Flashbacks of the Furrows of Strength


By Karin Tulchinsky Cohen

Kibbutz Nir Oz is like the mythical shtetl Anatevka from “Fiddler on the Roof.” Just as the film’s characters loved Anatevka, Nir Oz is treasured by its resolute and now displaced residents, who were forced to leave after the kibbutz was ravaged in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

In the early 1980s, Nir Oz was my home for over two years while I served as a lone soldier in the IDF. My memories of Nir Oz flicker in and out of focus. Since Oct. 7, faded flashbacks have become clearer. But memories of a place that I called home are now mixed with images of searing destruction.

While I lived at Nir Oz, I got to know many of the members through caring for their cherished children. A communal style of child-rearing is at the core of kibbutz ideology. The names of the children’s houses reflect kibbutz members’ love of the natural world. I worked with four-year-olds in a children’s house called Chatzav. The chatzav is a hearty desert plant that can thrive in sandy soil.

The community’s focus on child-rearing was reflected in the rhythm of kibbutz life. At 11:00 every morning, the mothers of babies and preschoolers would leave work and go to their children’s houses for sha’at ahavah — “love hour.” The mothers would play with their children, chat with each other and enjoy the bonds of community in a loving environment.

It was a very important part of the day because, since the children slept in the children’s houses, the time that the mothers spent with them was truly precious.

At Chatzav, I worked with the head metapelet — child care provider — Tsipa Ruben. Tsipa impressed me with her deep intuitive understanding of children. She was a child whisperer and a parent-support provider. Tsipa could prevent tantrums with a well-timed drink of water and appease nervous mothers with a kind comment and an affirming observation.

Tsipa helped me navigate the complex dynamics that swirled around the emotionally charged experience of caring for other peoples’ children.

Kibbutz life began very early in the morning. After work, there were afternoon naps to cope with the heat of the day. In the evening before dinner, there were ritual visits with friends for coffee and conversation. I loved visiting Tsipa and her husband Heshie. There was always coffee, fresh fruit and home-baked cake or cookies. Tsipa became my kibbutz mother and the Rubens were my kibbutz family.

After Oct. 7, the i24 news channel broadcast a story about the Ruben family. It featured one of the daughters, Hadar Ruben, sifting through the rubble that is all that remained of her parents’ house. At the end of the video, Hadar shared her nostalgia about her childhood home. Though she left the kibbutz many years ago, she now feels drawn to return to Nir Oz. It is a special place that calls out to be rebuilt and reclaimed.

Many years after I left Nir Oz, I realized that I had recreated the childhood family structure I had while growing up. My parents divorced when I was seven years old. My father remarried and my mother remained single until I was 16.

I had Tsipa and Heschie as one kibbutz family, but I also connected with Bracha Levenson, a divorced mother with two young girls. Bracha was also a kibbutz mother of mine. She was easy to talk to, completely non-judgmental and her home felt very comfortable. I was used to being with a single mother and Bracha was always available for a deep conversation or a lighthearted laugh.

As I searched the internet for news about the border communities that were attacked on Oct. 7, I desperately hoped that Nir Oz might have been spared. The first story I found drew a clear line between before and after Oct. 7. Bracha’s house was one of the first to be attacked and she was ruthlessly murdered.

The terrorists filmed her death. They took Bracha’s phone and uploaded the harrowing scene onto her Facebook page. Bracha’s family discovered what happened when they saw the post. The terrorists burned down her house and her body was consumed by the blaze. Her funeral could not be held within the traditional Jewish time frame of 24 hours because it took several weeks for her scorched remains to be identified.

This small community suffered unimaginable atrocities on that day. Primal screams echo in the ruins of Nir Oz.

In Buddhist tradition there is a story about two arrows that illustrates how we experience pain. The first arrow is the source of pain. The second arrow is the story that surrounds the pain.

For me, the first arrow was the atrocities of Oct. 7. The second arrow was the worldwide embrace of Jew-hatred and thousands of people engaging in a reversal of truth.

Nir Oz was burned and battered. What was left there? A chair, a table, a garden, a pathway? Perhaps, but there is a very significant difference between Anatevka and Nir Oz.

Anatevka was a place from which the downtrodden left to build a new life somewhere else. Nir Oz is a place where the victorious will reunite, return and rebuild. Furrows of strength will never be defeated and will never be abandoned. Nir Oz will rise again, stronger, more determined and more resilient than ever.

Karin Tulchinsky Cohen is an elementary school administrator who lived at Kibbutz Nir Oz during her IDF service.


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