Op/Ed

Sarit Katzew: Israel Hamas war touches all Jews

“Everyone is exhausted — even if at any given moment they are physically safe they are psychologically traumatized. We all are.”
— Sarit Katzew

Editor’s note: Sarit Katzew of Brandon provided the following commentary in response to the Addison Independent’s request for a local Jewish leader’s perspective on the Israel Hamas War. We sought her out because she is Director Of Education/Program and Outreach Coordinator at Havurah, The Addison County Jewish Community; but she is writing here for herself and not on behalf of Havurah. Her parents were visiting relatives in Tel Aviv when the war started and as of this writing were still trying to get a flight home to the United States.

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Sarit Katzew

My younger sister moved to Israel about 12 years ago. She is married to an Israeli (she has dual citizenship) and they have a 1-year-old son. They live in Tel Aviv. My brother-in-law has a large family; I’ve met many of them and am now connected to others through my sister’s marriage. They live in various places but my sister’s in laws are in Herzeliya.

My maternal aunt made Aliyah at this point around 50 years ago and lives with her husband (native Israeli) on a kibbutz in the North. Their kids/my cousins also live in Israel.

I was born in the United States but my family lived in Israel when I was a child — my father was working on his doctoral thesis and my mother was clergy at a synagogue in Jerusalem (my parents are a Rabbi and Cantor in the reform movement). I attended the equivalent of pre-k, kindergarten and first grade in Israel and returned to the States in second grade. We left in part due to the onset of the Gulf War.

I’ve been back to Israel over the years many times, studied there in high school, led teen trips there after college and was actually in Israel when Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped and held hostage, which led to a war with Lebanon in 2006.

I have many friends, colleagues as well as former students who have in the past or currently do live in Israel.

I woke up Saturday, Oct. 7, to a series of text and WhatsApp messages from my parents and sister beginning at around 2:30 a.m. my time (overnight) and continuing every hour while I was asleep that said things like “We are alive,” “We are safe. We are still learning about the extent of the war,” and updates about my aunt and uncle who had been visiting Tel Aviv but immediately returned to their kibbutz.

I wasn’t able to reach them at first, calls kept dropping, FaceTime wasn’t going through.

Once I did finally reach my parents during one of our calls, a warning siren went off and they had to retreat to the stairwell. This is standard protocol for buildings without bomb shelters/fortified rooms.

At one point a rocket hit about three to five blocks from where they were staying and shattered all the windows. Someone I know/work with has a niece who actually lived across from the rocket crash site and decided to evacuate to another city.

I’ve been doing my best to keep in regular contact with my sister and parents but the time difference has made that somewhat challenging. I go long stretches not hearing from anyone. At one point they received an alert to gather food/water and supplies and prepare to hunker down for up to 72 hours so they decided to go to the in-laws in Herzeliya so as to be together and have access to a proper bomb shelter. They spent three days there. They have since returned to Tel Aviv.

My brother in-law was in army intelligence and he and his siblings are all part of reserves with different roles. His youngest brother is in Special Ops and the family gathers each day eagerly awaiting an update and praying not to see his name in the lists of lost soldiers released daily. My aunt and parents know a couple from a kibbutz who are among those being held hostage.

My parents have spent the bulk of the visit indoors. They had planned to be going to different cities, seeing friends, having meals out, enjoying concerts, arts and culture and haven’t been able to do any of that. Brief walks on high alert with armed family members so the dogs can get some exercise provide brief respite, they volunteered for several hours sorting donated supplies, but mostly are spending lots of time with their grandson, whose nursery has been closed, so my sister and brother-in-law can try to work a little and decompress. Everyone welcomes the fleeting distraction of infant/toddler giggles.

My sister has her son sleep in his stroller so they can carry it down the stairs when the sirens go off hoping he won’t be awakened. Everyone is exhausted — even if at any given moment they are physically safe they are psychologically traumatized. We all are.

My reaction was shock, sadness, an inability to fully process the inhumane scope of the terror attack, but not surprise. Hamas is an evil entity whose main mission is to extinguish Jewish lives. Beheading babies, burning people in their homes, going door to door and shooting people, kidnapping children, the elderly, raping, torturing, parading desecrated bodies in the streets and celebrating every drop of spilled Jewish blood. It’s barbaric, it’s grotesque, it’s devoid of humanity.

My Facebook algorithm reminded me that 11 years prior to Oct. 7 (to the day) my sister and I had been at a nature party in Israel, dancing with friends. I remember those muddy fields and tents and DJ stands. On Oct. 7, 2023, a similar nature party/music festival was the target of a Hamas massacre. It could have been us praying to make it back home safely.

I think the main thing that is hard for non-Jews to understand is it touches all of us. I don’t know a single Jewish person who doesn’t know someone directly impacted. There aren’t that many Jews in the world. Israel is about the size of New Jersey — but whether you’re religiously observant or secular, Zionist or not, overwhelmingly, Jews are connected to Israel in some way.

There’s a lot of nuance to the history, the conflict, the different narratives and multiple truths one holds at once (even when those things are in conflict) but there’s no nuance to one thing — Hamas = terrorism. Full stop.

There is so much pain and fear right now. Israelis and Palestinians are suffering, the atrocity of nearly two weeks ago is still unfolding in real time — and Jews everywhere are not OK.

Check in on your Jewish friends, colleagues, community members, neighbors. You may have complex feelings when it comes to Israel (chances are they do too). You may not know the right words to say. But right now the truth is Jews are in mourning and reaching out is a place to start.

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Jewish Communities of Vermont identified resources for people who wish to support Israel and the Israeli people:

Please note 100% of your donation to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Israel Crisis Relief Fund will provide essential support for those in need, with aid distributed swiftly through our partners on the ground. In addition you can also choose from these options of direct contributions:

  • Assuta Hospital near Gaza Border needs your urgent help. Donations will cover a variety of medical emergency equipment. For credit card donations, go directly to: www.AssutaAshdodFriends.org. For bank transfers in the USA through the Friends of Samson Assuta Ashdod Hospital [tax exempt according to 501(c)(3)]:

JPMorgan Chase Bank

383 Madison Ave, NY, NY

ABA# 021000021

SWIFT# CHASU33

Account Number: 939921786

Account Name: American Friends of Assuta Ashdod

  • Emergency support for Israel Defense Forces frontline gear. Hundreds of thousands of reservists have been mobilized to the front line. While they will be risking their lives to protect our country, they are fitted with outdated gear from the 1980s. If you have the means, please donate.
  • American Friends of Magen David Adom. Your donationensures Magen David Adom’s 33,000 paramedics, EMTS, first responders, and first-aid providers (volunteers and staff) have the training, equipment, and medical supplies they need to treat all injured and ill people in Israel.
  • American Israel Democracy Coalition. The Democracy in Israel Protest Community in New York is raising money for the Israelis who live in the south of Israel and are now under an immediate threat to their lives. Donateand share.
  • For more information, please get in touch with Rabbi Shemtovor Ted Molnarfrom Jewish Communities of Vermont.
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