. We take for granted the position of privilege we are in I think now hearing face to face these stories made that clear. The 10 million people of Israel are in need of support from all of us. It is our duty to unite and spread each victims story. Am Israel Chai.

Uriah Shloim

 

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