For Rabbi Binyamin Krauss and a group of SAR Academy and High School students, parents and teachers, a November trip to Israel following the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks was more enlightening than they could have ever imagined.
They met a family from a kibbutz in Kfar Aza that survived the initial onslaught on the Gaza border. Amit Ades, her husband Tomer Ades and their three children befriended the group.
“I met Amit when I was with a group of around 70 SAR students, parents and teachers on a three-day mission in Israel in November to volunteer and connect after Oct. 7,” Rabbi Krauss said. “And we had been talking to an organization that was providing support to families.”
Through that introduction to Amit, the rabbi and others in the group were so impressed with the harrowing story of her family’s survival that they invited her to be their guests in the United States.
“Amit came back to our hotel (in Israel),” the rabbi said. “She was very articulate. We offered to bring her and her family back with us for a week. That week turned into a month.”
In the end, the Ades family spent 25 days in the U.S. where Amit told her story more than 20 times. Since Oct. 7, SAR has raised about $300,000 to support families like the Ades, Rabbi Krauss said. “But the needs are pretty overwhelming,” he said. “We are just trying to do our part.”
The Ades family as well as others living in kibbutzes in Israel near the Gaza border suffered at the hands of the Hamas terrorist group, which is the governing body for the Gaza Strip. On that fateful October Shabbat morning 1,200 Israelis were tortured and killed and some 200-plus were taken hostage.
While many of those victims are not able to share their stories, the Ades family has made it their mission to make sure no one ever forgets what happened that day.
“We live in a kibbutz in Israel,” Amit said. “For me, it was the best way to raise my kids. It’s a place that is very simple. Kids can walk barefoot.
“The kibbutz is 95 percent heaven and 5 percent hell since we are near the Gaza Strip. Once every six months, we would have missile attacks. But we would leave the house for a while until it was over.”
But on Oct. 7, Amit and Tomer knew something was different.
“It started at 6:30 in the morning. That was when the first alarm came on,” she said. “It was different this time. It kept coming on and on. I thought it was coming from Syria. Then we heard the first gunshots outside our house.”
The next 36 hours were quite treacherous and mind-numbing for the Ades family. Because of the suddenness of the attack so early in the morning, they were not prepared for what awaited them.
They spent most of their time holed up in their safe room, which did not have a lock on the door nor was it bulletproof. That room was only about 5 square feet, according to Amit. The only food they could eat was a birthday cake they made for their son Shir, who turned 5 on Oct. 7.
“Usually, we use it as a sleeping room,” Amit said about the safe room. “Usually we have five seconds to get inside (when something happens). There are two beds, a closet and that’s it. It’s not big at all. There was no food, no water, no toilets in the safe room.”
The only means of communication for the kibbutz community of 840 people was their cell phones and the WhatsApp on those phones.
“We had no one to call for help,” Amit said. “We started using What’s App to talk to our neighbors. Some people wrote, ‘They are at our house. Please help us. Someone showed a What’s App video of trucks coming through the fence with guns and weapons.”
One person wrote that her husband was wounded just outside of our house, Amit added. “She asked if we could come out and save him,” she said. “I didn’t want him (Tomer) to go. My husband told me had to go and that he couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t.”
Unfortunately, that person died in their home. So Tomer shut off the lights so the children could not see the body, Amit said.
Someone wrote: “Why is no one coming? God, help. God.”
Those messages went on for hours, Amit recalled. “And no one responded. Then there was silence. They were killed.”
“No one was coming for two hours, four hours, then six hours, then nine hours, overnight,” Amit said.
Then the most unimaginable happened.
“Some people started to send their locations on What’s App. At some point, the terrorists got people’s cell phones and sent terrible photos,” Amit said. “Then they followed the directions from the people where they live, and they killed them.”
Just how did the Ades family cope?
Amit described the desperation: “It was very long. You can’t cry because there are people around you. We didn’t want others to panic around us, if we panicked. You’re just surviving. You just have to function and survive until it’s over. I thought there were some times when I didn’t think we would make it. When they took the cell reception off.
When the morning came after the attacks, it was our son’s actual birthday date. We brought the cake inside, sang happy birthday and he made a wish. I didn’t leave the room at all.”
Early Sunday Tomer said it was time to eat some real food. So, he began to boil some eggs. While he was doing that, the shooting began again, and it was getting louder and louder, Amit said.
They went back into the safe room for cover and started hearing shooting right outside the front door. Then they heard someone yell “clear,” like soldiers do.
Amit and Tomer were still afraid it was the terrorists looking to finish them off. “People have told us that some of the terrorists dressed up like the IDF and shoot you,” Amit said referring to the soldiers knocking on the safe room door.
“We told them we’re Israelis behind the door,” she said. “They asked if we had IDs. They were at least as shocked as we were. They said that there was lots of blood on the front yard. And no one heard from us. They thought we were dead.”
After that about 15 soldiers searched their home for possible terrorists. They wound up staying behind to protect the home.
“A soldier was protecting us by standing guard at our window,” Amit said. “They sang happy birthday to our son.”