‘Lives Were Lived Here’: A Photographer Bears Witness at Kibbutz Be’eri

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This is what remains of a couch in one of the first homes destroyed by the terrorists in Kibbutz Be’eri on Oct. 7. Photo credit: © Jay Garfinkel

Since making aliya to Jerusalem from Washington, D.C., nine years ago, Jay Garfinkel, a photo artist, has trained his camera and his talent on some of the most important and hard-to-express images in Israel: beloved objects — a key, a coffee cup, a tallit — that once belonged to young people killed in terror attacks. The faces of Bedouin citizens of Israel. Burned groves among the devastation caused by wildfires in the Jerusalem Forest. Hauntingly beautiful seascapes in Ashdod.

Late last month, Garfinkel, and his camera, joined a press group to visit what remains of Kibbutz Be’eri, the first kibbutz to be breached on Oct. 7. There, Hamas terrorists killed at least 130 infants, children, men and women, burned and desecrated houses and the kibbutz’s communal spaces and abducted members of the kibbutz.

“I’d been wishing I could do something to help, I don’t think I’d be good at picking crops,” said Garfinkel, when David Blumenfeld, a New York Times videographer, called him to suggest that he take photographs at the kibbutz. Blumenfeld was familiar with Garfinkel’s book, “Heirlooms,” which shared precious items selected by their parents that once belonged to young victims of terror.

Blumenfeld said he thought Garfinkel could capture some of the scenes on the kibbutz after seeing Rosh Hashanah art still on the walls of murdered kindergarteners, their toy drawers still pulled out.

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The opportunity to use his skills to preserve the memories of some of those killed was meaningful to Garfinkel. “I had recently finished a soon-to-be-published book, a modern-verse and illustrated version of the Book of Ecclesiastes,” said Garfinkel, “and I see Ecclesiastes as purpose-driven, and so after Oct. 7, I was looking for how to use my skills for purpose.”

So, Garfinkel went to Kibbutz Be’eri to bear witness and document what he saw with his camera and his soul. “I extract what I see and what I see is emotionally driven. I want those who look at the photos to get involved in what I felt, not what I saw.”

The Israel Defense Forces finally wrested control of Kibbutz Be’eri on the afternoon of Tuesday, Oct. 10, more than three days after the massacre began. Garfinkel’s photos begin at that moment, “where for now the kibbutz is frozen in time,” he said.

But during his tour of the kibbutz, Garfinkel heard the spokesman quote Psalm 126 when showing him the planting of the new wheat crop on the kibbutz fields: “We sow in sorrow and harvest in joy.”

“There will be a day in the future when remaining members of the kibbutz come back to harvest in joy,” said Garfinkel. “My work to document the intimate landscapes of Kibbutz Be’eri will conclude when the members who are still alive, but currently displaced, come back to their homes.”

Fran Kritz is a freelance writer.

The bullet-ridden wall outside the destroyed infirmary is just next to the kibbutz dining hall. 22-year-old medic Amit Man was there all day on Oct. 7 tending to the needs of those injured by Hamas terrorists. The last words — before she was killed by Hamas — that Man texted her sister, Lior, over WhatsApp, were “They’re here. They’re in the clinic. I don’t think I’ll make it out of here. I love you.” Photo credit: © Jay Garfinkel
A jar found on the windowsill of a home that was firebombed in Kibbutz Be’eri. It is the only surviving remnant of that home. Photo credit: © Jay Garfinkel
Rocking chair, with debris from the same house as the destroyed couch. Photo credit: © Jay Garfinkel
To the right, a bullet hole in a glass door on Kibbutz Be’eri; to the left, a notice about a missing cat, posted before Oct. 7. Photo credit: © Jay Garfinkel
A destroyed bathroom, in a destroyed house, on Kibbutz Be’eri. Photo credit: © Jay Garfinkel
Toys from a grandparent’s home, now destroyed, on Kibbutz Be’eri. The grandmother was murdered. The kibbutz has hired an archaeologist to search for the remains of the grandfather. Photo credit: © Jay Garfinkel
What was once the tea kettle of a kibbutz family, on top of their coffee maker, in their destroyed home on Kibbutz Be’eri. Photo credit: © Jay Garfinkel
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