It is humbling to meet people who have lived through a waking nightmare so painful that our imaginations shy away from it.
The people — babies, children, extremely elderly Holocaust survivors — on kibbutzim including Kfar Aza and Be’eri, in such towns as Sderot and Ofakim, and at the music festival in the desert — most of them Jews, some of them Israeli Muslims, and some Thai and Filipino workers — were brutalized and butchered in ways that bring medieval berserkers to mind. Women were raped, often to death, proving that the crime is not one of passion but of hatred. People were hacked to death as if their murderers were living out the vilest murder sites on the dark Web.
The two 15-year-olds and their grandmother who spoke recently in Short Hills were in a safe room for 36 hours as unspeakable acts of torture and murder went on around them. They saw videos and read WhatsApp messages in real time, as evil was done to people in their community.
And there they were in New Jersey, with the cousins acting like regular — if perhaps unusually polite and thoughtful — 15-year-olds. They giggled, they teased about boyfriends, they talked about their schools — Galit’s is a boarding school that has its students spend the mornings in the fields, learning about agriculture, and Mika’s is so progressive that it sounds almost Walden-esque. They’re very different from each other and clearly they’re very close.
Their grandmother, Liora, is very smart, self-contained, and careful. She clearly is very proud of her granddaughters, whom she seems to protect unobtrusively, and whose independence she cherishes.
All of this seems normal, the way a well-adjusted, happy family would act in public.
But this family has undergone trauma less than two months ago.
Sometimes the strain shows. Sometimes they cry — and when they cry, so does everyone else in the room. Sometimes the vast sadness comes through.
But the resilience, strength, toughness, and absolute determination to live, to go on, to achieve, to experience life on their terms, not on Hamas’s, comes through.
And there’s a huge lesson in that.
Just as we are told that Israel benefits not only from our money, but also from our love, our support, our political protection, and our all-around commitment both to the state of Israel and to its people, we benefit from these Israelis.
To be clear, this is not an endorsement of Israel’s politics. It is apparent that something will change once the war is over. Too many Israelis are too upset with the government now, with its misunderstanding of Hamas’s true intention — even though Hamas has not been shy about that intention — and its cavalier destruction of Israel’s reputation for nearly superhuman intelligence, discipline, and victory.
But it is an endorsement of Israelis. They are moving forward. It is our job to bear witness to the horrors they recount to us, the resilience we see, and the future that we share. We are all one people.