Israeli soldiers carry a body in Kfar Aza, a kibbutz in southern Israel, Oct. 10. IDF works to remove the bodies of the victims from the homes where they were murdered by Hamas terrorist infiltrators Oct. 7. OSV News photo/Ronen Zvulun, Reuters

‘They were killed because they were Jewish’

  • October 11, 2023

My sister is a Shabbat-observing Orthodox Jew. When I saw the news trickling out of Israel on Saturday morning, I knew I wouldn’t be able to check in with her until that night. Her phone is off from Friday evening until Saturday sundown. Then I remembered that it was Simchat Torah, and that observant Jews in the U.S. wouldn’t be turning their phones back on until Sunday evening.

As my Canadian family sat down to our Sunday Thanksgiving dinner, I kept checking my phone. Not a normal dinner time habit in our house.

There was a ping at 20:09.

My sister has four kids to my five and one of them, a daughter who shares my name, has made her home in Israel. She is married to an Israeli and their first child, a little boy with enormous brown eyes, was born last year.

The ping told me that the “family is okay” but the next couple of words were “devastating” and “terrifying.” My niece’s husband had already been called up, “doesn’t know if going south or north.” By the time I spoke with my sister Monday morning, her son-in-law had left home. Deployed to the south as it happens, but frankly, the way things are going, south or north, there is not much to choose. He is one of four brothers — all of them have been deployed. Imagine being the parents of those men.

Israelis are tough and my niece, though raised in the U.S., is Israeli-tough. When Iron Dome, the Israeli air missile defence system, has been used in her area, she would describe nights in her apartment building’s mammad, or protected space, with the kind of insouciance we Canadians reserve for driving to work in a snowstorm.

This time though? This time is different.

It would be very easy for those of us in the West, who have no knowledge or natural affinity with the region beyond a cursory glance at headlines, to let the events of Oct. 7 pass us by as one more flare-up in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This time is different. Or rather, it is different in that it happened in Israel, but is eerily reminiscent of what happened in Europe in the 1930s and ’40s.

On Oct. 7, a large group of well-funded and well-armed terrorists went on a hunt. They were hunting down Jews. It didn’t matter if the hunted were children or elderly. It didn’t matter if they were peaceniks or hawks. It didn’t matter if they were Israeli or African or Australian. It certainly didn’t matter that they were civilians and not soldiers. What mattered was that they were Jews.

The young people who escaped with their lives from the massacre that took place at the music festival in the Negev desert (the death toll from that one location is currently at 260) have been telling their stories. One man described how he had jumped into a car with a few others who were trying to flee. They were being shot at and then a wheel got stuck in the sand. They abandoned the vehicle.

“We ran out of the car until we noticed a hole in the ground. We entered inside, held hands and prayed. It was just the two of us…. I told him ‘Do you know the stories of the Holocaust in which people pretended to be dead so they wouldn’t be noticed? This is what is gonna happen to us.’ ”

The stranger with whom he hid and prayed with was later shot and killed in front of his eyes. The author of the post would survive, as he had predicted, because he lay down amongst the corpses, smeared himself with their blood and “pretended to be dead.”

The numbers have now moved beyond a meme: Saturday was the single largest loss of life in one day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust. It wasn’t incidental to the massacre that they were Jewish — they were killed because they were Jewish.

Nota bene, note well, remember. In the wake of the lauding of a former member of Ukrainian Waffen-SS Galacia Division in the House of Commons last month, there were calls for mandatory Holocaust education in schools. We better get on that right quick.

I cannot say with any degree of confidence that my family will be “okay.” I pray that it is so, just as I pray for every family affected by these terrible events, including the innocent Palestinians of Gaza who have been left to the mercies, or lack thereof, of their rapacious Hamas leadership.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

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