newsOctober 7

‘Resilience’: Oct. 7 survivors share testimony in Florence ahead of Tour 

“We need to remind the whole world that the hostages must return home," Avida Bachar from Kibbutz Be'eri says.

Oct. 6 survivors Avida Bachar (left) and Sharon Shevo finish their ride at the Tour de France fan zone in Piazza Santa Croce, Florence, June 27, 2024. Photo by Amelie Botbol.
Oct. 6 survivors Avida Bachar (left) and Sharon Shevo finish their ride at the Tour de France fan zone in Piazza Santa Croce, Florence, June 27, 2024. Photo by Amelie Botbol.

“It is essential for us to speak up about the face of true evil. Hamas’s evil is endless,” Avida Bachar, who lost his wife, Dana, his son Carmel and his right leg in the Oct. 7 terror invasion, told JNS in Florence. 

Bachar and Sharon Shevo, both survivors of the massacre at Kibbutz Be‘eri, shared their testimony with an Italian crowd gathered on Thursday for the Balagan Café cultural festival in the garden of the Tempio Maggiore Israelites di Firenze (“the Great Synagogue of Florence”).

Father Bernard Gianni and Enrico Fink, president of the Jewish community of Florence, speak at the Balagan Café festival. Photo by Amelie Botbol.

The 12th edition of the festival, dubbed “Where Peace Begins,” included a musical performance and a panel discussion with the president of the Jewish community, Enrico Fink, and Father Bernardo Gianni, who led a silent solidarity march through the city in the aftermath of Oct. 7.

“While we have had antisemitic events occurring, we live in a positive environment, as positive as possible in these times,” Fink told JNS.

“We feel the gravity of the situation, there are moments of real worry because the voices who want to bar Israel are more present. But we are optimistic that they will not be listened to,” he added.

“Israel stands for peace and there is no future for the Middle East or even the world without the Jewish nation, as a safe place for everybody in the region,” Fink said.

Every Thursday evening from June 20 to Sept. 5, residents of Florence, where about 800 Jews live, can attend the festival and get acquainted with Jewish culture.

Food and drink from the nearby vegetarian restaurant, Ruth’s Kosher, are offered for a fee. The food varies from one week to the next, mixing Ashkenazi and Sephardi tastes. In September, the Israeli singer Noa will perform.

“We open the Jewish community to all citizens of Florence, including non-Jews who want to learn about our culture and our traditions,” Brett Lalonde, former vice president of Florence’s Jewish community and originally from Seattle, told JNS.

“I asked Avida and Sharon what is the one message I could convey to the Jewish Diaspora and the non-Jewish community of Florence and they said ‘Resilience,’” Lalonde noted.

“The world needs to know that we are strong, united and are rebuilding and moving forward as an international Jewish community,” she said. 

Anastasia Vendrov, who made aliyah from Kyiv in 1991 and then moved to Florence in 2005, emphasized the importance of hearing the survivors’ testimonies.

Kibbutz Be’eri survivors Sharon Shevo (left) and Avida Bachar hold posters of Be’eri residents kidnapped by Hamas. Photo by Amelie Botbol.

“I lived in Ashkelon. In August, I visited Kibbutz Be’eri with my daughters,” Vendrov told JNS.

“We must hear their stories. As an Israeli, I know the truth. But there are people here who are not so connected to Israel and they must understand what happened, hearing it first-hand and not on TV,” she said. 

“My grandmother is a Holocaust survivor and I understand the need to tell these stories to make sure it does not happen again anywhere to anyone else. People forget, deny or say we exaggerate and that’s why it’s necessary,” Vendrov said. 

Bachar and Shevo were invited to Florence to attend the opening stage of the Tour de France by Sylvan Adams, the co-owner of Israel-Premier Tech, which is competing in cycling’s premier race. On Friday, the survivors are joining IPT riders for a training session ahead of the Tour’s debut on Saturday morning.

Sharon Shevo places posters of Israelis held in Gaza, in Florence, June 27, 2024. Photo by Amelie Botbol.

Earlier on Thursday, the Oct. 7 survivors were given a tour of the city, during which Shevo came across graffiti reading, “PALESTINA LIBERA!” He immediately took out posters of captives from his home in Be’eri and placed them on the ground against the defaced wall.

Avida Bachar tells his story to the tour guide (right) at a café in the Piazza del Duomo, Florence, June 27, 2024. Photo by Amelie Botbol.

In the heart of Florence, adjacent to the Florence Cathedral, Bachar brought tears to the eyes of guide Giovanna Bossi Rosenfeld. He sat with her, recounting how Hamas murdered two members of his family before his eyes, kidnapped his friends, burned down their houses and looted their belongings.

Bachar played voice recordings taken on Oct. 7 of his panicked daughter Adar, who was wounded in Hamas’s assault but survived.

In the Piazza del Duomo (“Cathedral Square”), Bachar and Shevo displayed posters of their friends and neighbors kidnapped by Hamas from Kibbutz Be’eri. Some are still thought to be alive, while others have since been declared dead. 

“We need to remind the whole world that the hostages must return home. They have spent nearly nine months in Hamas captivity, in caves in inhumane conditions. Whether through negotiations or military pressure, they must come back,” Bachar said. 

At one point, he became overwhelmed when speaking of his murdered wife and son.

“When Dana and Carmel were killed, I understood they would never come back. While they are no longer with us, I know they would want me and Adar to live a good life. If I had died instead of them on October 7, I would have wanted the same for them,” he said.

“Grief to me is longing, I long for my loved ones every day, all day. This longing will be with me for the rest of my life.

“We must still say thank you, for having had Dana for 32 years in my life, and to Carmel, I had an incredible son for 15 years. We will miss them all the time and we say thank you for who they were to us. We must now build what they would want us to and move forward,” Bachar said.

Also on Thursday, Bachar and Shevo attended the presentation of the 22 teams participating at the Tour de France in Piazzale Michelangelo square, located on a hill overlooking central Florence.

Sharon Shevo (left) and Avida Bachar at the entrance to the Tour de France fan zone in Piazza Santa Croce, June 27, 2024. Photo by Amelie Botbol.

Earlier in the afternoon, Bachar and Shevo rented two bicycles and rode the streets of Florence to the Tour de France fan zone in the Piazza Santa Croce. 

“It’s very moving for me to get on a bicycle all over again. It’s part of my recovery. I spent six months at a hospital. Little by little, I am starting to get back to my life and rebuild, and the bicycle is yet another step in the process,” Bachar told JNS.

Shevo was out training for the Epic Israel competition on his bicycle on Oct. 7 when he was ambushed by Hamas terrorists. He was eventually rescued by the Israel Defense Forces outside of Be’eri, close to the site of the Supernova music festival. His son Shaked, an IDF officer, battled the terrorists for hours to protect the rest of the family under siege in their home.

“It’s very moving for me to see Avida at the opening of the Tour de France able to ride his bicycle. It’s really emotional,” Shevo told JNS.

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